Ranger Station Episode 36: Birds Of A Feather
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, we are living in a post-Tommy world --- not that you'd notice.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Episode 36: Birds of a Feather
Writer: Julianne Klemm
Director: Robert Hughes
Original Air Date: November 22, 1993
Last week's episode ended with Tommy being assured that he'd always be the Rangers' friend --- and presumably Kimberly's brand new Facebook-official boyfriend --- but if you've ever watched the show before, you already know that's not exactly the case. As of this episode, we're into a stretch of the series where Tommy's not only never even mentioned as the one person who used to be a Power Ranger, but where, since Jason has the Dragon Dagger, the armor, and the ability to control the Dragonzord, Tommy might as well have never existed. And honestly, I've always wondered about that decision.
Obviously, there's a pretty good reason why they can't have him around as the Green Ranger --- as you might remember from the title of last week's corresponding episode of Zyuranger, Burai is dead, so there's not going to be any more Green Ranger footage coming over from Toei anytime soon. Considering how adamant FOX Kids' BSP department was about not actually killing anyone, it's not like the American version of the show could really follow suit. The thing is, not killing Tommy --- and having the other characters assure him (and us!) that he's still going to be around --- is a pretty weird solution.
Obviously, Tommy's going to be back, and his return is going to be one of the single most dramatic moments on the show, but it really makes me wonder if the absolute lack of mentions of him over the next few episodes was meant to set that up and heighten the drama of his eventual return. It's tough to figure out, because at this point, while it was certainly a hit, Power Rangers had been around for less than three months. It's hard to imagine anyone at this point knowing that there would even be more episodes in which Tommy could return, let alone that they'd be able to get footage from Japan that was being made exclusively for American audiences.
Point being, if you were expecting to see Tommy at all --- or even hear anyone in the cast vaguely mention the fact that they used to have another friend who was part of the team --- well, don't hold your breath. Instead, please enjoy yet another story about preparing for a Martial Arts contest.
And look: I realize that of the elements that make up this show, "karate" ranks second only behind "giant dinosaur robots," but honestly, this is like the fourth time in three months that someone's been preparing for a competition. And it's the second time that Bulk has somehow found himself managing the enemy competitor!
This time around, though, it's for #tweens. Specifically, Zack's student Kameron, who is talented but lacks confidence, is set to fight against Bulk's newest protege, Biff, who is wearing one of Bulk's vests that he picked up from wardrobe:
That is, in all honesty, the only thing that is worth noting about this plot. That thing looks like a floor-length robe on that poor kid who is eventually going to be defeated by hard work and honesty.
Seriously: This section of the plot is so irrelevant that it doesn't even have anything to do with what Rita's planning for the Rangers up on the moon. By the time we head up there to see what she's up to, she has already sent a monster to Earth. This time, it's a giant kaiju called Hatchasaurus, which --- according to Zordon --- can only be destroyed if the Rangers get inside it and disconnect Cardiatron, the supercomputer that controls it.
Which is a nice standards-and-practices-friendly way of saying "go stab this thing directly in its giant heart."
With the help of the Dragonzord, the Rangers defeat Hatchasaurus with a full 13 minutes left in the episode, which has to be some kind of record. The problem, though, is that despite Zordon's instructions, they didn't bother to deal with Cardiatron, meaning that the monster's just going to reform and continue stomping on various parts of Angel Grove until this somehow results in Rita taking control of the world.
Considering how quickly the Rangers blew it up, Goldar realizes that they can probably just keep doing so, until they end up getting a lucky shot that shreds Hatchasaurus's heart --- er, supercomputer --- especially if they have the Dragonzord on their side. And that's when Rita drops this bombshell:
Apparently, Rita has a spell that can just take the Dragonzord completely out of the equation, and for some reason never bothered to use this at all in the fifteen episodes in which the Dragonzord has been a pretty big obstacle to her plans. Maybe she could've busted that one out when they were dealing with Babe Ruthless, or Fang, or the Rockstar? Or at any point in the series up to now?
So once again, the Rangers head off to destroy Cardiatron, and in case you were wondering just how padded out this episode was going to be, we get our second full-length Morphing sequence of the episode. Once that's done, though, it's finally time for the fight to get interesting. When the Hatchasaurus takes down the Megazord, threatening to tear out its robotic throat, Jason attempts to once again summon the Dragonzord for a quick save and an explosive finishing move. The Dragonzord does appear, but rather than rising majestically from a boiling sea and shooting missiles out of its fingertips, it shuffles onto the scene holding its hands locked in where its pockets would be if it had pockets, like a turbonerd who just got picked to climb the rope in a particularly cruel middle school gym class:
Fortunately, the Rangers remember that they can summon a sword from the sky, which comes down onto Hatchasaurus's face and gives them a little bit of breathing room, even if it doesn't finish the job. If they're ever going to get anywhere, they're going to have to do what Zordon suggested ten minutes ago, which is why Jason jumps out of the Megazord and straight into the Hatchasaurus's mouth.
Once he's inside, he's immediately face-to-ventricle with Cardiatron, who a) definitely does not look like a supercomputer, and b) definitely sounds like someone doing a pretty passable impression of Mark Hamill as the Joker.
Eventually, for reasons that are never really explained, Jason plays the Dragon Dagger's fanfare enough that Tommy's armor appears on his costume and it powers the Dragonzord back up, and Hatchasaurus is torn apart, leaving Jason to battle a giant floating heart --- er, supercomputer in the park. And since he's tapped into the power of the Dragonzord already, you can guess how that goes.
