Ranger Station Episode 69: The Beetle Invasion
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, despite the title, it's not a crossover with Big Bad Beetleborgs. Thank God.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Episode 69: "The Beetle Invasion"
Writer; Mark Hoffmeier
Director: Terence H. Winkless
Original Air Date: September 21, 1994
First things first: Nice.
Now then. I wrote last week about how Lord Zedd has managed to hold onto a little bit of his threatening mystique even through the haze of nostalgia, and there are a lot of reasons for that. The most obvious, of course, is that he's friggin' terrifying, but there's one aspect of his character that's often overlooked: He actually makes sense.
Well. Maybe that's going too far. He's still a skinless space tyrant who lives on the moon and spends all of his time messing with a bunch of honor students, but still. In this episode, at least, he actually provides an answer to one of those questions that the very premise of the show invites but does not actually answer: Why do the bad guys only ever attack Angel Grove?
Like, seriously, forget about asking why they don't just call in the Megazord at the first sign of trouble --- if nothing else, it tends to fall into enough buildings that you can kind of see why they'd want to use it as a last resort --- let's talk about whether suburban California was really all that important to world conquest. Because that's what Rita wanted, right? She says at the top of every single episode that after ten thousand years, it's time to... well, you know. You've seen the show.
In the recent comics, Kyle Higgins and Hendry Prasetya take the position that Rita actually does attack other places, and we just never see them on the show. That's a cool idea, and one of the great things about the comic is that you do get to see the Megazord rolling up into Rome or wherever, but that's about as close to the definition of retcon as you're about to get.
Zedd, on the other hand, actually provides an answer. He's definitely interested in conquering Earth, but as this episode tells us, it's far more important to him that he proves that he's better than Rita.
It's an interesting quirk. He's obviously more powerful than she is --- the first thing he does is lock her in a dumpster and exile her into the endless depths of space and take over her entire operation, and he doesn't even need Finster to make monsters. But from his first moment of defeat, the Rangers represent a weakness that he has to overcome to prove himself superior to her.
And honestly, this episode does the best job we've seen so far of exploring that idea. I mean, don't get me wrong, it's not the best episode of the series, but that one aspect of it is done really well. And it all starts with the idea of Zedd deciding to pretty much ignore everyone else and systematically, purposefully target the Green Ranger.
Well, no. It actually starts with "Broom Ball," whatever the heck that is.
The framing plot of the episode is that the gang's heretofore unseen (and, I believe, never seen again) rivals from the Stone Canyon Youth Center show up to challenge them to a game of Broom Ball. The key factor here is that they are undefeated at the game, which if this episode is any indication, is because they keep challenging people who have never played or heard of it before.
It's basically indoor field hockey with brooms duct-taped into oars. It looks like something a gym teacher came up on a rainy day after losing the keys to the equipment closet and begging the custodian for something, anything to keep these kids busy.
The secondary framing plot --- which I guess makes it the tertiary plot overall --- is that Bulk and Skull have ordered some kind of scent-identifying machine to see if they can discover the true identities of the Rangers.
It is, like all of their other plans, a failure, but there's one really interesting thing about it: That big nose that they're carrying around was actually made from a piece of the Pudgy Pig costume, which by this point in the series was literally falling apart. I've read that the shelf life on those things is about five years, but Pudgy Pig is unique in that regard. After starting out as Dora Circe on Zyuranger, the suit was used in three different episodes of Power Rangers, all of which involved it shoving trays full of appetizers into its mouth and then getting kicked by overexcited teens. Honestly, it's amazing that thing had a nose left.
The challenge of the Stone Canyon Beetles --- the Angel Grove team goes with the rather unimaginative name of "The Sweepers" --- do provide one interesting element to the plot. Because of their random-ass choice of mascot, Zedd decides to create a Beetle Monster after he looks at their poster with his Virtual Boy vision:
Or maybe it's not so random. I mean, they do roll a ball across the floor in the style of a dung beetle, but... I mean, compared to that, "Sweepers" is actually a better choice.
As Zedd cooks up the (again, unimaginatively named) Stag Beetle, the Power Rangers get ready for their big match. Well, except Trini, who sits it out and records footage so they can watch later --- and there's actually a behind-the-scenes reason for that.
I've mentioned before that the actors playing the Rangers almost always do their own stunts in the fight scenes, and near the start of the second season, Thuy Trang broke her leg, and would wind up sitting them out for the rest of her tenure as a Ranger. If you look close, you can actually see her wearing a knee brace in this episode. Which, incidentally, makes her the Ranger whose standard gear is closest to Stone Cold Steve Austin, assuming that I'm not forgetting an episode where Tommy showed up in a leather vest with "100% WHOOP ASS" bedazzled onto it.
