Ranger Station Episode 11: No Clowning Around
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, it's the most terrifying episode of Power Rangers, ever.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Episode 11: No Clowning Around
Director: Adrian Carr
Writer: Mark Hoffmeier
Original Air Date: September 17, 1993
Last week, I jumped ahead about a decade for a special Halloween installment of Ranger Station, but in retrospect, I really should've just stuck with Mighty Morphin. It turns out that our next episode is quite possibly the single creepiest entry not just of this season, but of the entire 800-episode franchise. Because this is the one with the creepy clown who wants to kidnap children.
We open --- where else? --- at a carnival, where the kids are enjoying some cotton candy and rides while watching Zack do some hip-hop dancing on stilts. Zack, as I think we have already established at this point, is really, really into hip-hop dancing, even in situations where it's not really advisable, like when he's trying to fight murder golems from the moon, or when he's wearing stilts.
This, of course, leads him to tumble right into Jason's waiting arms for a quick joke about how crazy it would be if these two bros who are always hanging out and working out together and practicing new karate moves also did some kissing on each other, which ends, as all interactions between Zack and Jason do, with some awkward chuckles and a couple of high fives.
But the repression of one of the show's most textually supported pairings is only one of the problems that the Rangers have to deal with today. The others are going to involve Sylvia, Trini's young cousin. She's shown up to spend a day at the fair with Trini, and she is unreasonably stoked about seeing clowns.
While Trini shows Sylvia around the fair and gets a promise to always stick together, Bulk and Skull are also making the scene, plucking cotton candy right off the sticks of a couple of other fairgoers:
It is possibly the ballerest move we have seen on the show so far --- so much so, in fact, that this was the scene used in the intro of the show for Jason Narvy and Paul Schrier's credits. We're not quite at the point of the show where Bulk and Skull become a little more than just the basic bullies they were introduced as, but we're getting there. I mean, how long can you take a dude who's going for it as hard as Narvy is in that shot and not portray him as anything other than delightful?
For now though, we have a bigger problem: Pineapple the Clown, played by actual clown and juggler Vernon Ballesteros, who was still working in San Diego as recently as 2009, the first and only time that he used his Twitter account. I can't vouch for his regular act, but as Pineapple, he manages to project an air of menace and creepiness that makes him one of the show's most memorable villains. And, since Rita seems to be taking a page out of Bandora's book this week, he immediately tries to kidnap Sylvia.
Fortunately, Pineapple's plans keep getting derailed by the rest of the Rangers. His first attempt --- offering Sylvia the chance to juggle, which as we all know is the most monstrous of all performing arts --- fails when Billy volunteers to juggle a quartet of eggs that drop onto Bulk and Skull's heads within seconds of being introduced. Then, even though Sylvia wants to stay with Pineapple, Trini insists that they all hang out together instead.
When the Rangers decide to entertain her by building a human pyramid, however --- enlisting the help of another clown because five is not a good number of humans from which to make a pyramid --- Pineapple is finally able to conquer Sylvia's extremely weak resistance to being led off by a terrifying clown.
After a quick montage of Trini fretting her way through the carnival and the camera quick-zooming on scary airbrush monsters on the side of the funhouse, she finally tracks them down, just in time for Pineapple to turn Sylvia into a cardboard cutout, the only very specific threat that has been faced by both the Power Rangers and Batman '66.
It's at this point that the Rangers finally realize that something hinky is going on, and they leap to the correct conclusion that the Angel Grove Fair is entirely a plot that Rita Repulsa has been orchestrating from the Moon.
Again, this is something that's raising a whole lot of questions: If all the clowns and carnies are Putty Patrollers, that's one thing --- although this whole thing where Putties can shape-shift sure is new --- but what about all the rides and games? The cotton candy? The balloons?! Are we meant to believe that Finster cooked up a Tilt-a-Whirl in his oven? And even if he did, then putting on a carnival, even a small one, involves permits! Do Squatt and Baboo have contacts in the mayor's office?! Did Goldar get elected City Comptroller while we weren't looking?!
Clearly, there's a battle brewing, so Jason grabs a bullhorn and warns everyone who dropped by for the officially sanctioned Angel Grove Fair:
Two great things about this. First: At this point in the series, everyone has been through this enough times that all you have to say is that Rita's attacking, and everyone just runs as far and as fast as they can. Second, there is an extra in the crowd scene who is clearly jumping the gun on his cue to start running, so he stops and then starts again. I choose to believe he's a psychic who doubts his own abilities to see one second into the future.
If there was any doubt that this actually was one of Rita's plots, and not just some weirdo clown who stumbled into magic powers, that's removed pretty quickly when the rest of the clowns at the fair turn into putties wearing ruffled collars, which is actually pretty great. It's something that I wish they would've done more often: Situational Putties. The only problem is that they're actually a little less scary than regular clowns.
What follows is a pretty great fight scene. As weird as it might sound, the fight scenes in the first season of Mighty Morphin --- the ones that weren't Japanese footage, anyway --- involved the actors doing their own stunts. It's one of the reasons you don't see Trini fighting Putties all that much later in the season, as Thuy Trang broke her leg doing one of the episodes. Seeing that here, though, in a big fight scene that involves actual, functioning carnival rides, gives the whole thing a Jackie Chan feel that's really fun.
