Ranger Station Episode 49: Return Of An Old Friend, Part One
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, an old friend returns. What exactly were you expecting after that title?
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Episode 49: Return Of An Old Friend, Part I
Writer: Shell Danielson
Director: Worth Keeter
Original Air Date: February 28, 1994
One thing that's important to keep in mind when you go back and watch that first season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is that while it's the first series of Power Rangers, it's based on the seventeenth installment of the Super Sentai franchise. I mention this not just because it means that the Japanese side had been doing this long enough that they had the formula pretty much down at that point, but because it means that they didn't have to start with Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger.
There were plenty of options here, and I've heard people talk about how one of the biggest missteps came right there at the beginning, when Saban elected to import Zyuranger instead of the previous year's Chojin Sentai Jetman, a series that hewed a little closer to American superheroics and had a truly amazing theme song. The thing is, Zyuranger had something that no other Super Sentai series had, something that was arguably as important to the success of the American version as giant robot dinosaurs.
Zyuranger had Burai.
I mentioned it before, way back when he first showed up, but Zyuranger was the first show in the franchise to introduce the concept of the Sixth Ranger, a concept so successful with fans that it's been in pretty much every installment of the series since - sometimes to the point of having Seventh, Eighth, even Eleventh Rangers in shows like Dino Charge.
The thing is, Burai dies --- in an episode called "Burai Dies," in fact --- and unlike most superheroic deaths, he never comes back. In the American version, however, the move away from the original episodes and into the short-lived "Zyu2" era was partially built around the Green Ranger's overwhelming popularity. If Power Rangers wasn't beholden to the plots of Zyuranger, well, there was no reason that Tommy had to stay gone along with Burai, was there?
Which leads us to this episode, "Return of an Old Friend," where Tommy finally makes his reappearance. And, y'know, sorry to spoil it right up here at the top of the column and everything, but just in case you didn't get it from the title, they made sure to put this on the screen right after:
It's not quite calling the episode "Burai Dies" or anything, but it's pretty darn close.
As for the episode, we open up on Angel Grove High School's Parents Day, which is, for some reason, being held at the Youth Center instead of the school itself. It's one of those moments that brings up the question of just what the relationship is between AGHS and the Youth Center, and while it's not quite as mystifying as Bayside High and the Max, it's getting pretty close.
Anyway, the most notable thing here, for both plot and over-analysis purposes, is that we get to see the Rangers' parents. Generally speaking, they're pretty nondescript --- Billy's apparently single dad is a nerd, Jason's parents are competitive but good-natured and really into sleeveless red shirts; it's all what you'd expect --- but there are three sets of parents that are well worth diving into. The first set? The Skullovitch family, who appear to be the party-crashing bikers from Weird Science:
Skull's wardrobe has always had a little bit of a militaristic flair --- especially his signature red beret with the question mark patch --- but seeing that his parents arrive to meet his principal in a leather officer's cap and a straight up actual army helmet, respectively, raises a lot of questions about his home life. At least they seem to be having a good time.
Bulk's family, on the other hand, is introduced in what is absolutely the most soul-shatteringly depressing moment of the entire show. I've written at length about how Bulk's constant (and extremely messy) public humiliation can wear you down if you marathon the show, but this is where it hits rock bottom. When the Bulkmeiers enter, with Paul Schrier actually playing it as Bulk being excited to introduce his parents to all of his school friends, they walk straight into a flying cake, and Mrs. Bulkmeier utters the five most crushing words she can:
I am absolutely not kidding when I say that this breaks my heart every time. "My good dress." Singular. She only has the one, and she wore it to make a good impression on her son's friends, only to be embarrassed in front of her entire community the second she walks into the room. Like... Jesus, dude. Has this guy not suffered enough at this point that you need to bring his family into it?
This, however, is played for Big Laffs. Our sympathy and emotions are meant to be reserved for Kimberly, who's having a hard time with her parents' divorce. See, her mom and dad arrive separately, and her mom has her new boyfriend in tow:
That's him on the left, and if you have a sharp eye and/or an obsessive love of Power Rangers, you may recognize him as Douglas Sloan. He worked on the series as a writer, penning episodes like "A Pig Surprise," "Crystal of Nightmares," and "To Flea Or Not To Flee" (as well as Season 2's amazingly titled "Orchestral Maneuvers In The Park"), but he may be better known for his minor roles as an actor. In "Foul Play In The Sky," he played Kimberly's Uncle Steve, and taken together, these two roles raise a very important question: Is he Kimberly's literal uncle, meaning that her mother divorced her husband for his brother, or is he her figurative "Uncle," meaning that her mother just divorced her husband for a close family friend?
