Ranger Station Episode 64: The Wanna-Be Ranger
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 from Gosei Sentai Dairanger in ComicsAlliance's Ranger Station!
This week, the spotlight falls on Alpha 5, so I understand if you just want to go ahead and skip it.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Episode 64: "The Wanna-Be Ranger"
Writer: Ellen Levy-Sarnoff & Daniel J. Sarnoff
Director: John Stewart
Original Air Date: September 13, 1994
Now that the dust of "The Mutiny" has settled, most --- not all, but most --- of the elements that are going to end up defining the second season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers have finally fallen into place. Even if the costumes and team dynamics have remained the same, we've still got new Zords and a new, genuinely terrifying antagonist in the form of Lord Zedd, whose skinless body and chrome rictus stand in a pretty stark contrast to the inherent silliness that we got from Rita. Even though so much is the same, everything feels different.
For about two minutes, anyway. Then they decide to do a spotlight episode for Alpha 5.
I have mentioned before that the most incredulous I've ever been about Power Rangers, a show that involves giant robot dinosaurs piloted by teens against moon witchery, was when I once read a sentence that described Alpha as "a beloved character."
I'm willing to accept that my feelings about him --- which, to be honest, are way less "hated" and way more "intense annoyance" --- might be an outlier, but I still have a hard time believing that this was an episode anyone wanted. I'll even give you, "Alpha wants to be a Power Ranger" as a pretty solid starting point, but, "Alpha plays four seconds of soccer and then lays in a field for 20 minutes not self-destructing" isn't going to end up being anyone's favorite episode.
I'm getting ahead of myself.
After an opening where we see the Rangers do some of the finest dunks the early '90s had to offer, they're called into the Command Center so that Zordon can give them some allegedly bad news: Thanks to some interference caused by a planetary alignment, his form is going to be disrupted for a little bit. And we've got three things to talk about here.
First, this is another one of those things that raises a question as to what Zordon's actual deal is. It's been mentioned on the show before that he's appearing in the tube --- you know, like one would appear on a television tube --- as some sort of broadcast from the dimension where he was trapped by Rita during their conflict ten thousand years ago. If that's the case, then I suppose a planetary alignment would certainly be able to disrupt the broadcast (because it's pseudoscience all the way down), but is that really the case? The movie posits that his body is actually in there, and while it's severely non-canonical, we're eventually going to find out that the Tube is full of "Good Energy" that makes up his form. There's a lot of questions, is what I'm saying.
Second, is this really that big a deal? Considering that his major contributions to the story are instructions to "behold the viewing globe" --- and really, what the heck else are you supposed to do with a viewing globe other than behold it? --- do we really lose anything of value when he takes a siesta? He doesn't even facilitate their connection to the Morphin Grid, so why is this even an issue?
Third, and perhaps most important, Zordon's only going to be disrupted for about ten, fifteen minutes max in our time, and like maybe two hours in the fiction of the show. If these kids can't even hold it down for less than the length of the average superhero movie, then get some new kids.
Anyway, with Zordon's nonexistent interference off the table, we move now to Lord Zedd's redesigned palace on the moon. Hey Batman '66 producer William Dozier: What do you think about this Dutch Angle we got going on here?
"I think it's a little much."
Zedd's big plan is to send a new monster down called the Primator --- which, while not exactly "The Terminator," is certainly a step up in scariness from "Pudgy Pig" --- who can change his form to mimic anyone else. His default look, though, is drawn from the fact that when Zedd sends him to Earth, he possesses (or is made from? It's not actually clear) a yeti costume that Zack was wearing during the opening.
He was, incidentally, wearing the yeti costume because he was "performing at [his] cousin's party." This is, I believe, the only mention in the entire series of Zack having an interest in yeti performance.
Anyway, while The Primator is skulking around, Alpha 5 is doing a pretty terrible job of monitoring for trouble --- at least by the standards of problems that would require a Power Ranger. He does, however, see a lost child in the park, and decide that he should just go ahead and fix that problem himself. This, you will note, is a very simple problem, the kind of problem you would have to actively work to frig up. But Alpha? Alpha has a level of dedication that would be genuinely admirable if it wasn't to being completely useless.
