Ranger Station Episode 53: Fowl Play
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, Zack's in the spotlight as the Rangers fight a monstrous bird. Yes, another monstrous bird. It's kind of a theme here.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Episode 53: Fowl Play
Writer: Peggy Nicoll
Director: John Stewart
Original Air Date: May 2, 1994
Power Rangers follows a formula, and even if you love the show --- and even if you're being extremely charitable in your evaluation of it --- I think we all have to admit that the formula doesn't really make sense. There's never much of an explanation given for why Rita Repulsa only sends one monster, why the Rangers don't just go up to the moon in their giant robots and try to cram her back into a space dumpster, or why Rita's so entirely focused on destroying a single suburban city in California. But then again, since none of this is ever really brought up on the show, it's not like they're inviting you to think about it.
There are, however, quirks of the formula that are too big to ignore, so in the first episode, the show props up the formula with Zordon's three rules, which are imposed with the extremely nebulous penalty of "losing the protection of... the power." The first is that the Rangers have to have secret identities, to add a little classic Western superhero drama to the story, something that's missing in Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger, and the second is that they can't escalate fights, to make sure the episodes aren't just two minutes long until the Megazord shows up and stomps on a tiny monster.
But the third rule is the one that barely even needs to be there. The Rangers aren't allowed to use their powers for personal gain.
It's such a classic, unspoken rule of superheroics --- virtually all superheroics --- that I'm really surprised they bothered to put it out there, especially since the characters are such unapologetic do-gooders. As much as I would love to see Jason and Trini plotting some kind of money-making scheme in the background, it's not like any of these characters are particularly conniving, so it doesn't seem like that rule even needs to be there.
Until this episode, when Zack uses his powers to make a bunch of children think that he's really good at stage magic, and no one ever brings it up.
It happens, of course, in the Youth Center, where Zack is helping Angela entertain a group of local youths with some juggling and a bit of sleight-of-hand. The act gets far more entertaining, however, once Bulk and Skull get involved. At first, they just want to be a part of the show --- with Bulk pulling the classic "I can do that" blowhard move and then completely failing to juggle --- but it quickly turns into the kind of torment and humiliation that we've come to expect when our heroes are dealing with their classmates.
Which in this case comes in the form of serpents, driving Bulk and Skull from the Eden that is Ernie's Juice Bar.
Normally, the subtext of Bulk and Skull's miracle romance goes at the end of the column, but what happens next is pretty amazing. After Zack scares Bulk and Skull with his rubber snakes, they go full-on Scooby-Doo, with Skull literally leaping into Bulk's arms as Bulk carries him to safety.
Love lift us up where we be-lo-o-ong!
It's enough to impress Angela, though, who gives Zack a quick peck on the cheek in thanks --- and the word "peck" is literally all Rita needs to hear to decide that she should send down another bird monster and see if this one fares any better than the last. This time, it's the Peckster, who can "destroy any building with a peck or two," and who interrupts Zack's "date" with the news that it's literally tearing down skyscrapers downtown.
Considering that barely a week goes by without a giant robot made of robot dinosaurs tripping and falling into one, that's probably not as big a deal in Angel Grove as it would be here in the real world, but it's still kind of shocking that this reign of terror happens completely offscreen.
With the rest of the Rangers waylaid by Putty Patrollers, Zack has to leap into action. The problem is that he's stuck at the Youth Center with Angela, Bulk, Skull, and the kids, and there's no real way to duck out without being extremely suspicious and coming close to violating Zordon's first rule. Fortunately, he's got a solution, and as always, it involves further humiliation for Bulk and Skull:
A few quick magic words later, and Zack has teleported into action from behind a curtain, which for some reason doesn't have the usual colored lightning effect that we always get literally every other time they teleport.
That's about the last thing that goes his way, though. Once he's in combat, even the Power Axe proves to be completely ineffective, and the Peckster manages a clean getaway. The only upside is that, having accomplished nothing, Zack is able to head back to the Youth Center before anyone gets wise to his secret.
With Zack back at the Youth Center, the other Rangers are filled in as to what's going on, and by that I mean that Zordon tells them that "Rita is up to her old tricks," which seems like a somewhat overly folksy way of referring to massive city-wide destruction. He's not the only one taking things lightly, though.
The non-Zack Rangers morph and head into action, but between the Peckster and the Putties, they find themselves completely outmatched. This, I think, points to an interesting aspect of the Rangers' effectiveness.
You know that Dr. McNinja strip that talks about the Inverse Ninja Law, where "one ninja is an elite and powerful adversary, but multiple ninjas make a group of faceless and incompetent pawns?" The Power Rangers seem to have a similar rule: five are unstoppable, but four just flat-out can't get anything done, and are in dire peril of being murdered by a stiff breeze.
Seriously. Peckster's just flapping his wings at them.
With things looking dire for the Rangers and the Peckster threatening to do to Jason what he did to the skyscrapers of Angel Grove, Zack finally shows up to help. And he's brought...
It's not that the Zyu2-era episodes were necessarily phoned in, but the Japanese producers definitely seemed to be enjoying their freedom from logic.
So here's Zack's plan: He's just going to straight up stand there and hold out the balloons while the Peckster pecks at them to pop them --- which of course the Peckster does, for reasons I absolutely do not understand. But therein lies the trick: The last balloon isn't a balloon at all. It's a kickball from the Youth Center, which is apparently enough to trap the Peckster's beak, which I remind you can shatter skyscrapers with a single peck.
It's amazing what they can do with rubber these days.
With five Rangers reunited, Rita has no choice but to upsize the Peckster, which in turn sends the Zords (and the Megazord) into action. In a bit that's actually pretty clever --- in that it both ties into the premise of the episode and provides a use for a rarely seen action figure accessory --- the Megazord blocks the Peckster's lethal pecks with the Mammoth Shield before finally delivering the final strike.
With that done, the Rangers all head back to the Youth Center, where Zack puts on a nice suit for a date with Angela, only to find out that she actually meant for them to spend more time hanging out with the local youths.
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 have watched like 800 episodes of this show and I am pretty sure that there are like 934 bird monsters before we're done. 4/10
Radness of the Music: Another solid use of "Combat," but its charm is wearing a little thin when it's tagged onto a plot this circuitous. 7/10
Bulk and Skull Friendship: See above. 8/10
Moral Lessons: There are literally no consequences for using super-powers for personal gain, except that the person you have a crush on still won't want to date you. 3/10
'90s Fashions: Zack's hi-top fade has never been higher! 8/10
Total For Episode 46: 30/50