How Codename: Kids Next Door Ruined My Life

(And I’m Grateful For It!)

Numbers Three, Two, Five, One, and Four standing at a makeshift wooden "bar" in their treehouse base. Five and One have jugs of soda that resemble beer. They all appear happy.

*This essay contains spoilers for the entire series and corresponding films of Codename: Kids Next Door, Stand By Me (the film), and Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind.


This started with a dream. In June of 2022, I was going through a severe rough patch. Nothing that usually made me feel passionate, like I knew where and what I wanted to be, made me feel much of anything. My only salvation was my usual hyperfixations that came and went, one of which turned out to be Codename: Kids Next Door.

I don’t so much as recall what happened in the dream, but some aspect of it had to do with this show, which, at the time, I had not seen or thought about in months. I used to love it, though, and that feeling peeked through the memories jostled by that dream’s surreal pictures. I knew that day I had to pay it a visit. I had my usual difficulty connecting, the fear of nothingness or intrusive thinking, but it wasn’t enough to dampen. It started quiet, but after some longer thought and allowance for myself to feel the nostalgic bubbles, I knew it was time to really dive in. In doing so, I remembered my teen years, which I spent in a sort of melancholy fortification.

I spent the portion of my childhood/teenhood wherein I was aware of my existence and what I was, believing I would undergo some transformation in becoming an adult where I would suddenly be uninterested in cartoons and other things “for kids.” When I went back to Kids Next Door, something clicked, and suddenly I identified it as the source of that melancholia I spent the brunt of my life with. When I realized that, it began to feel much more dire to write this essay, to unpack and understand this show on a deeper level. So, here is my revisitation on the themes, narratives, and characters of Codename: Kids Next Door, what I think they mean now, and what they meant to me as a child.

Part One: The Premise

Codename: Kids Next Door is f***ing crazy. The premise is an organized pack of children who have to fight grown adults who want to literally kill them sometimes, and not to mention the rival cult of teenagers who also wanna kick their a**es. That is objectively nuts.

Most of the recurring villains are bizarre and specific, like a candy shop owner who is secretly a dentist and a fat old woman who has talking organs for friends and wants to stuff children’s faces full of food until they’re immobile. It does get more than a touch grotesque (anyone remember the pink eye crumb cake? Much love to my friend Izzy for reminding me!), but that’s part of the charm and the excitement of watching it, because what the f*** is going to happen next? It’s certainly a show that embraces how children often don’t comprehend gross imagery or are even attracted to it. It’s the same as the appeal of baby dolls that s**t themselves or these.

In amongst all the absurdism, it also offers so much rich meaning and depth about childhood and aging. The Kids Next Door itself is a global organization of children who fight against child abuse, indoctrination, conformity, and other things harmful to them. One of the villains they encounter repeatedly is “Count Spankula,” a vampire whose mission is to spank children until they’re sore, and the framing of him as a monster conveys one of the larger parts of what this show is about: hurting kids is bad, and the kids have to defend themselves, because it’s adults, like Spankula, who are doing this to them. The very people who are supposed to protect them turn out to be the ones causing them pain, so they have to fight back. And understand, they can.

All of these kids are trained combatants, some of them rivaling John f***ing Wick, and to be frank, they have to be. If I may get real, CPS fails left and right. The KND exist to protect themselves and their fellow children, to make sure they’re safe and get to have the carefree childhoods they deserve, so then maybe they’ll be less inclined to enter that abusive cycle. The characters use statements to describe adults like “they’re ruining our lives,” and in a very literal sense, they are.

Sometimes, the show will display how childhood events can shape us. In the episode S1E4 Side B “Operation: C.O.W.G.I.R.L,” we’re introduced to recurring villains Mr. Fibb and Mr. Wink, whose appearances I’m not even going to try to explain or rationalize. The episode also features Lasso Lass, a rare adult character on the side of the Kids Next Door. The part of this episode that interested me the most was when Mr. Fibb, who knew Lasso Lass in school, lamented about how she didn’t go to the prom with him when they were kids, in an emotional outburst as he dangles her over a pool of lava (not cool of him, obviously). But what I noticed was this adult villain who is still hanging on to some type of pain from his youth—pain based on a false sense of entitlement, but pain nonetheless. So, part of what’s fueling his modern anger is because of something that happened to him as a kid. And does this not reflect part of what the show is expressing, that what happens to us when we’re young affects us down the line? Certainly, Mr. Fibb’s case is far from trauma and isn’t even a sympathetic reason for how he ended up, but… you know what I’m getting at. I’ll talk about better examples down the line.

Numbuh 5 (Abby, a black girl wearing a blue jacket over a black shirt, shorts, white shoes and a red hat), Numbuh 3 (Kuki, an Asian girl with long black hair wearing a pink dress and converse), and Numbuh One (Nigel, a bald white boy wearing a pair of shades with one red lens and one green, a jean jacket, red shirt, jeans and black sneakers), on the set of their school's rendition of West Side Story. Abby has her hand on Kuki's shoulder, who looks apprehensive as Nigel looks stern.
No relation to the current talking points, I just wanted to make sure you all know about the West Side Story episode (S4E12 Side A “Operation: L.O.V.E” for those interested).

