Ranger Station Episode 56: On Fins And Needles
With 800 episodes over the course of 22 years, the Power Rangers television show is arguably the single most successful live-action superhero franchise of all time, and certainly one of the strangest. Adapted from Japan's long-running Super Sentai series, created by manga legend Shotaro Ishinomori, the Power Rangers combined the giant robots and monsters of their Japanese counterpart with a completely different set of secret identities and problems, and became a pop cultural phenomenon. That's why we're looking back with an in-depth guide to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, including its source material, Kyuoryu Sentai Zyuranger, in ComicsAlliance's Ranger Station!
This week, Jason and Tommy have it out in a fight to the finish... almost.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Episode 56: On Fins And Needles
Writer: Douglas Sloan
Director: Worth Keeter
Original Air Date: May 5, 1994
As a franchise, Power Rangers invites a whole lot of arguments from the fans. There's the standard questions about the best series (RPM) or the best team (Time Force), but with so much out there and more coming every week, there's a pretty much endless series of variations on the question of picking your favorites. There is, however, one question that's been sitting right there at the core of the franchise for coming up on 23 years now:
Who could win in a fight: Jason or Tommy?
And again, this is pretty standard stuff. Most franchises that are built around action stories tend to invite that question in one way or another, but in Power Rangers, it's on a whole other level. Not only is Tommy introduced by having him taking on Jason in a karate tournament, but the show teases a conflict between them every chance it can get, and never pays it off. Every time they fight, there's either an inconclusive finish or some sort of moon-witchery shenanigans getting in there keeping us from having a clean finish.
I assume that's one of the reasons that the ill-fated Hexagon was going to pit the two characters against each other, but even then, I suspect that we never would've gotten the definitive payoff that would settle things once and for all. So, you know, if you were expecting to get one here, then I have some pretty sour news for you.
As far as teasing the idea of a fight goes, though, this one does a better job than most, ratcheting it up almost to the point of hilarity. Here at the start of things, however, they're still on the same side, teaming up to teach their beginners karate class at the Youth Center.
All this teamwork doesn't sit that well with Rita Repulsa, which is pretty understandable when you consider that she's on the receiving end of it pretty much every day. Clearly, she's going to have to drive a wedge between them if she's going to get the advantage, and honestly? I'm torn between frustration that it's taken her fifty-six episodes to figure this out and admiration that she's going to to keep at it after this exact kind of plan has completely failed at least twice before. If there's one thing you have to give to Rita, it's that she is very determined in the face of adversity.
Giant, robotic, dinosaur-shaped adversity.
Her attempt this time involves the Slippery Shark, and like a lot of the monsters here in the back half of Season One, the visual design pretty much stops at "is a shark," while its tactics have the incomprehensible logic of throwing darts at a list of things bad guys might do. It can swim through the Earth with its fin plowing the ground, which is kind of cool, but it also possesses the ability to create a fishy boomerang that can alter someone's mind with hot pink lightning.
And when a gang of Putty Patrollers attack Jason and Tommy while they're hanging out in a literal playground for tiny children, that's exactly what happens, first to Tommy...
...and then Jason...
Whose reactions are pretty amazing, but not quite as amazing as the fact that they take the time to high five once they're in their fighting stances right before the action begins:
That one shot alone makes this the best episode of the entire Zyu2 era.
That said, this entire fight scene is a bizarre exercise in trying to figure out what's going on and why. Rather than having the Slippery Shark attack the Rangers with the boomerang himself, this pretty crucial part of the plan is given over to Putties, who just sort of lob the thing at the Rangers and hope for the best. The only way that the Rangers can actually be hurt by this is if they catch it, and while I'm willing to give Tommy a pass on this one since he was the first, Jason watches this happen and then --- through the miracle of reversed footage --- catches it himself to get a faceful of pink lightning.
It is, of course, no ordinary lightning. Instead, it causes Tommy and Jason to turn on each other, obliterating their friendship and replacing it with a bitter, hateful rivalry that almost breaks out into a fistfight the next day at school. It's pretty upsetting for the other Rangers --- who for some reason don't just assume that this, like every other problem in their lives, is being caused by the magical woman on the moon who hates them and wants them to die --- but Bulk and Skull sense an opportunity.
Since Tommy and Jason, the school's two greatest martial artists, are on the verge of throwing down anyway, they figure out that somebody ought to make a little money out of the deal, and start literally selling tickets.
With Ernie apparently distracted by a new shipment of Pamango fruits or organizing a new soccer team or something, Bulk and Skull clear out the Juice Bar, put down a couple of mats, and set themselves up as fight promoters. Jason and Tommy face off, and the cash is rolling in and the crowd is hot --- both on the set and in the audience, because JDF and Austin St. John are actually pretty good at looking like they want to murder each other with fists --- but just as the tension gets to a fever pitch, Zordon calls up and ruins the whole thing.
It's darn near masterful in the way that it pulls the fight away from us at the last moment, but fortunately, the tensions continue to bubble just under the surface when Zordon sends Jason and Tommy out to fight the Slippery Shark. They're still fighting, but rather than just going straight at each other, they decide to make a bet. If Tommy can defeat the Shark by himself, he becomes the new leader, but...
As you might expect, the two Rangers have some pretty different ideas of how they should proceed. Tommy wants to go low and attack as the Shark moves underground, while Jason wants to go high and catch it when it leaps out in the air. And both, of course, fail miserably.
And then they decide to be friends again.
Seriously: That's it. They each take one attempt and then realize, despite a magic spell that is making them hate each other with the specific goal of ruining their teamwork, that they should probably just be friends again so that they can punch a monster in the face... together.
Faced against two united Power Rangers (soon to be joined by their four comrades), the Slippery Shark doesn't stand a chance. He's thrashed pretty easily, and when he grows, the Megazord and Dragonzord thrash him pretty easily too.
Clearly, direct conflict solves all problems, and as we learn from Bulk and Skull --- who are mobbed by disappointed fight fans who want their money back after Jason and Tommy bail out on their grudge match --- it's only the lack of fighting that really bugs anyone.
In Ranger Station, each episode of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers will be graded on a scale of one to ten in five categories, with a final score awarded with a maximum of fifty points.
Weirdness of the Monster: One day I hope to get back to the era of monsters that weren't just a couple of somewhat threatening words (like "shark" and "mind control") pulled out of a hat. 5/10
Radness of the Music: I hate to say it because it is a genuinely rad song, but "Combat" may actually be wearing out its welcome when you apply it to an episode like this. 4/10
Bulk and Skull Friendship: Honestly, this episode is less about the friendship and more about the reappearance of Bulk's diamond dollar-$ign chain that he wears when he's knee-deep in a moneymaking scheme. That thing's for Special Occasions Only. 6/10
Moral Lessons: Never fight your friends. Talk it out instead! That way, nobody gets hurt except Bulk and Skull, who will be trampled and mugged by Angel Grove High's surprisingly riotous student body. 3/10
'90s Fashions: Most of the fashion on display in this one comes in the form of tank tops and karate pants, but really: Is there anything more '90s than dressing like you're on the cover of a Super NES beat-'em-up? 8/10
Total For Episode 46: 26/50