Eventually, enough Putties are defeated that Pineapple finally reveals his true form: The Pineoctopus:
See, because it's... kind of got clown ruffles around its... Well, I guess that's not really a neck, is it?
Either way, it's Morphin Time, and we immediately shift to an amphitheater for what I am 90% sure is the same fight scene that we saw back in Episode 4. While all that's going on, Trini's with Alpha 5 back at Billy's garage lab, trying to figure out how to turn Sylvia from cardboard back into flesh and blood. It should be noted that there are, at this point, only seven minutes left in the episode, so it won't surprise you to learn that it's a pretty simple fix: All Sylvia needs to get back to normal is a bucket of water.
Back at the amphitheater, they've used so much footage from a previous episode that even the characters have to talk about how they have no idea where the monster went and that they should probably go find him. They do, and conveniently enough, their suits manage to protect them from the Pineoctopus's magic cardboard dust. He grows giant-sized, and while I'm sure that a 50-foot cardboard Megazord would've been one of 1993's hottest toys, it doesn't take long for the Power Sword to put an end to the scourge of evil clowns in Angel Grove forever.
So if our theory is correct and Gotham City does exist in Power Rangers continuity, then I imagine the Joker was pretty nervous about that result.
If you've been paying attention, you've probably already noticed that most of Bandora's monsters have been based on Western mythology, particularly Greek monsters like the Minotaur and Argus. And if that's the case, then you've probably been wondering just what mythological monster could be the source of a pineapple/octopus hybrid. The truth? I have no idea. Our monster in this week's episode of Zyuranger, "The Great Sneeze Plot," is called Dora Endos, and I have no idea what an Endos is. If you know, feel free to tell me.
In the meantime, we open in the Zyurangers' headquarters, where Boi is preparing his special pepper steak for everyone. Unfortunately, it sucks, and the other Zyurangers have absolutely no problem telling him how much --- except for Goushi, that is, who delivers the most calm and withering criticism possible:
Boi is so upset that he immediately runs to a nearby park and lays down on a hill, telling Mei that the rest of the team can go jump in a lake for being huge jerks. And, as it happens, a similar situation is happening down on the soccer field, where a youngster named Isamu responds to his teammates' criticism by kicking soccer balls at them until they kick him off the team.
And then: A creepy clown appears!
This, of course, is Dora Endos's human form, and to MMPR's credit, it's nowhere near as creepy as his American counterpart, at least at first. When he starts producing golden soccer balls by mysteriously inflating them in his pants so that it looks like he's pregnant and then birthing them right there on the ground, though, that's... that's pretty weird.
At the clown's urging, Isamu boots one of the balls to the field, where it bursts open with a powder that, instead of turning them into cardboard, infects them with a horrific sneezing virus that will eventually cause them to suffocate and die.
This is your reminder that Bandora is not here to eff around.
Clearly, this is something that the Power Rangers are going to have to deal with, and since he's the one taking point in this spotlight episode, Boi ends up doing most of the work. The thing is, unlike the other kids that we've seen in Zyuranger, Isamu is 100% into working with Dora Endos and attempting to murder everyone in Tokyo. He even gets into it with Boi himself at the (very familiar looking) amphitheater, kicking ball after virus-filled ball while Boi plays goalie to stop them from exploding:
Unfortunately, Boi ends up missing one and getting infected himself, which is when Dora Endos shows up and chucks him into a nearby river, where he'll be spending the next seven or eight minutes of the episode.
The upside, however, is that it gives him insight into the monster's weakness: It hates cold water. Thus, thanks to a quick change of heart from Isamu, who decides that he probably doesn't want to just stand there and watch one of the Zyurangers drown. He pulls Boi out of the river just as the other Zyurangers have forced Dora Endos to reveal its true form. It grows, and they use the Guardian Beasts' individual abilities --- the chained horns of the Triceratops, the Mastodon's ice-blasting trunk --- to soften it up before the God Horn finishes the job. Fight on, Zyurangers!
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: Seriously, I have asked around, but unless it's just a straight up combination of a pineapple and an octopus, I have no idea what the source material for Dora Endos is --- and that's before we get to the part where it's sometimes a terrifying clown. 7/10
- Deviation From the Source: Keeping the creepy clown aspect of the story is actually pretty amazing, since it's one of the things that you wouldn't have to bother with if you weren't using any of the footage of the Japanese actors. That said, being turned into cardboard is a much more existential threat than sneezing yourself to death as a sacrifice to Satan. 5/10
- Bulk and Skull Friendship: The moment where they simultaneously steal the cotton candy is possibly their most cartoon-dog-with-a-comically-tiny-cartoon-dog-friend moment of the show thus far. 6/10
- Moral Lessons: "Stay with your cousin instead of wandering off with a creepy clown who looks like he might want to eat your hair" is the best lesson we've learned in the show/in life. 9/10
- '90s Fashions: Go back up to the "Rita's attacking the park!" image and tell me this could've been shot in any other year. I dare you. 9/10
Final Score: 36/50