Ranger Station Episode 65: Putty On The Brain
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, it's the Power Rangers/They Live crossover that you never knew you needed in your life.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Episode 65: Putty On The Brain
Writer: Mark Litto
Director: John Stewart
Original Air Date: September 14, 1994
One thing you can say about Power Rangers is that for good or ill, they don't really do a whole lot of episodes riffing on other pop culture. I mean, yes, there are bits and pieces that creep in here and there --- RPM had a pretty strong Mad Max vibe in parts, and as we're going to see over the course of Dairanger, the Super Sentai franchises aren't really above just doing an entire series that combines Chinese mythology with Star Wars --- but there aren't a whole lot of episodes where the gang just re-enacts the plot of, say, Groundhog Day or something.
In fact, aside from that one episode of Time Force where they visit a movie studio and find a bunch of stuntmen inexplicably re-enacting a fight scene from Rumble in the Bronx, I can't really think of that many episodes that are direct references to other pop culture. And that's what make this episode so notable, because it's essentially Power Rangers doing a take on They Live.
The thing is, as unavoidable as the comparisons are based on the imagery --- two guys walking around with magic sunglasses that make regular people look like alien monsters --- but the details and tone are so different that I'm pretty sure the entire thing happened by accident.
In this case, the glasses come from Zack, and he and Billy don't even have a brutal five-minute fight scene to get each other to put them on. Instead, he just picked up a pair of "exceptionally sturdy" sunglasses that they can wear for their upcoming science project, which is dangerously misinformative about the nature of protective eyewear. You can't just wear these '90s-ass Oakleys in the lab, Zack! That's how you lose an eye!
Anyway, there's actually an even bigger danger afoot that involves their new shades: Lord Zedd's latest plot!
The plan here is to cast a spell on the sunglasses that will cause Billy and Zack to see the other Power Rangers as Putty Patrollers, confusing them in battle and presumably driving them mad in the process. But as Goldar points out, there's one big problem with the plan: They could just, you know, take the glasses off.
But Zedd --- through Mark Litto's script --- has a workaround for that too. According to him, a normal person could just take off the cursed sunglasses, but his magic will interact with the energies of the Morphin Grid and make the spell permanent for the Rangers. And I honestly can't decide if I love that or hate it. It seems like such a weird cheat, and one that's so unnecessary to put in there when you could just write "once they put them on, the magic will affect them permanently" and be done with it, but I also kind of like that the Rangers' dependence on whatever vague energy they get from Zordon actually makes them more vulnerable to attacks like this. Rita just threw monsters at them, but Zedd attacking them through their powers makes him seem way more dangerous.
It does sort of ignore the fact that Billy wears glasses all the time and that he didn't have to wait for Zack to hit up the swap meet, but that's whatever. Point is, it works.
So well, in fact, that Billy and Zack almost start brawling with their friends in the middle of school, and then spend a very uncomfortable period trying to take a history test with clay monsters that want to murder them in the nearby seats.
Their reactions end up landing them in detention alongside Bulk and Skull, but the fact that the "Putties" don't try to kill them is a pretty strong clue that something strange is going on here. By the next scene, they've already figured out that it's a hallucination caused by one of Lord Zedd's spells, which is simultaneously a pretty huge leap to make and the most logical conclusion based on the past 64 weeks of their lives.
Unfortunately, the knowledge doesn't do them much good, since they wind up walking straight into a very confusing fight between the other Rangers and some actual Putties:
And really, this is a bigger problem than it should be when you consider that there's nothing in the spell that keeps the Power Rangers from talking, but constantly announcing "I'm Trini!" while trying to do snap kicks is a pretty big hassle, and the spell persists even when the Rangers all teleport to the Command Center.
Meanwhile, Zedd is also launching his real plan to accomplish the nebulous goal of conquering the world by mutating the class iguana into a monster:
This is Saliguana, a fire-breathing lizard-man, and he has nothing at all to do with the whole Billy-and-Zack-keep-seeing-Putties plot, other than a scene where those two Rangers are tasked with building an "Ice Device" to counteract his fire powers. It should be noted that this happens when Trini tells Billy to "put an extra computer chip in your pocket" (note: the Rangers' uniforms do not have pockets), which turns out to be exactly what he needs to set on top of the ice gun to win the battle.
