Ranger Station Episode 25: Life’s A Masquerade
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, the show reaches its first actual Halloween special as the Rangers take on Frankenstein!
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Episode 25: Life's A Masquerade
Writer: Cheryl Saban
Director: Robert Hughes
Original Air Date: October 30, 1993
From a plot standpoint, this week's episode of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is ridiculously simple: The kids have a vaguely (but not explicitly) Halloween-themed costume party that gets crashed by one of Rita's monsters, leading to a case of mistaken identity on top of the usual monster-related hijinx. It's all pretty standard, to the point where actually going through the events with a fine-toothed comb like we usually do is even less necessary than usual.
But on the other hand, this may also be the most psychologically revealing episode of the entire series.
So let's start with the basics: While they never actually come out and say it in the script, this is the show's first Halloween special, originally airing on October 30 and involving Ernie dressing up as Dracula and the Rangers fighting a for real Frankenstein --- or as close as you can get when you're building your monsters out of clay and not dismembered corpses, anyway.
As for why they never go all the way to actually saying anything about Halloween, I assume that has a lot to do with how often the show was put into re-runs. By the end of November, there would be a two-month gap in the schedule for MMPR, which had, with a few exceptions, been airing every weekday since it premiered at the end of August. While the show would eventually embrace the idea of doing Christmas and Halloween episodes pretty regularly --- which is a luxury you can afford when you're an established franchise and not a weird new experiment in adapting a Japanese show about dinosaur princes --- the early seasons were pretty clearly being made with an eye towards syndication.
All of which is to say that it's a lot easier to justify a "costume party" episode when you want something for October 30 than it is to get your "Halloween" episode on the air in in the middle of January.
Aside from the costume party, the main plot of this episode involves Rita mining for "super putty" so that she could build stronger monsters.
Naturally, this substance can only be mined in caves that are literally within walking distance of the Angel Grove Youth Center, and while Billy stumbles on the operation and the Rangers put a stop to it, it goes on long enough for Rita to get enough Super Putty to last her until the end of the series.
With that done, the Rangers battle Frankenstein in what is actually a pretty incredible fight...
... but aside from Frankenstein doing a gorilla press slam on a giant robot made of giant robot dinosaurs, which might actually be the best thing that has ever happened, it's all a pretty standard affair. Once the Dragonzord shows up, we're pretty much done here.
So. Those are the basics. Now, we get to the good stuff: The costumes. And this is where the psychology comes in.
In the real world, Halloween costumes don't always function as a reflection of your character that also reveals your true inner self. In fiction, however, that's almost always how it works. So let's have a look at the kids' Halloween costumes and see what we can discover.
For Jason, we have Robin Hood, and that makes a lot of sense. Jason's sort of generically heroic, and Robin Hood --- despite not fitting the color scheme as well as, say, the Scarlet Pimpernel --- is certainly one of the founding pillars of modern superheroism. But that said, Robin Hood represents a very specific kind of heroism --- not simply altruism and honor, but a dedication towards correcting a very specific injustice. Robin Hood doesn't simply give to the poor, he also robs from the rich as a force of balance, and he does it while working within a larger team. For a dedicated martial artist, that idea of heroism through balance has to be appealing.
Also, it's worth noting that canonically, Robin Hood stories generally follow the plot of Robin meeting someone (Friar Tuck, Little John, and so on) and then challenging them to a fight before allowing him to join the team. Compare that with how Jason is frequently seen sparring with Zack, how he teaches Billy in his Beginner's Karate class, and how Tommy is introduced by fighting Jason in competition.
Zack is dressed as an Egyptian Pharaoh, specifically Tutankhamun. This fits the established pattern of Zack's wardrobe featuring an African inlfuence --- he's commonly seen wearing the colors of the Pan-African Flag --- but it seems like there's more to it. Tutankhamun is, after all,the most famous archaeological discovery of the 20th Century, but until relatively recently, there was a lot of conjecture about whether he might also be one of history's most famous murder victims as well.
Consensus is now that he died of malaria, but his death at a young age brought an end to his family's line, and eventually led to Horemheb, last Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, to attempt to erase him from history. Are we to assume, then, that Zack has a more fatalistic view of youth and power, and how no one can truly struggle against the ultimate enemy?
Kimberly's dressed as a princess, which is an easy enough leap to make that it's going to come up again at least twice before she leaves the show. While it's tempting to just write this off as an example of her character getting the short end of the characterization stick --- which is a shame after her display in last week's episode --- I do think there's some value to it.
For one thing, identifying Kimberly as a princess does a lot to connect her to the ideal that pop culture was really gearing up to market to young girls in a big way. This was, after all, only four years after The Little Mermaid had returned the idea of the "Disney Princesses" to the forefront of one of the largest media corporations in the world, which would see queens (Rita Repulsa, for example) as evil forces pitted against good, youthful princesses. Also, it's a visual connection to Mei, her Super Sentai counterpart, who is in fact an actual princess from dinosaur times.
Trini's costume is, at best, disappointingly culturally appropriative, and the less said about it, the better.