The show also has its own world history. In S3E6 Side A “Operation: A.R.C.H.I.V.E,” Numbuh One (“number” is always spelled like that when in reference to KND operatives) narrates a story depicting the world as originally being populated by only children, who grew bored of their lives and created adults as a form of entertainment and source of labor (please, don’t think too hard about it). Tired of being asked to play all hours of the day, one adult refused to play “horsey” with a child, resulting in being squirted in the face with a water gun. The adult responds by essentially inventing spanking and forming an adult uprising. It’s unfair for the kids to treat the adults the way they did, but we can see the formation of the power imbalance between adults and children in that the response to a splash of water in the face was physical violence, which was then lorded over the children to keep them in line.

Eventually, they formed a treaty, as the children missed Earth (they went to the Moon to escape, don’t worry about it) and the adults succumbed to much the same boredom that befell their creators. They established the concept of families, and lived in peace… well, no. The adults continued to abuse that power imbalance they discovered, creating schools to brainwash children and forcing them to do difficult chores much better suited to adults. This created the world we live in today, where adults have all the power and use it to keep children underneath them, ensuring they grow to uphold that hierarchy. The Kids Next Door was formed to fight back and regain autonomy. Whether the audience is meant to take this story literally or not is up for debate, but regardless, I thought it was a good avenue to examine the show’s depiction of the dynamic between adults and children.

Codename: Kids Next Door runs on this concept of children fighting for themselves, protecting themselves from becoming more of what they defend themselves against. It’s a type of youth empowerment that is present in much of children’s media of this caliber, but KND has it at its core; it’s not just a part of the show, it is the show. And when I’m watching as an adult, it’s a little depressing, but not as much as it is cathartic. It honestly rocks watching a pack of children knock the s**t out of abusive grownups.

But, there’s this catch…

Part Two: Decommissioning

All “operatives” of the Kids Next Door can only be members up to the age of 12, and when they turn 13, they must get all memory of their time in the KND wiped—their experiences, their friends, their values. Clearly, some of the adults and teens in this universe are aware of the Kids, but most of the time because they’re in opposition to them. If you were in the Kids Next Door, you’d probably never know it.

The times when the procedure is portrayed in the show are somber, the sendoffs like mass funerals. The concept is introduced in the last episode of Season 1, and from there, the show grows an overarching aura of dread around its protagonists. They all know that, eventually, that’s going to be them undergoing the memory loss. They’ll forget everything, everyone, and become someone different from who they were as a child. As we learn in S4E11 “Operation: M.A.U.R.I.C.E,” the Kids Next Door aren’t even allowed to interact with a decommissioned operative. It’s scary. And it kinda ruined my life.

Numbuh One, having been suddenly aged up, still wearing his too-small childwear and having grown a surplus of stubble, looking at the rest of Sector V with a puzzled expression. The group stands in front of their destroyed treehouse base.
This happens and I’m gonna talk about it in a couple paragraphs.

I remember one night when I was about 12 years old, I intended on sleeping on a thin foam mattress on our living room floor. I thought it was exciting, sleeping somewhere other than my own bed—it was like a sleepover where I was the only attendee. I made myself comfortable and spent the evening browsing YouTube. I found the ending scene of the last episode of Codename: Kids Next Door, and I hadn’t watched the show in a little while at that point, so I watched it. I’ve always been sentimental and emotional, so I cried over my iPod touch (which I still have, by the way). And then I started thinking about how I would be 13 soon, how my “kid-hood” was about to be over. I wished I could stop aging, and I felt determined to never grow up, even if my body disagreed.

Despite this, I did grow up, and did so believing I’d “grow out” of all the cartoons and silly things I liked, which made my relationship with my interests feel fragile. I’d lament late at night how one day I would stop caring about the movies and video games and books and daydreams of my youth. I was 19 before I actually allowed myself to believe these things were core to my being. I’ve always been afraid to be without them, but maybe less so when I believed it would happen one way or another. Since letting myself accept that this is who I am, it’s felt even scarier, the intrusive thoughts screaming at me that I “just don’t care anymore” hurt more. Maybe those thoughts were easier to brush off when I believed them to an extent. I think this show is part of why I believed them to begin with.

Aging within the show’s context is presented as decaying, becoming boring, even turning evil. Even regular, non-villain adults are portrayed as dull, unexciting average Joes who are interested in paperwork and the weather. KND’s idea of aging is like a reckoning, an end of times—the death of the child. That is what it can feel like when you’re that age, looking around you at the adults who seem so uninterested in all the stuff that makes up your entire life at that point, and realizing that’s gonna be you someday. You’re not gonna still be watching cartoons when you’re a grownup, right? That’s what I believed.

Upon reflection, I do believe this show is to blame for my growing up thinking that I’d eventually grow out of all my favorite things, that adulthood meant some switch where I’d become primarily interested in “adult things,” whatever that meant. Paperwork, weather. But I can’t say I resent the show, because on reexamination, I think little Emma totally missed what it was trying to say.

I used to be

somebody in another skin.”

S1E13 “Operation: G.R.O.W-U.P,” capping off Season 1, is where the show first examines its characters’ somber outlook on aging. Towards the beginning, Numbuh One details how he’d been on a trip for some decommissioning operations, and talks about how “some won’t leave without a fight” (S2E7 Side B “Operation: F.U.G.I.T.I.V.E” sees the characters search for a freshly-turned 13-year-old operative who would rather cause a spaceship to crash than undergo the procedure). Numbuh Two says he “can’t [imagine] anything worse than leaving the Kids Next Door,” i.e., nothing worse than turning 13, than growing up.