After "rescuing" the child --- which literally just amounts to telling him not to wander around, and then playing soccer for about two minutes --- Alpha is immediately accosted by the Primator, who has taken Billy's form. The thing is, as "Billy," the Primator is a huge jerk. Like, if you ever find yourself trying to fool someone into thinking you're one of their friends, maybe don't open by trying to publicly humiliate them.
But rather than being tipped off by his uncharacteristically rude behavior, Alpha realizes something's up when "Billy" sees his reflection and turns back into the Primator. And, instead of agreeing to the monster's demands to teleport him to the Command Center, Alpha decides to take more drastic action.
Now, presumably, a self-destruct program is meant to keep a piece of sensitive equipment or matériel from falling into the hands of the enemy, so one would assume that when the equipment in question is a sentient robot that could crack under pressure, time would be of the essence. Alpha, on the other hand, takes forever to self-destruct.
Again, it depends on whether you think the episode is happening in real time, but we're talking bare minimum 15 minutes here, which would seem to be plenty of time to get whatever information you were after. I mean, I don't necessarily want to see Alpha explode (yes I do) but if you're a robot who's going to self-destruct, you might as well be quick about it.
Instead, as Alpha lays down on the grass and begins his nineteen-hour countdown, the Primator just wanders off to make a second attempt at duping the Rangers.
This time, he turns into Zack and tells Trini and Kimberly that Tommy's in trouble and needs help, leading them into an ambush by Putty Patrollers and a (really quite good) fight scene. In reality, though...
It's right about here that the Rangers start to suspect something might be up, and fortunately, it's also about this time that Zordon comes back to tell these useless children exactly what's happening. They find out about the Primator and his powers, and when they ask about Alpha, they find that out, too.
In the aaaaarms ooooooooof a Dylan...
You would think that with the theoretical ticking clock of Alpha's self-destruct program, they might want to go move that child off of him before doing anything else. I mean, even if I'm wrong to assume it involves exploding, you probably don't want to let that kid watch the death throes of his new metal pal, either. But that'll have to wait for the end of the episode. Much like me, the Power Rangers themselves are ready to move off Alpha stuff and right into the action.
And it's classic action. The great thing about Super Sentai costumes is that they're full bodysuits and helmets, meaning that it's the easiest thing in the world to do an Evil Doppelgänger fight scene and make it work. Which is exactly what they do.
At first, the monster duplicates Trini, leading to a pretty amazing sequence where Jason's solution to the problem is to demand that both Yellow Rangers fight him, because of course Jason believes that he'll be able to tell the genuine article from her fighting style. Alas, even when they briefly figure out which is which, Primator is still too confusing for the Rangers to deal with, and they end up retreating.
It's then that Zordon, who was "de-ionized" for most of the episode, reveals a piece of information that he has no actual way of knowing: The Primator turns back into its true form when it's exposed to its own reflection. With that, he hands Billy a Triceratops-branded mirror and they all head back out to the fight, where we get a nice little bit of the Primator being unable to hold his form:
Sensing that the ruse is up, Zedd tosses an Enlarging Bomb down from the moon and upsizes the Primator, causing the Rangers to call in the Thunderzords and the Dragonzord to enter the fray. And here's where it gets tricky.
See, rather than being adapted from Gosei Sentai Dairanger, this episode of MMPR used leftover Zyu2-era footage, meaning that there are no shots of the Thunder Megazord interacting with or even being in the same shot as the monster. The result is that the Dragonzord handles most of the work while The Thunder Megazord just sort of stands around being vaguely menacing, and if you watch closely, you can see hints of the original Megazord right at the edge of the action, or as a vague shape through sparks and smoke.
Eventually, though, the Thunder Megazord waves its saber around enough to kill the monster, and the Rangers finally decide to go stop Alpha's self-destruct sequence. So, I guess we can call this one a mostly happy ending.
Since this week's episode of MMPR is still using Zyu2 footage, we're continuing with Dairanger's fourth episode, "We Were Naïve!" And it's a good thing we are, too, because it's the second part of a two-part saga.
