I loved Invader Zim when it first premiered back in 2001. Its nasty childish dark humour filled my black little heart. Who wouldn't love a gothic kid's Science Fiction cartoon about an inept alien disguised as a middle-schooler plotting to conquer the Earth and the one kid who tries to stop him that nobody believes?
The show's existence was kind of a miracle. Who would have ever let cult cartoonist Jhonen Vasquez create a cartoon series on TV? Why, Nickelodeon did. I suppose it came out of that 90's era of surreal and bizarre cartoons like The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, which featured the Grim Reaper as a comedy character.
Invader Zim took the weirdness much further than any other cartoon series at the time or since. It treated grotesque, horrible situations, utter surrealism, body horror, cartoon violence and wholesale destruction as goofy, idiotic comedy.
A Kid's Cartoon About Awfulness
The show was about failure and dysfunction. Zim was an inept evil invader with the most idiotic plots. His robot sidekick GIR was a dysfunctional but endearing idiot robot. Dib was a frothing well of frustration because nobody would believe him as he fought his one-man war to thwart Zim. His scientist father Professor Membrane thought he was just indulging in a childhood fantasy to while away his time. His surly sister Gaz just lived to play video games and torment him. The series was like a postmodern Gothic Science Fiction comedia del'arte featuring characters in a perpetual dance of slapstick mayhem. Its unique touch was to make the grotesque silly. There was catharsis in that.
That's why it wasn't surprising when the show was cancelled. It never had good ratings despite rave reviews and a cult reputation. Even Vasquez seemed surprised the show was ever allowed on air at all.
Netflix to the Rescue!
Then last weekend, Netflix released a brand-new 70-minute Invader Zim movie. I don't think anyone asked for it, not even us fans. We pretty much accepted it was over, but it turned out Nickelodeon had wanted a new series from Vasquez over the years. He agreed to make a movie because he reportedly didn't want the stress of working on a whole series. Somehow, Netflix made a deal with Nickelodeon to stream the movie. It seemed a good fit for a movie sequel to a cult show from the 2000's. I assume Netflix monitored the internet and social media to gauge the demand for more Zim.
The Movie Ends the Story
Vasquez and his writers could probably have produced a new series of episodes, but Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus pretty much ends the story.
If you haven't watched the movie yet, turn away now. I'm going to talk about its ending… major spoilers!
From a storytelling point of view, Enter the Florpus is very interesting. Vasquez could have just had the characters carry on as usual. Instead, he brings the long-running plotline – and premise – of the series to a climax. By the end, he has resolved all the themes and running plots from the series.
In the second half of the movie, after the characters and their situation are re-established, Zim decides to launch his big Phase 2 plan for conquering the Earth on behalf of his people, the Irken. He's still in complete denial that they sent him to Earth to get rid of him because they hate him. They were never interested in conquering Earth.
The tragically-needy Zim uses his minimoose to teleport the Earth across the universe into the path of the Irken Armada so they can conquer it. The teleportation opens a massive florpus, a kind of deadly wormhole that threatens to swallow it whole. The Irken decide to just destroy the Earth because it's in their way and they can't be bothered to just turn and bypass the planet.
Dib Gets His Happy Ending
This leads Dib to work with his father Professor Membrane to save the Earth. Dib wants his father to believe him and be proud of him. Membrane tells Dib he doesn't need to prove anything to him – he's always been proud of him. This resolves Dib's arc – he finally gets what he wanted, his father's approval. He had it all along!
Membrane and Dib teleport the Earth back to the solar system. The Irken Armada flies into the florpus. Dib has his happy ending with his family.
Zim's Ending is More Tragic Than You Expect
Months later, Zim is reduced to stealing a figurine from Dib's house and claiming that was his real plan all along. Dib just shrugs. When Zim contacts the Irken Armada, they're too busy screaming in eternal terror and surrounded by flames to listen to him. Ever in denial, Zim just tells himself they're pleased with him. His actions have doomed his people. He has no real purpose left other than to go through the motions of stealing crap from Dib's house and claiming it's his mission. If he had to face his situation head-on, he might kill himself in despair. This is the conclusion of Zim's arc in the series.
The metaphor is clear. The Irken are in Hell. Zim is in Purgatory. Dib and his family are in Heaven. I don't think Vasquez wrote this by accident. That's as much an ending as I've ever seen.
It's possible that Nickelodeon and Netflix could commission more Invader Zim. Zim and Dib could just go through the motions all over again, but it feels like the characters have reached narrative exhaustion. Their stories have reached the end of the line.
Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus is now streaming on Netflix.