Ranger Station Episode 45: Crystal Of Nightmares
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 Rangers head off to a cabin in the woods, and instead of a horror movie-themed episode, we somehow just get another round of unnecessary flashbacks.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Episode 45: Crystal of Nightmares
Writers: Shuki Levy and Douglas Sloan
Director: Robert Hughes
Original Air Date: February 14, 1994
As you've probably noticed by this point, Power Rangers is a pretty formulaic show. I don't necessarily mean that as a criticism --- it's less of a slight and more of just a factual description of how the entire franchise has worked for the past 23 years, and I've written before about how comforting I find it --- but you can't really get around it. The minor details might change from one episode to the next, but generally speaking, Rita's going to make a monster, the Rangers are going to fight it for a little while, it's going to grow to kaiju-size, and then the Megazord's going to show up and explode it with a giant sword. It's a formula that works, but it's still a formula.
Which is what makes these last 20 episodes of the first season so unbelievably weird.
You'd think that commissioning new fight scenes from Japan that weren't tied to the plot of Zyuranger would've made it easier for the American producers to create a show that held together, but what actually happened was the opposite. When Power Rangers came back to finish out its first year, it went completely off the rails at almost every opportunity, to the point where a lot of the "Zyu2" footage that was commissioned was never actually used. Instead, we get episodes like this one, where the only monster is the grim spectre of recycled footage.
And a crystal ball, but I think I'm getting ahead of myself here.
Structurally speaking, this episode is another one of those that feels like someone took a plot from Saved By The Bell and replaced Screech with an immortal moon witch who wants to murder the world. The Rangers have a big test coming up in Ms. Appleby's science class, and while Trini and Kim are a little worried about it, Billy has come up with a foolproof plan for passing: Studying!
No, seriously. That's his entire plan.
Okay, admittedly, they're going to be studying in a cabin up at his uncle's resort, and I suppose that a change of scenery could make it a little easier for them to concentrate on their work, but it honestly seems like the kind of thing that they could probably do just as easily at home. Especially considering that one pretty much has to assume that the major reason they've fallen behind on their studies is that their hometown is constantly being attacked by a seemingly endless stream of clay murdergolems.
So really, it doesn't seem like the test is a big deal for the Rangers. For Bulk and Skull, however, it's a much more pressing concern:
Their grades have fallen so far that if they make their usual D on the test, Mr. Caplan has assured them that they're going to wind up in detention for the rest of the year. Clearly, drastic action needs to be taken, so Bulk and Skull decide to follow their classmates up to the cabin and... do... something?
According to the dialogue, Bulk's plan is to "let them do all the work for us," which makes absolutely no sense. I mean, I have no trouble believing that Bulk's a poor student, but he at least has to have some kind of concept of what studying is, right? Like, the best he can hope for is that he takes their notes, and then he still has to study.
It's tempting to wonder why, if things are really this desperate, they don't just ask the Rangers to help him study, but I think the answer to that one is pretty clear. As much as they might be helpful goody-goodies, the Rangers have proven that they're more than happy to see Bulk and Skull publicly humiliated at every opportunity. It's a vicious cycle.
And speaking of vicious.
The Rangers' weekend getaway is about to be complicated by the arrival of this week's Dastardly Plot, which centers on the Crystal of Nightmares --- and in one of the biggest departures from the show's established formula, not only is it not a monster, but it's also not even Rita Repulsa's idea. Instead, the suggestion comes from Goldar, who's suddenly showing some initiative now like he's trying to get the Assistant Manager job at Rita's moon palace.
And for coming from Goldar, it's a surprisingly esoteric plan. Rather than just throwing an evil pig monster at them and seeing if it works this time, the idea is that they'll use a mystical object called the Crystal of Nightmares to give them bad dreams, thereby destroying their self-confidence and with it, their effectiveness as Rangers. To be honest, it seems like a solid plan, chipping away at them to create weaknesses, wearing them down over time until they're no longer able to fight against the onslaught of a foe that they can never truly defeat.
Except that Goldar's plan is to do all of this in one night, which is about where the plan falls apart. I mean, I've had some pretty bad dreams before that have left me in a grumpy mood, but I'm not sure there's any nightmare that could bother me that much if my reality involved driving around in a giant robot Tyrannosaurus.
But before the Rangers can fall asleep and be subjected to the power of the Crystal, there's one more wrinkle to the plot:
Bulk and Skull, disguised as maids, have come to the cabin looking for... I don't know, knowledge, something that is generally considered intangible? Who even knows. Point is, they're in there in wigs and dresses, snooping around.
Unfortunately for them, that snooping is interrupted when the Rangers return, prompting Bulk and Skull to hide under the bed, which really makes me wonder why they bothered with the disguises at all. I mean, the entire point of wearing a disguise --- even one that's not all that convincing --- is that you don't have to hide. You're already hiding. But under the bed they go, just in time for Zack, Billy, and Jason to return and start a pillow fight that leaves them all tuckered out.
And when they fall asleep, the Crystal of Nightmares works its dark magic. The dark magic... of clips from previous episodes.
Yeah: The big plan here to destroy the Rangers' confidence is to make them dream about enemies they have already beaten. This plan is flawed on a number of levels, not the least of which being that it's pretty boring, but here are the details. Billy dreams about being devoured by the Terror Toad from "Power Ranger Punks," Trini dreams of being blasted by Goldar in "Itsy Bitsy Spider," Zack dreams about a battle with the Knasty Knight in "Happy Birthday Zack," Kimberly dreams of being sucked into the Samurai Fan Man's extradimensional bottle in "Calamity Kimberly," and Jason dreams of getting beaten up by Goldar in Rita's Dark Dimension in "Green With Evil, Part 2."
Far more interesting than those, however, is the shared dream had by Bulk and Skull, who get caught in the mystical blast by virtue of still being under the bed. In their dream, they reappear in their Incredible Bulkster and Super-Skull costumes as superheroes who control the Megazord.
Although why exactly this is a nightmare is never actually explained.
Either way, it works. All of the Rangers' dreams are capped off with a shared vision of Zordon firing them from being Rangers, and when they wake up the next day, they've been shaken to their core. And not only does it not help when a giant floating head makes a halfhearted stab at sympathy...
... but also the Rangers find themselves so paralyzed with fear that they can't even keep it together long enough to fight a gang of Putty Patrollers who are guarding the Crystal.
If you've been keeping up with all of the other times that the Rangers have had to face their fears, though, you can probably guess how this goes: The sheer, all-consuming terror that the Rangers are facing goes away almost immediately as soon as they actually get in a fight, and once the Putties are defeated and the Crystal is shattered by Jason roundhouse kicking it into a million pieces (awesome), everything pretty much goes back to normal. Self-confidence returns, and with it, the ability to defeat evil with the power of karate.
And hey, they even did well on the test! Except for Bulk and Skull, I mean, who failed. Or is it the American educational system that has failed them?
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: Monster? Oh, you mean the crystal ball that gives you bad dreams, which are actually just memories of the times you won fights? 1/10
Radness of the Music: The major musical moment in this episode is another round of "Fight," and yep, it's still awesome. 8/10
Bulk and Skull Friendship: They literally shared a dream of each other! 9/10
Moral Lessons: If you have a bad dream that is actually just a memory of a time you won a fight, maybe think about that memory for another two seconds until you remember the part where you won. 2/10
'90s Fashions: Between the Rangers' cabin-themed "camping"-style outfits and Bulk and Skull's disguises, this episode is a delightful smorgasbord of '90s fashions. Zack's shirt alone is responsible for about seven points here. 8/10
Total For Episode 45: 28/50