The episode continues by presenting just that. Numbuh One is attacked with an aging ray by the Delightful Children from Down the Lane, a recurring set of villains. The group lose the battle, and Numbuh One is turned into a middle-aged man. In a snap, he says he can no longer be a part of the team and laments the “loss of his childhood.” He isn’t decommissioned (no one told anyone beyond the central five characters about what happened to him), but he decides to abandon the team to get himself a grown-up job.

I can see in hindsight how much like Numbuh One I was when I was a child. He sees adulthood as the complete eradication of childhood sense of self, and when his age accelerates, he applies that outlook to himself. He becomes sour and easily agitated, rejecting his old friends and any help they try to give him. This is a grim outlook on adulthood, and I took that to heart as a child viewer. But as I said, I missed some key nuances.

In an interaction with Numbuh One, Numbuh Five tells him, “It’s not your age that’s changed; it’s you.” While growing up will indeed change who we are to some degree, it’s our mindset about it that can be most detrimental. When you’re like Numbuh One, you have a fixed idea of what adults are like, and don’t see any other options beyond that. He can only apply his ideas of what adulthood is to his sudden change in stature. But Numbuh Five recognizes that age does not determine personhood. Through hearing her out, Numbuh One wises up and races to the Delightful Children’s mansion to assist his team in retrieving the age-changing device to change him back. Even though he’s in an adult body, he decides to be himself. Yes, he gets reverted back to his child form (that would be quite the body horror side-angle if not), but the point of the episode is that who you are does not vanish with age.

Part Three: The Children

The Delightful Children from Down the Lane are an interesting case of child characters who are on the villains’ side, and are in fact the children of the “big bad,” a character named Father (stellar choice making the baddest baddie named after a common caregiver, as our worst abusers are oftentimes our guardians). The Delightful Children are a collection of five kids somewhat mirroring the main five characters. They seem to operate as a hivemind, always speaking at the same time, saying the same thing, and moving in a closely-knit pack. Conceptually, I think they operate as a reference point for what the Kids don’t want to become. The Delightful Children are a worst-case scenario for if the Kids Next Door lost their war with adulthood.

Unsurprisingly, it all circles back to abuse. We’re introduced to their Father in the final episode of Season 1. We can see the Children are afraid of Father’s wrath when they fail to apprehend the Kids Next Door, exemplified in classic shot angling that places them underneath the fiery gaze of Father with a high angle, and a low angle when they’re looking up at him upon his throne in their mansion. He threatens them with an “or else” statement after they’ve come home soaking wet from a rainstorm and battered from their brawl with their do-gooder counterparts, and they tremble in fear. This is the show’s way of showing us what happens when no one is around to stand up for children in the clutches of abusers.

Part Four: Chad

I had forgotten about this character prior to my work on this essay, but I am so glad I remembered him. Chad Dickson, a.k.a. Numbuh 274, first introduced in Season 1, is a revered Kids Next Door operative—or was. In S2E13 “Operation: E.N.D,” he attempted to frame any member of the Kids Next Door who knew about his upcoming 13th birthday as being 13 themselves, thus having their memories erased so that he could continue as an operative. However, when he gets found out, he reveals himself to be a real villain; he’s already started looking down on the younger members of the team. He’s succumbed to that teenage resentment of pre-teens even though he was fighting expressly to keep being one.

The transition from kidhood to teenhood is scary. I acted out in a similar way as Chad, although my focus was more against my past self. I would turn back the pages of my diary and scribble over them, bullying my younger self for any interests I deemed cringey. It’s an odd phenomenon, for both me and Numbuh 274, because both of us were initially so adamant to keep our youth—I even hated teenagers as a child (and throughout my time being a teen, actually). Still, we both lost our way. The next time we see him, he’s using his information on the Kids Next Door to plan an attack on them, as guided by an adult. You either get decommissioned a hero or retain your memories long enough to use them for villainy.

His character also presents the concept of teenagers as vehicles for adults to do further damage. The organization of teens is motivated by their detestation of “annoying” children, but they are also often seen being instructed by adults to do harm to the Kids Next Door. When you become a teenager, society begins to expect you to participate; you want a job, a driver’s license, to keep getting older. Adults within the show see teenagers as children they won over, the ones who are going to both do their bidding and keep the war against childhood going. Chad’s hatred of children grows from the pressure against him to stop being one. He winds up being exactly what adult society wants him to be: another cog in their machine. In S3E4 “Operation: F.O.U.N.T.A.I.N,” the Delightful Children say, “The ultimate goal of any kid should be to grow up.”

Part Five: The Negatives

S4E4 “Operation: P.O.O.L” is a worst-case scenario episode depicting an “upside down” world (pay up, Duffers) wherein the systems in place are in-your-face nightmarish and cruel. Child labor is how the world goes ‘round (kids stacked on top of each other even function as bus stops), and adults enjoy the simple pleasures usually directed at children. The Kids Next Door are instead the Destructively Nefarious Kids, terrorizing all other children outside the organization and ensuring a miserable life full of fear.

In addition to the world, the characters’ personalities are also flipped. Negative Numbuh One is a wimp and Eizzel (Negative Lizzie, Numbuh One’s girlfriend) is exclusively an abusive a**hole towards him. The Delightful Children are instead the Little Traitor Dudes for Children’s Defense, and Father is Daddy, a doting dad dedicated to their well-being. These differences make for a more obvious method of presenting the same dynamics as seen in the “Positive” universe. Instead of the small group of Delightful Children to represent the antithesis to the Kids Next Door, the Negative universe has a widespread group in the DNK. It’s a grim reality colored with sludge and dirt.

