With so much chaotic nonsense and colorful claptrap going on in Bikini Bottom, it's hard to tell what's happening on SpongeBob SquarePants, especially in the ocean's more desolate region: Rock Bottom. The city of Rock Bottom is dark and mysterious. It lies off of the edge of an abysmal cliff and deep in the depths of the sea, a disorienting and dissonant place for the surface-skirting aquatic creatures that accidentally end up there.
SpongeBob and Patrick happen to stumble into Rock Bottom after taking the wrong bus home from the ridiculous glove-themed amusement park, Glove World!, and find themselves dazed and confused in a city where everything is dark and they can't understand anyone or anything. While Patrick ends up snagging a bus back home, SpongeBob gets stuck without a bus ticket home to Bikini Bottom. With an entire episode dedicated to its existence, it has become a cult classic for those familiar with SpongeBob's weird world, stirring fan theories about SpongeBob's Rock Bottom as well as a few creepy, internet-circulated fan tales.
With such limited information on Rock Bottom, it's up to fans to determine what this elusive city and its citizens represent.
Winding up in the disorienting location of Rock Bottom is a loose allegory for the American immigrant experience, at least according to Redditor /u/nothayha:
When you actually take into account the actual national boundaries, this would mean that SpongeBob accidentally left his home country of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and entered into United States territory.
All of the cold reactions SpongeBob experienced can easily translate into how some US citizens unintentionally treat those who are new to this country. At one point, the Rock Bottom bus station owner even says that he could not understand SpongeBob's accent, implying that SpongeBob is in a completely different country.
Another fan compared Rock Bottom to SpongeBob leaving the suburbs and being plummeted into the seedier side of town - and life. Writer Zachary Zahos explains:
And for a little sponge and a clueless starfish, [Rock Bottom] is a scary place. With their dinky... glove hats... SpongeBob and Patrick stay close to the bus stop where they arrived yet still fall victim to crippling disorientation, culture shock, and fear. SpongeBob, at least, tries to keep things together as Patrick’s mental state rapidly deteriorates.
You should credit the episode’s disciplined writers Paul Tibbitt, Ennio Torresan, and David Fain, then, for throwing in a deus ex machina and getting Patrick out of there, on a bus that materializes the second SpongeBob leaves his side.
The strange and colorful creatures of Bikini Bottom are just the result of radioactive fallout from Bikini Atoll, while the outer regions were left untouched. Redditor /u/Bacxaber explains:
Things like the Shell City monsters and the majority of Rock Bottom are non-mutated, ordinary fish who were far enough away from the blasts. After all, the monsters are close to populated land since a gift shop is nearby. The one guy at Rock Bottom who does talk is mutated, but not as much as Bikini Bottom people.
SpongeBob visits Rock Bottom not once, but twice. From Redditor /u/Bulbmin66:
In season 1, SpongeBob goes to a place called Rock Bottom. In season 10, 17 years later, he goes back to the same place and finds the same characters he found there before. They still remember who SpongeBob is. The season 10 scene also uses the same music from the original episode, and the fishes still talk in the exact same way they did before. The only weird thing is that the fish with the orange shirt got smaller for some reason.
Is this evidence of a time loop in the neighborhood?