As a result, the Rangers are caught pretty unaware when the Beetle shows up, and even more unaware when it uses its ability to steal Tommy's powers! It's that sword of Damocles that's been hanging over their head the entire season, and it finally happens --- Tommy is thoroughly drained of all of his abilities as a Ranger! Zedd has succeeded where Rita never could --- where Rita failed most spectacularly!
Unless, I mean, they can somehow get his powers back, but what are the odds of ---
That's one of the things that makes this show really interesting to watch in retrospect as an adult, as opposed to seeing it as it came out --- and, you know, as a child. You know that eventually they're going to succeed in taking the Green Ranger out for good (for like four episodes, anyway), but they do a fake out so much that you kind of forget about it. When I got to this episode and saw how bummed out Tommy was, and how Lord Zedd was gloating that the end is finally near, I actually had to go back and check to see if I'd somehow missed him losing his powers.
I didn't. Instead, the Thunder Megazord takes out the Stag Beetle, the Rangers win at Broom Ball, and Good Sportsmanship spreads across the suburbs of Los Angeles like an actually-quite-nice plague.
The longer this goes on, the more I'm worried that Power Rangers never actually gets around to adapting Gosei Sentai Dairanger. I mean, we have to get to the White Ranger eventually, right? Right?
For now, though, we continue laying the groundwork with Episode 9: Don't Be Vain!
You'd think that after the unlicensed adaptation of Star Wars that we've been getting through lately, we might keep the focus on Ryo, looking at what it means to be a descendant of a soldier who once betrayed his teammates to the Gorma. But no. Instead, we get a spotlight on Daigo, the Shishi Ranger, who finds a single peacock feather outside his job one night.
Considering that he works at a pet store, this seems like it might not be all that unusual, but don't worry: it's going to be relevant later.
Far more important for now, though, is that people who stop to look into a mysterious new mirror that just appeared on the streets of Tokyo are suddenly attacked by the mirror's long tongue and pulled inside. You may note that mirrors do not traditionally have tongues, which is true. But this is actually Master Mirror Makeup:
He's a longstanding servant of the Gorma whose greatest triumph was the defeat six thousand years ago of Kujaku, an incarnation of the Peacock Buddha who fought alongside the Dai Tribe. Please note that I am not actually sure what a "Peacock Buddha" is, and that it's never clearly explained over the course of the show, as they sort of just expect you to know what's going on.
Point being, Triple-M is very powerful, and if he's left to run rampant, well...
I mean, okay, that's certainly one way to look at it.
Also, check out that picture: Except for Rin and Ryo, everyone is wearing blue. Seriously, this is the 17th installment of the Super Sentai franchise; have they not figured out that the Rangers just need to wear their colors all the time? I've watched nine episodes of this show and thought this one was about Shoji until like five minutes into it.
Anyway, Daigo goes to meditate and see about focusing his Ch'i Power, and has a vision where a peacock flies by, shrouded in Rainbow Ch'i.
And what's more, when he fights Master Mirror Makeup, he notices that same Ch'i aura radiating off of him, too. The only thing is, the other Dairangers can't see the aura, even in the heat of battle. If we the viewers put it all together, though, you can probably figure out where this is going.
It's at this point that the big fight scene starts, and while it's not exceptionally notable, we do get one interesting twist: A song that plays under the fight and completely spoils what's going to happen in this (and every other) episode:
At least the American songs preserve a little suspense with lines like "Goldar's gonna get youuuuuuu... tonight!"
Eventually, the Dairangers hand Triple-M his two requisite defeats --- the second with Dairen'oh after the Enlarging Bomb, and the first when Daigo debuts his new move, Heavenly Phantom Rod Arrow:
But what's this? After Master Mirror Makeup is defeated, someone emerges in the form of... a peacock!
This is Kujaku, the Peacock Buddha, who's been trapped inside MMM's mirror for six thousand years. The only way she could escape was by waiting for someone with whom she could synchronize her Ch'i, and the peacock feather that Daigo found earlier allows him to tap into her power.
It will not surprise you to learn that she will be Important Later.
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: A Stag Beetle is just a straight up regular-ass name for a beetle. I mean, most pigs are pudgy, but at least Pudgy Pig wore a hat, you know? 3/10
Deviation From The Source: 10/10
Bulk and Skull Friendship: The sniffing device doesn't do much, but I do like the idea of Bulk and Skull ordering things from the back of comic books. Just those two guys sitting in a two-man "Nautilus Submarine" made of cardboard. It's delightful. 6/10
Moral Lessons: Never back down from a Broom Ball Challenge! 4/10
'90s Fashions: Where exactly did one get custom Broom Ball Team t-shirts before the Internet was a thing? 5/10
Total For Episode 46: 27/50