Billy attends the party as Sherlock Holmes, and again, that's another (conveniently public domain) ancestor of the modern superhero and a pretty easy leap to make for the team's resident genius. What resonates here, I think, isn't the abilities of the two characters, but the limitations --- Holmes famously knew nothing about astronomy, philosophy or literature, failing to see how any of those would help him solve crimes. Billy's knowledge of those subjects is certainly profound --- it's interaction with others where he suffers.
Bulk and Skull have what might be the most interesting costume. There's a scene where they try out various options --- Captain Hook and Peter Pan, Old Elvis and Young Elvis --- before finally settling on attending the party as "a couple of punks." The message here is clear: Bulk and Skull have no idea who they really are. Their pose as punks is simply that --- a pose, a placeholder that they have until they truly figure who it is that they truly are. It's foreshadowing for the rest of the series, which will see them bouncing around from one odd job to the next, from Junior Police to private detectives to chimpanzees. Which, now that I write it, isn't really a job.
It's Tommy, though, where the real action is. Keep in mind that we're only a few weeks out from the events of Green With Evil, and here's Tommy, deciding to attend this party as Rita's most recent monster, only to take off the mask and reveal his own smiling face beneath.
The metaphor here hardly needs underlining, but it stands as a profound examination of his character. Tommy has no "true self" to reveal, because he doesn't know what his true self is without Rita's influence, spinning out of the trauma of being a violent, brainwashed minion. All he has is the knowledge that if his friends can see beneath the surface of a monster that Rita has created, perhaps they will accept him once again. It's no accident that the first thing he does when he arrives is take off the mask.
So here's the thing: In Japan, Dora Franke sticks around for a two parter, meaning that the source material for this episode comes from Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger's 28th and 29th episodes, "Great Upgrade! Clay Monsters" and "A Mystery? The Attacking Beast Knight God." Simple enough, except that the events of that second episode are also going to be used down the line for a much more important story, along with other pieces of Burai's final fate.
For now, we'll stick to what's relevant to this week's story, which starts when Dan decides to get a job.
I don't like to go around nitpicking on the more mundane elements of superheroes, but I actually have been wondering how the Zyurangers were getting by when they seem to have enough free time to just hang out with whatever kids Bandora has decided to murder this week.
It turns out, Barza has been selling off pieces of their treasure hoard in order to make ends meet, and while that's a tragic illustration of how far they've fallen since Bandora ruined everything back in dinosaur times, I'd also like to point out that Barza is selling the treasure of royal families from ten million years ago. If he's having trouble providing room and board for six people when he has artifacts of dinosaur times, then that's on his terrible negotiating skills.
Anyway, it turns out that he's been giving everyone (or at least Mei) an allowance of 100 yen per day, which, even in 1992 money, is not a whole heck of a lot. So since Dan's out working at a ramen shop to earn a little scratch between monster fights, the rest of the team --- except for Geki --- decides that they should do the same.
Unfortunately, their boon to the economy is not to last. It seems that Bandora has discovered a supply of Dokiita Clay, a mystical substance that she can use to make stronger monsters. Her operation is already in full force to the point where she's already made one monster, the incredibly strong Dora Franke.
And since her mine is within walking distance of Dan's ramen shop, guess where they go for lunch.
That, of course, is Dora Franke, with Totpat and Bookback in their human forms - something that I'm really surprised MMPR never did. If memory serves, we won't get real "human forms" for any of the regular monsters until Marah and Kapri show up on Ninja Storm ten years later.
Needless to say, this ends up tipping off the Zyurangers to what Bandora's up to, but not until after a very long, very gross scene where they infest the ramen shop with cockroaches, which leads to a big fight between Daizyuzin and Dora Franke. The thing is, the Dokiita Clay has made Dora Franke almost unbeatable --- the first round actually ends when Dora Franke beats Daizyuzin so badly that He splits into His component parts, something that's actually a pretty cool effect that I don't recall ever seeing on the American version:
Clearly, they need the assistance of Burai and Dragon Caesar, but since Burai's running out of time on his mystical green candle, that assistance is not very forthcoming.
Until, of course, it is.
But that's something we need to get into later. For now, 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: The only thing that's weird about the Power Rangers fighting Frankenstein is that they never get around to fighting Dracula. Or, in the Japanese version, Dora Acula. 1/10
- Deviation From the Source: It makes sense that they'd want to use the one time that an actual famous horror movie monster shows up as the basis for the Halloween episode, but I do kind of wish we'd seen the rangers have to go get part-time jobs. Do the youth center karate classes actually pay anything? 5/10
- Bulk and Skull Friendship: I don't know if you caught this earlier, but they own actual couples costumes. Multiple couples costumes. 10/10
- Moral Lessons: If you're at a party and someone looks like a monster, they are probably a Frankenstein and you should impale them on a drill as soon as possible. 1/10
- '90s Fashions: It's hard to tell since they're in costume for most of the episode, but let's be real here: Jason's Robin Hood is definitely a Prince of Thieves/Men In Tights era Robin Hood. 7/10
Total For Episode 21: 24/50