I haven’t gotten a chance before now to talk about Lizzie, so I’ll take this opportunity. As stated, she’s One’s girlfriend, a little girl with a loud personality and short temper. While she is overbearing, Nigel (Numbuh One’s real name) cares for her, and their dynamic can be rather cute (when she isn’t verbally berating him, which I get the sense I’m supposed to laugh at, but it’s just a poorly aged aspect of the show). She is demanding of his attention, which is hard to come by, but she manages. She tries to take care of him, too, making him take breaks from his busy schedule (see S4E8 Side A “Operation: L.U.N.C.H”). They are affectionate with each other and look out for one another. In “P.O.O.L,” when Lizzie gets sucked to the bottom of the pool, Numbuh One is swift to dive after her.

The pair of them get captured by Eizzel and Negative One, but manage to escape. As stated, the dynamic between Negative One and Eizzel isn’t as cute as their counterparts, but when Eizzel sees the Positive pair hug, she reacts in about the same way Lizzie would. She’s envious of them (reflected in her backwards-spelled last name, “Enived”), and this should tell the viewer that it isn’t that these Negative World dwellers are inherently evil—they want the exact same things as their Positive World twins.

Envy can turn to sour hatred. The DNK wish they had what the KND have, so they try to destroy it in jealous rage. Instead, they find reconciliation. The members of the DNK learn to drop their weapons and renounce the things the organization stands for. The Negative World inhabitants aren’t so different from those in the Positive after all; all they needed was a shove in the right direction. Still, Eizzel exemplifies this best in her reaction to a hug, uncovering that she, a 10-year-old girl, just wanted love.

A cartoon house fly highlighted by vibrant neon green.
A little guy, just a little guy!

Part Six: One

Numbuh Four was always my favorite as a kid, but on revisit, it was Numbuh One who grabbed my attention. He is the leader of the five kids in Sector V, and as such, he’s serious most of the time, focused on missions and keeping his team safe and in line. He is still a kid who is seen enjoying carefree playtimes, but in his mission to protect his fellow children from the tyranny of adults, he’s become obsessed.

Nigel’s hyperfocus on his role in the KND has turned him into the opposite of what the KND stand for. He’s a workaholic at age 10, never slowing down unless he is literally forced (see S1E12 Side A “Operation: Q.U.I.E.T”) or physically unable, and lives in that rigid way. That’s depressing. What makes me the saddest, though, is that underneath the fearless leader persona, he’s still only a little kid with childish fears and a limited perspective.

My favorite examination of his character is in S1E8 Side A “Operation: T.H.E-F.L.Y,” a dialogue-less character study that examines each central character’s reaction to encountering a housefly in their treehouse base. Numbuh One is alone, and when he sees this fly, he’s terrified, running for his life from this tiny thing that couldn’t hurt him if it tried. I love this look at him when he doesn’t have to be everyone’s fearless leader, just a little boy afraid of a bug.

S2E11 Side A “Operation: B.E.A.C.H” shows us his work-obsessed side. He has to be dragged kicking and screaming just to take a day off at the beach, but as soon as they get there, he’s on his way back to the Sector V base. The next scene of him is his glum face upon the Kids Next Door higher-ups having absolutely nothing for him to do—no missions, no work. He doesn’t know what to do with himself without his job.

He’s not like this in every episode. Like I said, he plays and goofs off with his friends, though sometimes can’t even when he wants to. In S4E10 “Operation: S.N.O.W.I.N.G,” he’s sick in bed, but what could get him up and running outside? Duty calls, of course. Even when he’s snot-ridden, he hauls himself out to keep being a hero. As seen in “B.E.A.C.H,” he feels he has nothing else. This is his identity; if he rests, he ceases to be himself.

Numbuh Five, looking exhausted and miffed, siting on the back of an orange couch adorned with the sleeping forms of her teammates alongside a couple of villains she knocked out.
Numbuh Five keeping things orderly.

We’ve already seen that he can have a little more sense than this. If you recall, Numbuh Five talked some into him in “G.R.O.W-U.P.” The relationship between these two is special. They’re the best of friends, with mutual respect and a pretty equal skillset. But where Nigel is that type of faux-cool, Abby (Numbuh Five) is genuine. She looks out for Nigel (See again “Operation: Q.U.I.E.T”) and can see things he can’t. She’s smart, strong-willed, and knows when it’s time to take a breath. She helps balance him and the rest of their chaotic team out.

It’s revealed in S6E3 “Operation: W.H.I.T.E.H.O.U.S.E” that Nigel didn’t actually pass the test to get admitted into the KND; Numbuh Five hacked into the system to put him through. She saw the leader he could be and pulled him through his hardships to get him in those shoes. For me, this information best summarized their relationship as one of complete understanding for one another.

Part Seven: Nine

In “Operation: M.A.U.R.I.C.E,” we’re introduced to a new character, one with a rich history that the show manages to implement impeccably in just six minutes. Maurice is Numbuh Nine, a close friend of Numbuh Five and her sister, Cree (the former Numbuh Eleven, now frontwoman of the evil teenager collective). In a flashback, we see all three of them as members of the Kids Next Door—in fact, Numbuh Nine was the leader of Sector V. Through the flashback and the jump forward to Nine sitting with present-day Sector V, it’s plain that he is a revered and beloved member of the organization, dear friend to the main cast, and a passionate operative. It’s a shame it’s his 13th birthday.

