Ranger Station Episode 59: Mighty Morphin Mutants
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 fight their evil doppelgangers, except Jason, who will be represented by a very large and very angry shrimp. I don't get it either.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Episode 59: "Mighty Morphin Mutants"
Writer: Douglas Sloan
Director: Terence H. Winkless
Original Air Date: May 16, 1994
Okay, first things first: Despite the title, this episode is not the crossover with the live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show that was also produced by Saban using the Power Rangers formula.
Second of all, yes, in case you're not aware of it, there actually was a live-action TMNT show that was made by Saban, and it actually does exist in Power Rangers continuity. It was called The Next Mutation, and it's awful, to the point where my understanding is that if you ask Kevin Eastman about it, he will not discuss it. I don't know this for sure, because I've only ever talked to Kevin Eastman once and there is literally nothing I want less in this world than to have the co-creator of Michelangelo the Ninja Turtle mad at me, but it seems pretty plausible. There's a scene in that thing where Leonardo explains that the turtles aren't actually brothers, so that he can have a better chance of (presumably) having weird turtle sex with a lady turtle named Venus de Milo, which might actually be the low point of a franchise that's been going pretty hard and pretty consistently for over thirty years.
But while that does exist, the crossover doesn't happen until Power Rangers In Space, so we're not going to be getting there for a good long while. Instead, we have this episode, where the mutants in question aren't even mutants, and where the episode title spells "Morphin" with an apostrophe, which the series title canonically does not.
And yes, I realize this is the kind of problem that only I am going to have.
Instead of bringing us a tale of Shredder, Splinter, Kraang, and the Ooze, this episode has decided to create a little drama by giving someone a flaw, and while you really can't fault them for making the effort, I do think that fifty-nine episodes in is kind of a lousy time to take your first stab at character development.
The character in question is Tommy, and the flaw is forgetfulness, which of course is something that has never been brought up before and --- you guessed it --- will never be brought up again.
The reason that it's coming up now, though, is that Ms. Appleby has assigned her class an exercise in self-improvement, where the students are meant to ask their friends what flaws they have, and then take steps over the coming week to improve it. And this is a terrible idea!
If nothing else, it raises the question of just what the hell Ms. Appleby is meant to be teaching these children. Over the course of the nine months that this show has been on the air at this point, we've seen her teaching English, having the kids produce a time capsule (which would seem like a social studies or history project), and literally having high school students participate in show-and-tell. I realize that with only two faculty members (one teacher and one vice principal), Angel Grove high is a little short-staffed, but does Ms. A have to handle everything? And if that's the case, shouldn't everyone be in this class? Tommy's the only one of the Rangers here! Where are the other five?! Gym?! Which I guess is taught by Ernie?!
Either way, I'm not even sure what subject this is. What class could possibly be in play here that would require this level of self-examination? Admittedly, when I was in high school, we actually did have a mandatory class called Character Development, which was essentially just watching quasi-religious videos about the importance of not stealing anything and half-hearted attempts to memorize Kipling. Still, I always expected that, like the time we had an evangelical revival preacher come to school to tell us about the Lord using pro wrestling metaphors while claiming to be a member of the nWo, this was something that only happened because I went to high school in small-town South Carolina. Asking me to believe that this curriculum also made it out to California would change literally everything I know about the world.
More than that, though, just take a second here and think about what you are doing, Ms. Appleby. You are literally asking a bunch of teenagers --- teenagers with attitudes, even --- to tell each other their flaws. This is a nightmare situation. This is like something the Joker would do to prove that the natural state of humanity is chaos.
Needless to say, Jason informs Tommy that his biggest problem is forgetfulness, and while that's all well and good, it never actually goes anywhere. At the very least, you'd think there would be a discussion of how he could try applying the focus that he so clearly shows in martial arts to other things in his life, but even after Kim and Trini offer to help him out, and even after Billy tries to build him a gadget to help him, nothing ever comes of it. At the end of the episode, Tommy is just as forgetful as he always was, and the kids watching this get zero actual tips on how to deal with being forgetful. And listen, as someone who can be a little scatterbrained about literally everything that does not directly relate to Batman, that's advice I could've used.