Either way, it's the kind of situation where you can see why Kim might want to skip Parents Day.
Needless to say, Power Rangers tackles divorce and the stress it can have on a child with all the subtlety that we've come to expect from a show where someone conquered a deep-seated fear of heights in about three minutes.
As soon as Trini tells her that no, it's actually not her fault, the problem is entirely solved, and they head into Parents Day together. There's just one problem: By the time they get there, there aren't any parents to be found.
As usual, Rita Repulsa has been inspired by Whatever's Going On At Angel Grove High That Day to launch a new evil plan, but this time, it's actually really sinister. So sinister, in fact, that it almost ends up breaking the formula of the show by crossing a pretty big boundary into, well, a slightly more "realistic" form of villainy.
While Jason and Zack are out getting refreshments and Trini and Kimberly are having their heart-to-heart about divorce interrupted by a gang of Putty Patrollers, Rita sends a monster called the Dramole down to the Youth Center to zap all of the assembled parents into another dimension. From there, Rita can hold the Rangers' families hostage, using them as leverage to get them to hand over their power coins.
But what of Billy? Well, despite the fact that his dad's there, Billy himself never made it to the Youth Center. He's been holed up in the garage working on a new invention, but that distraction leaves him vulnerable to an attack by Rita, who just effortlessly takes over his mind as part of her next plan.
And this is why I say that it breaks the formula. This is the 49th episode. We've been at this for a year at this point, but even going by the show's original daily schedule, that's a lot of time. If Rita had the ability to just mind-control the Rangers all this time, and if Rita had access to their families --- which she did, the Rangers only have to keep their identities from the general public, not the literal moon witch who's constantly trying to murder them --- then why did it take her this long to do all this? You don't just wake up one morning and go, "Oh hey, I should murder their families!" if that's been an option the entire time.
Under Rita's mind control, Billy goes to the command center to steal the Dragon Dagger --- raising even more questions, this time about where the Rangers' weapons are when they're not in use, whether the Command Center just has a giant armory just off screen, and why the heck we never get to see it if it does --- and takes a few moments to drop some sick burns on Zordon and Alpha 5:
With their parents missing and Billy under Rita's spell, the other Rangers quickly realize that they're caught up in a sinister plot, and their suspicions are confirmed once they're lured into Rita's Dark Dimension for a showdown with Goldar. But alas, even the combined and weirdly off-center powers of four of the Awkward Original American Footage Rangers can't stop the machinations that have been set into motion:
Goldar gives them an ultimatum: Turn over their Power Coins --- and with them, the ability to morph and summon their Zords --- or their parents (and Bulk and Skull) are dead. They put up a bit of resistance, but after the DragonZord (controlled by Goldar and the Dragon Dagger) thrashes the Megazord, they realize they don't have much of a choice.
And with that, all five Rangers turn over their Power Coins, effectively giving up their powers:
But here's the problem with cutting a deal with a weird growly manticore from space: They're not always honest. Even after the Rangers give up their Power Coins, Goldar refuses to release their parents. Rita, it seems, has won.
But what's this?! Goldar's not the only one practicing a little deception! The five Rangers turned over five Power Coins, but there's a sixth Power Coin --- one that Jason's been hanging onto for a while, ever since its original owner had to give it up when he seemingly left the show.
But now, he's back.
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: I just watched this episode twice, and I have literally no idea if we actually see the Dramole in this one or if he just shows up to the next one. I think he's only represented here by a lump moving around under the floor and some Sam Raimi ram-o-cam style footage. Which, when you get right down to it, is pretty amazing in its own way. 7/10
Radness of the Music: Okay so remember last week when I said this episode had the best musical cue on the show? Well, not only do we get a pretty great rendition of "Fight," but at the very end, when the camera slowly pans up to reveal Tommy, we get this amazing sudden hit of "Go-Green-Ran-Ger, Go Go Go!" over a shot of JDF looking around confused. It's the best. 10/10
Bulk and Skull Friendship: The one bright spot of Bulk's mom and dad showing up is that they basically look like an older married couple version of Bulk and Skull. 9/10
Moral Lessons: Always do the right thing, but maybe throw some lies in there too, just in case. 8/10
'90s Fashions: Do sleeves not exist in the Jason household? 5/10
Total For Episode 46: 39/50