His decommissioning takes place in a large stadium, filled with KND operatives, Sector V positioned at a table in the center. Numbuh Nine looks out at the crowd, and says, “I’d like to say I’ll remember you all forever, but as you know, my decommissioning will erase all memory of your brave exploits and our fun times together.” Numbuh Five buries her head in her arms. Maurice shrieks in agony during the procedure. Like I said, these ceremonies are treated much like funerals, because it is a death of sorts.

This episode shows a more vulnerable side of Numbuh Five. She’s the voice of reason, but like Numbuh One, she’s still only a child, and one who has just lost a friend. She was closest to Maurice and is the one to take him home when he comes out of decommissioning and has no idea where he is, no recollection of the faces in the room. Back at the treehouse, she mopes, soon reminded by Numbuh Three that it is her own birthday soon. She snaps at her sugar sweet friend, though she’s quick to apologize. She rants about the futility of it all, how she has no choice but to get closer to teenhood and adulthood no matter how much she doesn’t want to. After losing Maurice, it all becomes that much more real for her; if it can happen to him, it can happen to her. She’s as fragile as every kid out there.

I’ll dream each night of some

version of you that I

might not have, but I

did not lose. Now you’re

tire tracks and one

pair of shoes, and I’m

split in half, but that’ll

have to do.

The brunt of the episode sees Sector V attempting to keep Maurice out of the clutches of the evil teen organization who seek to recruit him. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for them to get him, and Numbuh Five is devastated. Some time later, she seeks revenge on Cree, who infected her with chickenpox (depicted as little chicken heads sticking out of holes in her face) in one of their scuffles over the excommunicated Numbuh Nine.

She locates Cree on an island populated by diseased chickens, and there finds one more heartbreak for good measure. Maurice has joined forces with the teens and has even begun dating Cree. She laments the loss of both individuals to teenhood, and says, “Look at me, I’m practically a teen now! I can’t keep fightin’ it. I […] give up.” A flawless vocal delivery by Cree Summer projects and invokes her hopelessness.

But there’s a good twist. Cree gets pushed into a sea of chickens, and Maurice reveals to Five that he was never decommissioned at all, and is part of a secret Kids Next Door branch of teenage operatives gathering information for the Kids. Abby is reminded that while growing up is a promise, it doesn’t have to be the end.

Part Eight: Stand by Me

I came across a Tumblr post while working on this that struck me as resonant to the project. The post reads something like, “How the f**k is everyone okay with how lonely adulthood is?” We face a lot of isolation in adulthood; being too busy with work, not finding friendship in the workplace, becoming overwhelmed with academic studies, mental illness, etc. Curious to see more perspective, I peeked at the replies. One read, “We’re all lonely, but we’re all just like, ‘yeah, I can’t make friends.’ Why is making friends so hard as an adult?” From there I was reminded of Stand By Me and its famous final quote, “I never had any friends like the ones I had when I was 12. Hell, does anyone?” Childhood friendship is probably, or even most definitely, my favorite subject in fiction, and it’s a large part of what draws me to Codename: Kids Next Door.

Stand By Me understands what that person was talking about. Yes, it is different, harder, making friends as an adult. We mourn the friends we had as children, because when they’re gone, they’re gone. It’s hard to rekindle love like we had at 12, and even harder to replace it down the road. Kids Next Door understands this, too. It’s why the decommissioning process and the idea of aging is so painful; not only do you lose yourself, but you also lose your friends, every part of you attained through those relationships, and they lose you, too.

Backtracking to that first quote, you grow up, and it’s all c’est la vie. That version of you and those people are gone, and it happens to most of us, and maybe you’ll be alone forever. How does one be “okay” with that? How does one be “okay” with essentially deleting everyone they love from their personal archive? That is the sadness that pokes its head out around every corner in Kids Next Door.

I am afraid that my hero will always kill me in the end,

and that my friends—oh, god, my friends—

I’m f**king scared of losing them.

Numbuh One is the only lead character with no siblings. Whatever time he spends with his parents is spent moping about it. As established, he’s a workaholic, and he can barely hold together a romantic relationship. His friendships are his most stable relationships, and after S6E10 “Operation: G.I.R.L.F.R.I.E.N.D,” Lizzie isn’t a part of his life anymore, as she grew tired of “competing with the Kids Next Door” for his attention. At this point in the show, close to the end, the best things in his life are what he’s at risk of losing when he’s decommissioned. The looming threat of the procedure is more of a time bomb in the story than ever before; he feels that, the audience feels that—and it’s not the only thing he has to worry about anymore.

Every now and again in Season 6, we’re shown some shadowy figures implied to be at the helm of many of the troubles that befall Nigel. They test his resilience against adulthood by inserting him into pre-crafted dreams (see “Operation: W.H.I.T.E.H.O.U.S.E”), and nudge Lizzie out of the picture so that he has no ties to the outside world beyond his parents (see “Operation: G.I.R.L.F.R.I.E.N.D”). S6E12 “Operation: T.R.E.A.T.Y” puts faces to obstructed voices, revealing the figures to be Numbuh Infinity and Numbuh 74.239, two high-ranking KND operatives.

“T.R.E.A.T.Y” is a tough episode for Nigel. It opens with him reminiscing on when he and Chad first met, then returns to the present as he grieves that friendship. The episode continues with a presumed attack by the teenagers that turns out to be an elaborate message delivery. Inside the message is a proposal for a treaty between teenagers and children, which causes a whole organization-wide kerfuffle in and of itself, but Nigel has other things on his mind.

