Ranger Station Episode 70: Welcome To Venus Island
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, Lord Zedd uses a magical disappearing island and an invincible plant monster for an unsuccessful attempt at turning one (1) girl evil. Aim high, bad guys.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Episode 70: Welcome To Venus Island
Writer: Mark Hoffmeier
Director: Terence H. Winkless
Original Air Date: September 24, 1994
On paper, Season 2's long-running plot about Tommy losing his powers is great.
In a show that's episodic to the point of recycling the same five minutes of footage, the threat of Tommy losing his powers provides a lot of connective tissue, and some instant drama that the show can always go to whenever it needs to ramp up the tension. And on top of that, the threat feels real, because it's something we've seen before.
Tommy's entire character is built around the idea of him being just one step removed from all the other Rangers, leaving the team and then showing back up later. It's something that viewers would see him doing for the next ten years, all the way up through Dino Thunder. We don't know that just yet at this point in the show, but we do know that he lost his powers as the Green Ranger and never really got them back. It's a solid hook.
In practice, though, it just drags.
I mean, that's my evaluation of it at 34, anyway. 23 years ago, I'm pretty sure I was thrilled to bits with the drama, but watching it back now, it just takes forever. Every single episode brings this up without ever getting around to even the smallest consequence. Every episode, it's, "What if Tommy loses his powers?!" "Don't worry, Rangers! Alpha built an Anti-Tommy's Powers Losing Machine!"
Compare this to the storyline that inspired it, where Burai had a ticking clock on the amount of life he had left, and when it was up, he was dead. With Tommy, his popularity --- and the fact that Power Rangers was structured with a continuing story rather than a single season --- meant that the danger kept almost materializing, with increasingly ridiculous McGuffins being thrown at him to keep him around.
Well. Until they didn't, but we'll get there in two weeks.
In the meantime, it happens so much that the tension of Tommy constantly being on the last shred of his power just becomes routine. It's like the Zords showing up, or the transformation sequences. It's routine, which is something that a plot point like this never should be.
You could argue that making it part of the routine actually heightens the surprise when it actually happens --- just like it does in the episodes where the Zords are destroyed --- but I think that's a cop-out at worst, and a happy accident at best. Generally speaking, it's just another hoop to jump through.
Which is pretty much what happens this week.
Far more interesting is this week's piece of the other season-long plot, Bulk And Skull Attempt To Discover The Power Rangers' Identities. Their plan this time around is to dress up in not-quite-convincing Putty Patroller costumes and kick up a bunch of sand on the beach in order to lure the Rangers into a fight. How exactly they plan to proceed once they're in a fight with a bunch of people who are only good at fighting, I have no idea, but they end up getting beat up by an eight year-old, so it's a moot point.
They're not the only ones running into trouble with the kids, though. The Rangers are all hanging out with one of Trini's neighbors, Hallie. All is going well, but when Lord Zedd gets incensed at Bulk and Skull mocking his Putty Patrollers, he sends Goldar down to kidnap her, and cart her off... to Venus Island.
Fortunately, Goldar also leaves a note.
IT A R
This is, for the record, one of the most bugs-out ludicrous things I have ever seen on this show. Rather than just having Zedd burn a taunting ransom note into the sand, he sends Goldar down with a "bottle of secret instructions," which Goldar then loses. When the Rangers open it, a flaming image of Lord Zedd's face comes out, and then burns that message --- which is later translated as "Take Hallie to Venus Island, where she'll join us forever" --- into the sand.
This is straight-up crazo. Not only is that a ridiculously inefficient way to send a message, this is exactly what Zedd tells Goldar to do before Goldar leaves the Moon. It's... there's literally no reason to tell him again, let alone to somehow put those instructions in a 7-Up bottle and hope he doesn't lose them, which he immediately does!
It takes a whole lot to not make sense even in the context of Power Rangers, but this one does it.
So let's talk about the island instead. At least that's a nonsense I can kind of understand. Behold the viewing globe!
This is the Island of Venus, a mystical island that Zedd can apparently call forth at will, causing it to rise or sink from the sea whenever he wants. This is actually a pretty great gimmick, and since it's entirely an invention of Power Rangers --- the "Zyu2" footage that this episode uses was originally set in a park, which you can tell because there are park benches all over the background --- you'd think it would be used for a story that was a little more intense. But no.
The idea here is that they have to rescue Hallie before Zedd just arbitrarily decides to sink the island, which puts a ticking clock on the events of the episode. Which, you know, would be fine, if there wasn't already a ticking clock put there by the fact that Zedd is turning Hallie evil with achingly slow red fog:
That's three perilous time-running-out situations going on in the episode, none of which end up actually mattering.
After some drama where Billy builds a weather balloon and Jason fixes it with Fashion Icon Trini's scrunchie, the Rangers end up going to the island and facing off with this week's monster, the Invenusable Flytrap:
The Flytrap is, as its name suggests, invincible, and it quickly captures everyone but Trini and Tommy in its D'Compose-From-Inhumanoids chest cage. Then, the ultimatum: The Flytrap will only free the Rangers if Tommy agrees to give up his powers for good.