And really, that plot just wraps itself up pretty neatly when it's revealed that Zedd's spell only affects Zack and Billy's vision when their teammates are in their regular human forms. Once they morph into their Ranger uniforms, they look normal. And that's a real shame --- imagine how much greater this episode would be if the Rangers still looked like Putties --- or even if their Zords looked like Putties, Imagine if, like, 60% of the Megazord looked like it was made up of Putties! Just one weird Putty Patroller torso and a smaller Putty arm holding the Power Sword, with just one big blue Unicorn leg. It would be amazing.
Of course, this idea would take place in an alternate universe where this episode had more than $4 in the special effects budget and wasn't stitched together from Zyu2 footage and two different episodes of Dairanger.
The weird thing about MMPR's second season --- well, one of the weird things --- is that like I mentioned above, it doesn't have the one-to-one episode ratio that we got from Season 1's relationship with Zyuranger. "Putty On The Brain," for instance, was mostly based around Zyu2 footage of the Saliguana, but also drew from episodes 6 and 14 of Dairanger --- but only a few seconds of footage of the Zords.
With that being the case --- and with those episodes also providing more substantial footage for later episodes of MMPR, we might as well just keep going with Dairanger's fifth episode, "The Jewels Have Come!"
This episode is essentially a spotlight for Rin, the Pink Dairanger. As you may recall, she's from China, and when she's not a Dairanger, she's attending classes at Seisen University. And she's also making a new friend!
This is Megumi, who comes on very strong by giving Rin a golden hair barrette in the shape of an eagle and also claiming that she is just super into Chinese culture before asking her why she doesn't hang out at the college more often. The answer, of course, is that Rin is busy transforming into the Heavenly Wind Star and fighting against the Gorma, but that's not the sort of thing you can tell someone you just met, and Rin's reluctant silence makes Megumi realize that she came on a little too strong.
With that, Megumi runs away, and nearly walks right into the villain of the piece: The Lipstick Songstress.
I've mentioned that the Super Sentai Bros podcast has a theory about how the theme for the monsters in the early Dairanger episodes was that they were all based on things you would find in a lady's purse, and Lipstick Songstress is definitely the best example of that idea, and also one of the best monster designs ever. She's so glam!
While you'd think her giant mouth-shaped sword would lend itself pretty well to murder, Lipstick Songstress's big technique here is to take over the minds of young ladies, making them slightly more goth with dark purple lipstick, and then using them against the Dairangers. This, of course, leads her into a fight with Rin, and when she gets a scar on her face, she drops an Enlarging Bomb and starts battling against Ryuuseioh.
This happens five minutes into the episode. Dairanger doesn't screw around.
Unfortunately, unlike previous battles, Ryuuseioh doesn't just destroy the Lipstick Songstress, leaving the remaining 15 minutes of the episode for a story where Rin learns about friendship. Instead, as the Gorma commanders watch, Ryuuseioh is overwhelmed by the Songstress and her army of mind-controlled students and forced to retreat.
It turns out that while Ryuuseioh is himself pretty powerful, it was Kaku, the Dairangers' mentor, who's been channelling the power to keep him going this whole time.
The Dairangers need to move quickly to defeat the Lipstick Songstress and save Megumi and the other girls, but for some reason, the men on the team decide that Rin should sit this one out, leading her to walk to a nearby pond and sadly kick rocks into it. And it's there that she has a vision that will change the course of the Dairangers... forever!
As Kaku explains when she tells him about it, Rin's vision of five stars shining in the heavens is actually a vision of the Heavenly Treasure Lai-Lai Balls.
Yes. The Heavenly Treasure Lai-Lai Balls.
Thought lost for six thousand years, these are the mystic jewels that control Mythical Ch'i Beasts like Ryuuseioh, and it turns out there are four more of them waiting to be found. So while the rest of the Dairangers battle against the Lipstick Songstress, Rin finds herself teleported to China on a quest to recover them, and maybe revive the other four Mythical Ch'i Beasts, too.
And, you know, spoiler warning, but we have seen them show up in Power Rangers already, so you can probably guess how it's going to go.
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: An iguana that breathes fire isn't even weird by the standards of iguanas. 2/10
Deviation From The Source: 10/10
Bulk and Skull Friendship: You know, the longer this season goes on, the clearer it is that Season 2 will be less about Bulk and Skull's friendship and more about the two of them enduring Lovecraftian existential horror as they realize their perception of the world around them is merely a surface that has betrayed them into thinking they are significant. 5/10
Moral Lessons: If your friends turn into monsters, the problem is probably with you, not them. But, you know, learn karate just in case. 8/10
'90s Fashions: Seeing the kids as Putties made me really wonder why big puffy vests with Lord Zedd's crest on them never became a fashion craze back in '94. 6/10
Total For Episode 46: 31/50