He catches Numbuh Infinity in the beginnings of an argument with Chad, who makes accusations of betrayal. Once Nigel’s presence becomes known, the tables shift. Numbuh Infinity places blame on Nigel so that he and Chad get sent to the Kids Next Door’s Arctic prison (it is really, really beneficial to not think about this show too hard in terms of physical logic). They manage to escape before they can be properly detained, but, handcuffed together, they’re at each other’s throats the whole episode. Numbuh One’s grief manifests as hatred and Chad feels… a different kind of resentment.

As legitimate as I believe my previous observations on what Chad exemplified are, he was actually faking the whole time, just like Numbuh Nine. He was attempting to warn Numbuh Infinity about the teens’ plot to essentially deafen a portion of the KND under the guise of a large treaty officiation. When the problem is taken care of and Nigel and Chad are done beating the s**t out of each other, Nigel learns the truth.

Despite Chad’s betrayal being a farce, his disdain towards Nigel is still very real because, “they chose [him] instead of [Chad].” For what, Nigel doesn’t know, but Numbuh Infinity tells him he’ll know in due time despite his pleas for an answer. According to the previously assumed-disgraced Numbuh 274, there are powers at play beyond what most of the Kids Next Door are aware of, and they want Numbuh One. But we’ll worry about them later.

Part Nine: Zero

The movie, Operation Z.E.R.O, is essentially a zombie apocalypse horror movie, of all things. We’re introduced to two children working in a child slave tapioca factory, one resembling Daddy from the Negative universe (Ben) and one resembling Numbuh One’s father (Monty). They discover a book labeled “KND” which provides instructions on how children can revolt against “adult tyranny.” Monty is into the idea, but Ben isn’t, opting to listen to their father’s shouts and return to him while his brother starts organizing. Their father, an evil shadow being, gets destroyed by the newly reformed Kids Next Door, and the kids are free, paving the way for the world the central characters in Kids Next Door find themselves in (we’ll get to the zombies later).

Monty became known in KND history as Numbuh Zero, though is characterized more as a legend than historical figure. Nonetheless, Numbuh One idolizes him, mimicking his fabled appearance by donning a pair of black shades all hours of the day and delivering speeches inspired by the legend to profess his dedication. Unfortunately for him, the film’s first 20 minutes are basically him getting his self-image destroyed and accidentally starting the zombie apocalypse.

The Kids Next Door supreme leader is not happy with his disobedience regardless of outcome, and he manages to unwittingly hand himself over to Father, who wanted some of his boogers so he could use an old recommissioning machine on his own father (important KND machines can only be powered by the DNA of an operative). This new character is revealed to be the shadow being from the start of the movie, presumably stripped of his power via decommissioning, and Father is his direct descendant (hmm!). Nigel then has to watch Numbuh Five, the person who fought for him to achieve the position he’s in, be turned into a zombie as a result of him falling into Father’s trap. Not feeling so confident anymore.

In an interesting twist, Father is rejected by his own father, who I’ll call Grandfather going forward. Grandfather’s hatred of children runs deeper than any of the villains in the show, desiring to eradicate not only children, but anyone who has ever been a child. He does this by turning one villain into a “senior-citizombie” (imagine getting aged up to, like, 108 AND turning into a zombie [though in the movie one of the zombie-fied kids says he was aged to 65 despite looking like a fossil, which is a really comical observation on how kids don’t often have a proper concept of “how old” any particular age is]), and letting that one loose to infect everyone else. In his mind, childhood cannot be allowed to survive in any form in the adult body. If your child self exists within you in any way, be it in personality or memories, then you’re not fit for adult society. If I’m being honest, that’s what it feels like out there sometimes. He wants to “forever [end] anyone’s hope of being a child again.” In this film, imagery associated with age is horrific and grotesque and filled with smog. Grandfather’s “aging ray,” or whatever it be, affects inanimate objects as well as people, turning back time to a world he recognizes—one of child labor and pollution. It’s very “reject modernity, embrace tradition”, a phrase with roots in radical conservative ideologies, and so Kids Next Door makes its comment on abusive adults upholding an obsolete world order.

Father (a red-toned shadowy outline of a man with angry, glowing yellow eyes and a smoking pipe) standing with his fists on his hips at a podium before his hundreds of evil adult colleagues in a large room with a skylight.
Father and his many cohorts.

So, here’s Numbuh One, defeated and separated from the rest of his team, wallowing in self-criticism—who would have thought that he, a small child, could have let such a travesty happen? But when he manages to pull himself back up, he finds the recommissioning machine in a garbage can. Inside the machine is, hallelujah, a second, ancient booger from Numbuh Zero himself. Using another Kids Next Door device, he uses the smudge of snot to track down an adult Numbuh Zero so that he can get his memories back. He is befuddled when it leads him to his own front door.

At this point, we get where this is going. Nigel is a direct descendent of his idol, the ultimate ideal for every Kids Next Door operative, which is awesome and exciting for him. One could imagine his self-doubt diminishing what with possessing the blood of the greatest there ever was. But if you recall, Numbuh Zero is also Monty, brother to Ben, who is Father, the descendent of Grandfather. Nigel’s got a conflicting gene pool, which he learns of as well during the runtime. It isn’t dwelled on, but imagine being so dedicated to the Kids Next Door that you barely have a regular childhood, and finding out your uncle is the antithesis to everything you stand for and is someone who actively tries to harm you. I have a detrimental need for this child to receive therapy.