It's actually an interesting twist. Rather than letting the clock run out on the Green Ranger, this forces him into an early retirement, showcasing how much Zedd wants him gone right now. And it gives Tommy the chance to have a hero's exit, sacrificing his own powers to help the other Rangers because he knows that the team is more important than a single Power Ranger. And the show treats it like this is a decision he has to make. They even have the usual scene where Alpha says "Tommy, wait!", but rather than giving him some magical solution, he just hands Tommy his helmet so he can head back into what may well be his final battle.
It's really well set up. For like two minutes.
And here's the McGuffin: The Venus Flytrap is vulnerable to heat, so the other Rangers have to focus their chi --- a power they have never ever had before in seventy episodes of this show --- in order to burn itself from the inside. Which they do by throwing up the Diamond Cutter.
It's incredibly disappointing, and it removes any of the tension that might've remained in this episode. There's no need to describe any of it, because you know exactly what happens. The monster loses, and Tommy still has powers.
As mentioned above, this week's Power Rangers is still using Zyu2 footage to pad things out --- we don't even get the MegaThunderzord this time, and the only Japanese footage we do get is from the first few episodes of Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger --- so once again, we're continuing on with Gosei Sentai Dairanger's tenth episode, "Ah, The Vengeful Goddess!"
I promise that once the White Ranger shows up, we're actually going to be talking about some differences.
The vengeful goddess in question is Kujaku, an incarnation of the Peacock Buddha who was freed last week after being trapped inside a monster called Master Mirror Makeup for the past six thousand years. And as you might expect, that's the sort of experience that really changes a person.
See, back during the first war between the Dai and the Gorma, Kujaku made the mistake of showing mercy to Gara, one of the three Gorma commanders who's still causing trouble here in 1993.
After pausing to tend to her fallen foe's injuries, Kujaku went to get Gara some water and was momentarily distracted by her own reflection, Narcissus style. And, like Narcissus, it did not end happily --- the reflective surface turned out to be Triple-M in disguise, who snatched up Kujaku with his tongue and kept her trapped for the next 60 centuries.
Because of that, the formerly merciful Kujaku is now just straight up ready to murder --- not just Gara, but anyone who gets in her way. And before long, she has a pretty good excuse to start doing some violence.
Meet Cherry Blossom Viscount, who has maybe the most amazing name that any Super Sentai villain has ever had. In addition to his big ol' flowery head --- which comes with the big ol' flowery explosions that always accompany monster attacks --- he has the ability to use cherry blossoms to drive people mad. Which is pretty unfortunate since the episode seems to be taking place during the annual cherry blossom festival.
When people start rioting, Kujaku takes the opportunity to reveal that she is six thousand years removed from her supply of frigs to give, and just starts peppering the rioters with peacock feathers that stick in their chests like arrows, and may or may not actually be killing them.
Naturally, Daigo, the most peaceful of the Dairangers --- despite his weirdly inappropriate accessory of fingerless leather tough guy gloves, he works in a pet store and loves animals --- is extremely upset by this. After taking a peacock feather to the chest himself, he tries to get Kujaku to stop, but she is not having it.
The whole thing leads up to a one-on-one battle between Kujaku and Gara, and it is brutal by Super Sentai standards. While the other Dairangers take on the Viscount, they throw down with Ch'i and Yo power, and then decide to break out the big guns. Gara breathes fire like a flamethrower, and then Kujaku turns into a peacock made of fire and just starts lasering at Gara until she explodes.
It's rad as hell.
In the end, though, the two warriors are so evenly matched that each is forced to retreat, with Kujaku disappearing and Gara returning to the other Gorma commanders.
But what of the Dairangers? After being taunted by the Viscount because all they can do is fight, Daigo unlocks a new power that's more in tune with his merciful ways: Lion Fist Empty Innocence.
Which is basically just "dodging."
The Viscount is defeated, then enlarged, then defeated again, and Daigo heads to the history museum to plead with Kujaku in absentia to return to her merciful ways, because their ch'i is forever intertwined. And rest assured: She'll be back.
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 Venus Flytrap monster is pretty rote, but I do like the idea of a bunch of honor rollers had to figure out that you can burn a plant. Maybe just play some Pokémon next time, kids. 3/10
Deviation From The Source: 10/10
Bulk and Skull Friendship: Bulk and Skull: Cosplayers is one of the best recurring gags on the show, and that's real. 7/10
Moral Lessons: Always be ready to sacrifice for your friends, because you probably won't have to at all ever. 6/10
'90s Fashions: Going back through these episodes, I cannot believe how much of a fashion icon Trini is. Not only does she wear a crop top and high-waisted denim shorts that would be stylish today, but her scrunchie literally solves the entire problem of the episode. 8/10
Total For Episode 46: 34/50