Rita Repulsa, of course, is watching this all go down from the moon, and decides that this sudden show of weakness makes this a great time to strike. The thing is, she doesn't do anything that would prey specifically on Tommy's forgetfulness. Instead, she just uses a plan that could've worked any time --- and specifically one that Tommy himself is actually pretty incidental to.
By using the Badges of Darkness, supremely powerful artifacts that she's apparently just been keeping in her basement, Rita plots to turn her best Putty Patrollers into ersatz Power Rangers. They'll defeat the Rangers at their own game, and thereby clear the way for Earth's new moon witch monarchy.
And that's actually pretty cool.
Even though they're mass-produced minions, I really like the idea that the Putties don't just come out of Finster's oven as identical foot soldiers. There's a weird little bit of individuality to them, and the idea that Goldar's just going to take a handful of them down to Earth so that they can train on a beach like it's Rocky III is pretty fantastic.
Plus, there's one more additional catch: Even though he's been training six Putties, he ends up sending the weakest link back to the moon, claiming that there are none worthy of being the Red Ranger. It's something that rarely comes up --- because, in all honesty, Power Rangers is extremely unconcerned with maintaining even its own internal logic -- but the idea that Goldar has a personal hatred and respect for Jason is a really interesting element of his character.
Still, the Putty Rangers do need a leader, so in the absence of a fake Red, Finster cooks up a new monster to lead them: The monumentally nonthreatening Commander Crayfish:
With him in charge, Rita's Rangers face off against the good guys --- and are easily distinguished by virtue of black gloves and boots, belt buckles with pentagrams on them, and the fact that their costumes are weirdly ill-fitting --- and actually prove to be more than the real Rangers can handle. It gets so bad that they end up not only calling Tommy into action, but go as far as retreating back to the Command Center so that Zordon can give them new weapons.
I'm not sure I even need to say this, but the new weapons look exactly like their old weapons, and even this show can't get away with that without at least pausing to comment.
Thus, sufficiently armed, the Rangers head back into battle to lay waste to their opponents. There is, however, one last twist: when the tide starts to turn against her, Rita naturally uses her magic wand to make her monster grow, leading the Rangers to call the Megazord and Dragonzord into battle. The thing is, she doesn't just upsize Commander Crayfish, it's the fake Rangers, too, which means we get to see giant Power Rangers fighting against the Megazord.
In theory, this is awesome. In practice, it does not work. It breaks the perspective in a way that ruins the fight scene --- rather than making the upsized Evil Rangers seem bigger, putting them next to the Megazord and Dragonzord just makes them look like... well, like guys in suits tussling on a sound stage.
But despite the illusion's failure to hold up, the Rangers still pull out a win with the help of Titanus and the Ultrazord, and return to school just in time for Tommy to completely fail Ms. Appleby's assignment by just straight up giving up on improving himself.
On the bright side, though, we get to see Bulk and Skull dressed up as grooms and/or undertakers.
So that's nice.
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: Commander Crayfish is literally just a six-foot bipedal crayfish, and while that's pretty weird, it doesn't even rate an eyebrow raise by this show's standards. The only thing unusual is that he has somehow been conferred a military rank, which raises a lot of questions about the organization of Rita's military forces. 3/10
Radness of the Music: Okay, at this point, I am genuinely confused. Netflix's subtitles (and my own ears) interpret the lyrics in this episode as being, "All will fight for one," which doesn't make a whole lot of sense but is still a lot less incomprehensible than what the Power Rangers wiki says, which is "call the 5-4-1." I'm inclined to believe the latter, since the title of the song on Ron Wasserman's album is "5-4-1," but what the hell does that mean?! 7/10
Bulk and Skull Friendship: It's one thing to say that you yourself don't have any flaws, because that's just ego, but to agree that your best friend is also flawless, and have them reciprocate that without even being prompted? That's a true bond. 9/10
Moral Lessons: Okay, so the moral of this episode is that your friends will accept you for who you are, even with your flaws, which is good, but then takes it a step further by saying that you shouldn't even bother to try to improve yourself, which is pretty dodgy. I feel like the Rangers' friendship is probably not contingent on Tommy remembering his own damn water bottle, but it couldn't hurt to make some changes, man. 5/10
'90s Fashions: Accessorizing a wedding suit with fingerless leather gloves and a spiked cuff is probably the most '90s thing you could possibly do. 10/10
Total For Episode 46: 34/50