Speaking of Father, in Z.E.R.O, he is Kids Next Door’s most unexpected avenue for examining the effects of child abuse. Upon being rejected by Grandfather on stage in front of all of his underlings, he’s reduced to a whining, belittled child. When we next see him, he’s moping in his mansion, and after being dragged out by Nunbuh Zero to face Grandfather, he cowers. He shivers and frets at the mere thought of facing his father. Recall, Grandfather did have a physical human form from which to be recommissioned, implying that he was not killed by the new-age of the Kids Next Door. The further implication I gathered is that Monty got away from his abusive parent to lead his own life; but Ben stayed. Ben stayed, underwent more abuse, and grew into another version of his father, never healing from his trauma, and delivering more trauma unto the next generation.

And he continues this way. He doesn’t heal. This begins a surprisingly hopeless thematic throughline in Z.E.R.O, where people don’t get better. In this same line of thought, we also get reintroduced to the Delightful Children from Down the Lane, revealed to have been “delightfulized” by Father some time ago to the point of no return. They were kidnapped as Kids Next Door operatives, the members of the assumed-missing Sector Z. With the recommissioning machine, they’re granted their old state of being back for a time, but the delightfulization (abuse) they underwent was so powerful that the effects were only temporary. After helping Numbuh One for that short period of time, they revert back to their Delightful forms, and are then launched into space. Again, these characters don’t recover. I suppose some people never do.

So, what happens to Numbuh Zero? When the good guys eventually win in the end, Grandfather re-decommissioned and the citizombies cured, Numbuh One is ecstatic to get to spend time with his newly reawakened dad; but he can’t find him anywhere. He comes upon a destroyed recommissioning machine and a recorded message from his father, explaining how he’s the one who destroyed it. He willingly reverted back to his oblivious decommissioned persona he’d lived with for decades, someone who perhaps didn’t understand his son in the same way. But he says this: “I’m just not a kid anymore. I’m an adult, and I need to complete the most important mission of my life; being a good father to my son.”

This is one of those instances where I can understand how little Emma walked away from this series thinking adulthood meant letting go of the fun. It just keeps going with that strange hopelessness angle, which I don’t actually dislike—anyone who knows me knows I love some misery in my media. According to Monty, you can’t carry your childhood into your adult life, lest you become too distracted to be a good parent, or become like Father, consumed by the memories of your abuse. Out of all the moments in Kids Next Door that were formative for me, perhaps it was this one that made me brace for my “inevitable dissipation” into adulthood, and unlike the show’s other examinations of aging, this one doesn’t offer an out. Numbuh Zero is just Monty again, and that’s it. I could walk away from Z.E.R.O thinking it’s a really f**ked up narrative, but given other aspects the series I haven’t touched on yet (I know, god knows how many words in and I’m still not finished), it’s not that simple.

Part Ten: The Epilogues

Usually, it’s the TV movie that caps off a series, but not in this case. After Operation Z.E.R.O, we have Operation: I.N.T.E.R.V.I.E.W.S, a slightly shorter special that acts as an epilogue as well as a sequel to Z.E.R.O. It’s structured in a dizzying and unexpected way, so before I talk about the beginning, I have to talk about the end.

By the end of I.N.T.E.R.V.I.E.W.S, Nigel has at last been told what the higher-ups in the Kids Next Door wanted him for. Out of nowhere, they declare it’s time for him to leave—forever. Numbuh 74.239 explains that he’s been chosen by the Galactic Kids Next Door as the representative for Earth; apparently, every planet in every universe is fighting different levels of adult abuse. 74.239 says that adulthood is a “disease” that must be cleansed, and that Nigel is, as they ensured time and time again through Season 6, the perfect person to aid in this larger-scale fight. But he’ll never see his friends or family again.

You know me

so well,

even though we’re both different



It’s hard for me not to think of Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind, which brings in the ethics of memory-wiping. By the end of the film, represented by the looping clip of leading pair Joel and Clementine on the snow-laden beach, forgetting a person and all the experiences you had with them risks dooming you to repeat mistakes, repeat pain, lose development, lose love. With this in mind, the practice of decommissioning becomes much more devastating.

Both of Nigel’s options at the end of I.N.T.E.R.V.I.E.W.S pose less-than stellar outcomes. Forget everyone and everything tied to them (the risk of decommissioning is ever-present no matter how important he is to the Kids), or never see your loved ones again. If Nigel gets decommissioned, he’ll still have his family, and go on to lead a normal life. However, anything he was taught by his friends, the character he built from his time in the KND, all the emotion—good and bad—he shared with his friends would be gone. He’d essentially be a clean slate, and perhaps even become an entirely different person, which is a rather scary loss of self.

Then we have option two. If he goes off with Galactic, he will be separated from all of his loved ones forever, thrust into an entirely new life—but he’ll remember everything. He’ll take not only his memories with him, but the person he is because of them. He’ll lose his friends in only one way, not every way. If I were in his position, I’d want to remember. And, as per the special, Nigel agrees; he would rather never see his friends again than forget about them.

The Galactic Kids are kind enough to recommission both of his parents one last time for a proper sendoff, and he gets to have a sentimental moment with the rest of Sector V. He passes along leadership to Abby, noting her key role in the team, how crucial she always was to them, and him as an individual. She was the natural choice, and thus receives his famous shades as a symbolic gift. She tells him he doesn’t have to leave, but he counters with, “How could I pass up an opportunity like this?” That opportunity being the chance to retain all of his memories going forward, the opportunity to never truly lose his loved ones—and to live out the quintessential childhood dream of going to space, being an astronaut. In his defiance of the separation of childhood and self that society pushes upon us all, Nigel becomes that dream, leaving it all behind in favor of that fantastical idealization, along with all the precious memories and identity he acquired from his time on Earth.