As you might recall, last week's episode involved a monster called the Key Jester, who extracted children's souls and put them into horrifying puppets that he then sent to kill the Dairangers. They survived, but despite their best efforts, they couldn't recover any of the missing souls, leaving Kaori and Masao, two children who had come to them for help, comatose and unresponsive in the hospital.
To make matters worse, they still haven't mastered the secrets of ch'i power, and their mentor, Kaku, has grown tired of trying to wrangle them into a fighting force capable of stopping the Gorma. It's so bad that they're ready to give up on this whole "Dairanger" thing and go back to their normal lives. Unfortunately, the Gorma aren't exactly done with them.
As the Dairangers try to go about their jobs, the Key Jester's puppets come after them. And this time, they have guns.
Real talk, everybody: Gosei Sentai Dairanger is great.
The dolls launch a full-on crime wave, taking over an amusement park, trying to run children over with cars, setting fires, and even stealing a tricycle in a scene that involves a possessed version of a My Pet Monster doll, a weird little '80s pop culture throwback that I was not prepared to see. It's enough that everyone on the team except Daigo decides to reform the team --- but when they head back to Murder Basement, they find that Daigo's already there, meditating with Kaku.
After some rigorous meditation, the Dairangers find their spirits transported to "the depths of China." There, they learn about the Daos Civilization, which lived in peace 6,000 years ago until the Gorma tribe sparked a civil war, using their Yo Power to take control and eventually destroying the empire.
It's pretty grim, but they also learn about Ryuu, Shishi, Tenma, Qiin, and Houou, the Mythical Ch'i Beasts who aided the Dai Tribe in their battle against the Gorma. We, of course, have already seen Ryuuseioh (and if you noticed that the top half of this column involves five Zords, you probably know where this is going), but it seems there are four more out there waiting to be summoned!
With that, they return to Tokyo, with a new resolve to defend Earth from the Gorma and protect the children that are counting on them. The question, of course, is how they can do that while the city is still being terrorized by gun-toting dolls. And really, they just have to go fight the Key Jester himself to settle it.
Fortunately, Daigo is able to follow one of the dolls through a mystical door to a beach where the Key Jester is enjoying a mimosa, and while the rest of the team takes on a squad of Cotpotros on rollerskates...
... Daigo takes him on alone!
It's worth noting that unlike their American counterparts, the Dairangers don't seem to be bothered by the whole "don't escalate the fight" rule. The first thing Ryo does once he Aura Changes is to summon Ryuuseioh, the mythical robot dragon, and that dude's not even fighting this episode's main villain --- he's just dealing with their equivalent of Putty Patrollers. There might be five stars shining in the heavens, but I can assure you there are zero hecks to give.
To be fair, he doesn't stick around to fight the Cotpotros. Instead, Ryo goes looking for Daigo, and when he sees him fighting the Key Jester --- still in human form! --- he gets Ryuuseioh to just, y'know, set his ass on fire and see how that works out.
After a fight scene where the Dairangers show off their different kung fu styles, Daigo unleashes his new attack, Heavenly Phantom Star Mist Hiding. Given the name, you are probably assuming that this just creates a dense fog that can hide him and allow him to strike from any angle. You're half right. The part that's a little surprising is when he attacks, and it takes the form of tiny little fighter jets that shoot missiles at his enemy, and a giant door that, when opened by the Key Jester's keys, explodes and sets him up for the finisher.
One Ch'i Power Bomber later, the Key Jester is destroyed and the souls of the children leave the puppets and head back to their original bodies, and everything works out okay.
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: There are over 2500 words in this column. Want to guess how many of them I'd written before I realized "Primator" was supposed to be a weird pun on "imitator?" 6/10
Deviation From The Source: N/A
Bulk and Skull Friendship: Bulk and Skull are still on their mission to discover the Rangers' identities, but they're freaked out to the point of screaming by the arrival of Alpha 5. And like... Honestly, dudes? Alpha 5 isn't that weird. It's not like he's some shoddily designed alien with eyestalks. 4/10
Moral Lessons: Zordon goes full J. Walter Weatherman in this one with "... and that's why you tell the Rangers when you leave the Command Center." 6/10
'90s Fashions: Behold! Billy has gone Full Chess King! 7/10
Total For Episode 46: 23/50