I will say, though, it is pretty awesome when Jason starts running straight at that thing with the Power Sword and Dragon Dagger glowing like lightsabers, and then slashes it so hard that it explodes. That shot alone justifies the entire episode.
Once that's done --- and once Titanus disposes of Hatchasaurus for one final time --- Kameron defeats Biff, Biff turns on Bulk, and we all learn that Zack's teaching style includes referring to a sweep as "that new leg move."
Given how padded out this week's episode of Power Rangers was, I had a sneaking suspicion that its source material, Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger Episode 43, "Live Again, Zyusouken!," was going to have a lot of stuff that didn't translate well to American audiences. It's happened before, and usually, that means that there's a higher level of violence, or that there's an extended sequence of Bandora worshipping Satan so hard that blood begins to shoot from her eyes, but I don't think that's the case here.
No, I think it's because this week's episode of Zyuranger is all about how the Guardian Beasts have feelings.
We open with Dragon Caesar going on a rampage, and while the Zyurangers initially suspect that he might be acting out after the death of his master, Burai, it turns out that Dragon Caesar just sensed a new monster: Dora Antaeus.
This, incidentally, gets us back to the pattern of Bandora's monsters drawing on Greek mythology. In case you've forgotten, Antaeus was essentially the John Cena of the ancient world, the son of Poseidon and Gaia who challenged all comers to wrestle him and could not be defeated while standing upon the ground. Until, that is, Hercules showed up and realized that you could probably just pick him up and crush him with your mighty thews, putting an end to Greece's greatest winning streak.
Dora Antaeus, on the other hand, can be defeated. He'll bounce back and reform, of course, but the Zyurangers don't know that. All they know is that they just defeated another Bandora monster, so it's time to stand around telling the Guardian Beasts how awesome they are:
But alas, with Burai dead, there's no one around to tell Dragon Caesar that he did a good job, so as he watches the adoration that the Zyurangers heap upon the others, he shuffles off, alone and depressed.
But rather than let Dragon Caesar go through his grief himself, Geki heads off to speak to the giant robot dragon that may or may not be an aspect of God:
But rather than consoling him, Geki --- who is himself also dealing with the loss of his brother --- very bluntly tells Dragon Caesar to forget about Burai and move on. It does not go well. And that is why this episode didn't have much to do with its American counterpart: Because so much of it is devoted to the a robot dragon walking around in flowery fields thinking about its dead friend and feeling terrible about it.
And seriously, the physical acting of the poor guy who's in the Dragon Caesar costume is astoundingly good here. Looking at that thing, you would not think it would be possible to have slumped shoulders, or to project worry, anxiety and grief, but here we are, when I'm about to get emotional about the Dragonzord going through the pain of losing a friend.
And this, of course, is Bandora's true plan: To take advantage of Dragon Caesar's broken spirit by removing the Zyurangers' most powerful ally once and for all:
As Bandora casts a spell, to bind the weakened Dragon Caesar, Dora Antaeus reappears for a second round, having grown stronger with the energy of his earlier defeat. Even Daizyuzin is no match for him now, and when the Zyurangers attack, they end up getting thrown through a building. They narrowly manage to defeat him a second time, but when Dora Antaeus returns, he's even stronger --- and with Dragon Caesar out of the picture, things are looking pretty grim.
It's at this point that the Zyurangers figure out that they should probably just carve out Dora Antaeus's heart --- a solid all-purpose plan --- but with Dragon Caesar immobilized, they won't be able to do it with the God Horn. Instead, Geki's going to have to jump into the monster's mouth and do it himself.
The problem, of course, is that as every doctor knows, hearts are terrifying tentacle monsters that can survive being hit by a sword. And that Dragon Caesar is just falling over since it can't move its arms.
Eventually, through the medium of dagger flute trumpet music, Geki shares some inspiring words with Dragon Caesar: "I know my brother isn't here anymore, but he isn't dead. He lives inside your heart, and inside my heart, too. He wants us to defeat the evil! That's why I'm going to fight. I'll forget about everything and keep fighting until peace comes to this world!"
And with that, Dragon Caesar is so inspired that he breaks through the spell, tears out Dora Antaeus's heart, and drops him in the park so that Geki can finish him once and for all:
With that, Dora Antaeus is defeated, and the Rangers meet up with Dragon Caesar to talk about how they have all overcome their grief in the span of about 20 minutes. Fight on, Zyuranger!
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 idea of a heart --- er, supercomputer that animates the form of a giant monster isn't actually all that weird, but it's definitely pretty cool. When it's a heart and monster that can each fight independently, though... 5/10
Deviation From the Source: Would this episode not have been amazing if it was all about Jason having to earn the trust of the Dragonzord in the wake of Tommy's death? 7/10
Bulk and Skull Friendship: I honestly don't think Skull has any lines in this episode. Go ahead and hang out with Biff, Bulk. He will abandon you. Skull will be here for you when you get back. 3/10
Moral Lessons: The real moral that we get comes from Zyuranger this week, but I'm not sure "forget about your dead friends and keep hitting things with swords" is a particularly good lone for the kids. 3/10
'90s Fashions: Everyone's wearing something super '90s in this episode --- in fact, thanks to recycled footage, the Rangers themselves are wearing two different sets of super '90s clothes, but I just want to write a thousand-word article in praise of Skull's weird Mid-South Wrestling Championship Belt. 7/10
Total For Episode 36: 25/50