Dear friend,

how have you been?
I think about you from time to time.

There are people I knew as a tween who I used to talk to every day. They were integral parts of my life, people I loved more than anything; best friends, first loves. Over my time as a teenager, this communication became sparser. I got new friends, new interests, and they got some of their own. I remember times I would cry, mourning those rich relationships that had dissipated into memories and feeble attempts at reconnection. It’s still sad and confusing sometimes, even though each day thrusts me nearer to those friendships being a decade behind me. People like the characters in Eternal Sunshine might like to erase these memories. After all, they’re not a part of my life anymore, so what’s the harm in forgetting, sparing myself those isolated occasions of bereaving lost connections? Well, as established, I wouldn’t want to forget.

I may not talk to these people anymore, and sometimes that hurts, but it’s better than never having been their friend at all. Each of these people were there for me, and I for them, during many hardships of life and youth. Each of their friendships were unique and taught me different things. One taught me that I liked girls, one taught me that it’s OK to place value in myself, one taught me that I’m not perfect. I’m the version of myself I am today in part because of these people, know things I wouldn’t know without them. I’d rather keep all that than run from a few moments of sadness. And if I had to be shot through space to live on some other planet tomorrow, for the rest of my life, and never see the friends I have right now again, I’d want to take those memories with me. I like this person I’ve become; I’d wanna take her with me, too.

Numbers One, Two, Three, Four, and Five huddling together holding hands with tears falling down their faces.
Sector V’s final goodbye.

Now, that was all the end of I.N.T.E.R.V.I.E.W.S. What the hell happened in the rest of it, and why is it called that? Well, hold your horses, because I have to talk about something that doesn’t even exist first. There was a planned sequel to Codename: Kids Next Door called Galactic: Kids Next Door that was to follow up with what happened to Numbuh One after he became the Earth ambassador for the Galactic Kids. In the few promotional materials that got released, it revealed the plot to be one against him and the GKND.

The Galactic Kids Next Door are on a mission to destroy all adults of every kind everywhere, revealing them to be the sinister “splinter cell” that some of the lower-ranking Kids Next Door operatives had uncovered in the final season of Codename. The tagline for the new show was, “Stop the GKND, recommission everyone.” So, the plot of Galactic would have been Two, Three, Four, and Five against One and the entire GKND, and restore the lost memories of all those decommissioned.

One of the promotional bits was a collection of storyboards depicting Nigel, now grown up, in a moment of strife with Chad, who begs him not to go through with the annihilation of all adults. This segment also introduces and reintroduces a lot of interesting characters as they try to push Nigel toward doing it, like 74.239 who is revealed to be some kind of alien, and even Lizzy, who is apparently a plant alien (excuse me???). The short clip ends with him going through with it, despite a single tear dripping down his face, and the voice of Numbuh Five asking what he’s done. The show wanted to at last have the “decommissioning is objectively cruel and unjust” discussion, but didn’t get to.

We never got to see the full extent of this continuation (though perhaps one day we will?! I can dream!), but we do have I.N.T.E.R.V.I.E.W.S, which is, you guessed it, interviews of middle-aged versions of Sector V, minus Nigel. In an interesting move into mixed-media, Sector V are portrayed by live-action actors, recounting their memories of their last mission with Numbuh One for an interviewer.

The person behind the camera explains that the team have been temporarily granted their memories back, implying that in some fashion, the Galactic Kids Next Door won; decommissioning still went widespread and nobody could get out of it. At first, I thought the whole show was going to end on this dark note much like Z.E.R.O, but they couldn’t do me like that.

When the interviewer is revealed to be Father, the shot follows Abby as she heads toward an exit and picks up a phone. She says that she told him “everything he wanted to hear,” and wishes Numbuh One a welcome back. The team never lost their memories, and they did get to see Nigel again at some point. It’d still be cool to get Galactic: Kids Next Door and see the large chunk of time in between the end and beginning of this special, but it’s peace-bringing to know that it all turned out OK. No more decommissioning, and no forever goodbyes. They were all okay. I’ll be okay.

“We’ll meet you up on the Moon Base, okay?” -Abby to Nigel at the end of I.N.T.E.R.V.I.E.W.S.

In Conclusion

That was a chunky one, and if you’re reading this, I sincerely thank you for sticking with me. I hoped this would bring me some healing, and it did. I at last got to reconcile with that hurt kid inside me that took a cartoon I loved a little too literally, got to see that very show in a new light, fall in love with it and all that “silly” stuff I loved ten years ago in a different, but just as special way.

When I turned 18, I asked myself, “is this really me?” Thinking about ninja turtles all the time and crafting elaborate daydreams about what Freddy Krueger’s Starbucks order would be? As my imaginary time bomb ticked down and I was still “playing” all the time, I wondered, “is this it?” And, y’know, I don’t know how else to say it other than, who the hell did I think made Kids Next Door in the first place?

I mentioned earlier that my favorite subject matter is the exploration of adolescence. Maybe I’m so drawn to media centering around children because I’m looking for that (ironically) old version of myself. I miss her; but more than that, I love her. And maybe she’s not as far away as I think. I get to be with her every time I turn on this show.

Written by Emma Gilbert

Emma Gilbert is a 22-year-old from North Carolina who has had a special interest in horror films since she was 14. She's been writing since she was 10 years old, encouraged by her family and friends all the way. Here, she hopes to entertain and enthrall you with trainwreck analyses and lame humor!

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