Ranger Station Episode 46: To Flea Or Not To Flee
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, Ernie's about to go out of business, and Jason finds a dog. Also, I think there's a monster and a robot in there somewhere.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Episode 46: To Flea Or Not To Flee
Writer: Douglas Sloan
Director: Terence H. Winkless
Original Air Date: Februrary 15, 1994
Of all the Saved by the Bell plots that have been grafted onto Power Rangers to make a series about a giant robot karate-fighting clay monsters from the moon a little more relatable to the average American kid, this episode's is... Well, it's not the most infuriating, but only because "Trick Or Treat" exists and that thing fills me with a white-hot rage over what is unquestionably the worst game show ever imagined by the human mind. But, y'know, we'll get to that one in about nine more episodes, I guess.
Anyway, while the events of "To Flea Or Not To Flee" aren't quite on that level, they are completely mystifying. Because this week, someone --- presumably Douglas Sloan --- reached into the big box of teen sitcom tropes and pulled out "the local hangout is going out of business."
And look. I am willing to believe a lot of things when it comes to this show, long before we ever get to the part where a moon witch is trying to kill everyone with eyeball monsters. I'm willing to believe that there are full-contact ninja competitions among teens and that this is totally normal, for instance, and that commercials for the very concept of karate are often auditioned and filmed at local high schools. But if you're going to stand there and ask me to believe that the Angel Grove Youth Center is not a profitable business, then brother, that goes against literally everything I know about economics.
Which, admittedly, is not much, but still. Even if we put aside the question of just how the Youth Center is run, and whether Ernie's juice bar is meant to be a for-profit business or something subsidized by Angel Grove's Parks & Recreation service, or if he's renting the space in a public building, or what, the simple fact is that that place is packed all the time. If Ernie can't turn a profit selling smoothies to a gym full of kids, all of whom seem to be sitting at his counter purchasing snacks all the time, then you know what? The invisible hand of the market has made its decision, and all the loose change in the world, collected in a coffee can by a sad-looking Zack, isn't going to change that.
Billy's been looking over Ernie's books, and confirms that the problem is that he's spending more than he makes. I would further suggest that a larger problem is that when he runs into financial trouble, he just hands over his business records to the nearest teen. Even if the teen in question invented teleportation and a flying Volkswagen, you're probably going to want to get a CPA, or at least someone familiar with the tax codes --- especially in a city where the local government is tasked with rebuilding downtown on a weekly basis.
But maybe there's another problem. Maybe Ernie's Juice Bar is the victim of outside forces, like, say, an off-putting amount of stray dogs hanging out outside the building.
In the midst of all this economic turmoil, Jason has discovered a dog and carried him into a dining establishment, another action that maybe makes Ernie's impending shutdown a little more believable. Also, it raises the question of how a dog can "look kind of lost." Could Jason, perhaps, be a dog whisperer?
Because as it turns out, he's right. The dog in question, Pierre, actually is lost, and has been for long enough that his owner is hanging up Lost Dog flyers all round town, including the hallways of Angel Grove High School. I want you to keep this in mind when we get to the end of the episode, and I want you think about who usually hangs up notices on high school bulletin boards.
Since the flyer promises a hefty monetary reward, Bulk and Skull --- who occasionally get swept up in Get-Rich-Quick schemes, because if we're going to grab one trope from the Sitcom Box, we might as well get another while we're in there --- set out to find the dog themselves. They are not, however, the only ones keeping an eye on the situation. Up on the Moon, Rita Repulsa has decided that if you lie down with (a story that is tangentially about) dogs, then you wake up with (an antagonist loosely based on) fleas.
This is Rita's Fabulous Fighting Flea, a monster that comes complete with a magically infectious itch that it can transfer via bite. On top of that, Rita can shrink him down so that he can go undetected onto Pierre's back when Jason takes him out for a walk.
Of course, Pierre is also being stalked by Bulk and Skull, who have noticed that the dog hanging out with their classmates is the same (valuable) dog that's on the flyer, and have decided that the best course of action here is to steal him back and return him to his rightful owner. This really raises the question of why they don't just go up to the Rangers and tell them they know whose dog it is and take it. Even with their inherent and not entirely unjustified distrust of Bulk and Skull, you'd have to think the Rangers would be too goody-goody to ever keep a pet apart from its owner for long. But on the other hand, even Bulk and Skull have to realize at this point that every time they talk to the Power Rangers, they end up going face-first into the nearest baked good and/or mud pit.
Heedless of all this, the Fighting Flea hops from Pierre onto Jason, and infects him with an itchiness that shows up as sparkly VHS static:
That initial bite is followed up by an attack by a gang of Putty Patrollers, but after Jason discovers that the debilitating itch can be caught by contact, even by semi-sentient clay soldiers, he and Kimberly make short work of their opponents. The itch certainly doesn't seem to stop them from fighting effectively, though, but I guess that's the benefit of having a Ron Wasserman score backing you up.
A quick visit to Zordon and Alpha 5 reveals the itch's contagious properties, and when Billy sets off to work on an antidote, Jason and Kimberly go in search of the dog before it can lead the Fighting Flea to infect even more Angel Grovians. Grovers? Grovers. Let's go with that.
It's not the dog that they find, though --- it's the full-size Fighting Flea himself.
Unfortunately, when Jason morphs into his Red Ranger form, it nullifies the spray that Zordon was using to keep his itch under control, which seems like something of a downside to transforming into a superhero.
But the good news is that the Rangers have Billy, whose expertise in automotive and aircraft engineering, computer programming, theoretical physics, and, apparently, accounting also extends to pharmaceutical science as well. In the span of about four minutes, he has, in his garage, invented an antidote to the bite of a giant flea monster that has been enhanced with moon magic. I don't want to get into the whole "why doesn't Bruce Wayne give his money to chairty" logic here, but it really does seem like being a Power Ranger for so long derailed Billy's career as the greatest scientist in the history of the world.
With the itchiness neutralized, the Rangers make pretty short work of the Fighting Flea, calling in the Megazord and slashing him into an explosive end.
So! Remember when I asked you to think about the kind of person who would put up a flyer in a high school? Well, if you were thinking "a high school student," you are absolutely correct. In this world. Not in the world of Power Rangers, though, because this is Pierre's owner:
She is, however, extremely rich, and when the Rangers tell her that it was Ernie who found the dog --- despite the fact that Ernie didn't do a damn thing --- she hands over a reward check made out for $HoweverMuchMoneyHeNeedsTo,NotGoOutOfBusiness.00, a tidy end for the world's least necessary B-plot.
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: We are truly in the doldrums of monster design, trapped in that "A Very Large Flea" valley between "Man-Shaped Mass of Eyes" and "Rapping Pumpkin." 3/10
Radness of the Music: "Fight" still holds up, but I noticed this time around that it rhymes "side" with "side," so a bit of the shine is definitely wearing off. 7/10
Bulk and Skull Friendship: I think we've had a lot of fun with the subtext of Bulk and Skull's relationship, but I would be remiss if I didn't point out that this episode ends with them wearing dog collars, which is officially the point where it's Too Easy. 7/10
Moral Lessons: Hey kids! Returning a lost dog to its owner is what jerks like Bulk and Skull do! Real heroes like the Power Rangers just basically keep it for themselves and then tell everyone that some local business owner had it the whole time. 2/10
'90s Fashions: Pierre's owner's polka-dot dress is a timeless classic. 6/10
Total For Episode 46: 25/50