Power Rangers: My Journey
Part 5: The one that nearly broke me.
By: Ben Taylor
I’ve been dreading writing this column. Turbo is such an important point in Power Rangers history, but at the same time, it’s Turbo. If you have read the other articles, you know that I like to say at least a few things positive about the season I’m watching amid my issues with it. The thing is, outside two, slightly unpopular opinions I have, there really isn’t much to like in this season. However after a bit of a chat with my co-hosts, we decided that what would be awesome is to have a guest columnist! That’s right, later in this column, my co-host, Shasha Kaplan, will be sharing her thoughts on the movie and the season that is Turbo.
Power Rangers Turbo (aka OH GODS, MAKE IT STOP!)
I want to be very transparent with you all. I despise Turbo. The only parts of it I like are parts that most fans deride. I remember having a conversation with Michael Lindenbaum that went something a little like:
Me: I can’t do this… This is so bad.
Me: Turbo. It hurts to watch.
Mike: Yeahhhh… So you met Justin…
To put it bluntly, Power Rangers Turbo, about broke me. I genuinely got to a point where I thought I was done with Power Rangers. It was right around when the team transition happened, cause, oh lord, I have thoughts there. But I’m jumping ahead of myself. Where to start? I guess there is no avoiding it; Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie.
Quite frankly the movie is… bland. It has some mistakes and issues, like under-utilizing the return of Kim and Jason. For some reason, my brain read this as if Kim and Jason were an item now. So, is that why Tommy got a dear john letter (WHICH IS NEVER ADDRESSED), but we’ve seen Jason since then and the last time we saw him, he was wandering into the sunset with his biker girl friend. So what gives? Though seeing Kim be evil was quite fun. There is a moment in the movie that really hits home what kind of season Turbo is going to be. Kat is plummeting off a cliff and morphs using the ZEO Powers, she hits the water, and UNMORPHS! The ZEO Powers are NEVER USED OR MENTIONED AGAIN. Not in the movie. Not in the series… never.
The ZEO Powers, the power source that they went out of their way to say got more and more powerful over time, that got stronger and stronger, and they’re never mentioned again. All of a sudden, the giant floating head in the tube with a penchant for robots based on dinosaurs and mythical animals, is like “LOL CARS NAO!” We don’t even get the easy single throwaway line of them having to use the ZEO Powers to make the Turbo Powers. We don’t see the Zeonisers become the Turbo Morphers. They just replace the ZEO Powers. The ZEO Powers aren’t taken away, de-powered, destroyed, or otherwise negated. They still EXIST… Just, for some reason, they stop using them. And what? Store them in a safe? This is the first leap of faith that Turbo asks the viewer to take and it’s such a big one, that it’s very hard to make. In the season finale, when both of the Turbo Megazords are down and out, I was GENUINELY expecting them to bust out the ZEO Powers. But no. Nothing. And alongside Clara jumping into the Doctor’s timestream, Lorelai and Luke getting together on Gilmore Girls, and that one time Becky went upstairs as one actress and came down as another on Rosanne, they are never mentioned again.
The Movie introduces two other factors that I really want to discuss that super impact not only this season, but Power Rangers as a whole. Justin and Divatox.
Okay, so, Divatox. I LOVE Divatox. I KNOW this is an unpopular opinion and I know this will get me some stick, but she’s my favorite Zordon-era villain. Here’s the kicker, if you ask me to list reasons why… I really can’t. Her pirate thing is weird. Pirates don’t want to conquer planets, they want wealth, and she spent hardly any time doing anything to get any. We go from a full on mechanical death robot army with combined forces technology invading from outer space, to a couple of pirates on a submarine. Her method of growing monsters by firing torpedoes at them made no sense… and eventually you would think they would just track where the torpedoes came from. Her refusal to set shorter fuses on her bombs was dumb, but I LOVE her as a villain. I acknowledge each and every flaw she has, but I still think she’s my favorite. Why? Who knows? I think at least in part it’s because she is a comedy villain at heart, and while everything else on this season was so horribly bungled and taking itself so very seriously at the same time as being bungling, making it seem worse, they seemed to find a note with her that just spoke to me. When her periscope would pop out of things like sodas, or the water in a fishtank even though the submarine was huge and miles away, I would genuinely laugh and be entertained. There is just something to be said for seeing how much fun the actresses playing her had. Like it or not, hate her or don’t, Divatox WON. She BEAT the Rangers. The Zords were gone, the power chamber was in ruins, and Zordon/Dimitria (we’ll get to her) were gone and not coming back! Much like Rita and Zedd before her, if it weren’t for a convenient plot to twist, Divatox would be ruling earth. Also I LOVE the Pizza Episode. Deal with it.
Then there is the second biggest sticking point for me in Turbo. If you ask most people their number one thing that is an Issue with the season, the answer is – JUSTIN. There are things I LIKE about Justin, for example he’s not written to be the stereotypical dumb kid (expect when the plot needs him to be). He’s usually the first one to twig something is wrong and instead of standing around monologuing, starts getting on with solving the problem. Now here’s the thing; many people just saw a child as a Ranger and instantly hated it.
A lot of people have the same issues with why they dislike Justin, that I do with why I love Divatox. They can’t really put it into words. I don’t have that issue. I’m easily able to lay out many of my issues with Justin, but if I were to lay them all out, I would still be writing this column when the next one is due out. Please believe me, this isn’t just knee jerk Justin = Bad. First of all, and beyond all else, there is the concept of damage to a child. And make no mistake, when he starts the movie/series he’s 12. He turns 13 in the show, but he’s 12. For a lot of people, myself included, the image of violence against kids gives them what I can best described as ‘The Wiggins,’ an unshakeable feeling of unease. Add to the fact that Justin ACTUALLY being 12, highlights that the other actors in the show are NOWHERE NEAR being teenagers, let alone being in high school.
Another issue with Justin’s age is, well, in “Shift into Turbo” Part 2, a bunch of Phrianatrons and Elgar, one of the series’ main protagonists who is armed with a sword, loses a fight to an UNARMED, UNMORPHED, 12 YEAR OLD. Then we’re supposed to take Elgar as a credible threat for the rest of the season? HOW. Elgar even WINS fights later in the season. What the hell? They utterly shatter one of their main villain’s credibility in the second episode of the season (technically the first “story” since it’s a three-parter), but then we’re supposed to just forget that?
And while I went off a bit about Elgar there, we’re still discussing Justin. I could carry on about the usual stuff, but there is something that really gets to me about Justin and his character that I don’t see talked about a lot anywhere else. His absentee father.
Now I’ve got no issues with the fact they had his father being a single parent, doing his best to provide for Justin. That part’s fine. The part that isn’t fine, is the fact that one moment Justin is all mopey about his father situation, the next the dad isn’t mentioned for 10’s of episodes and Justin is over the moon happy. I guess he’s staying with one of the Rangers because his dad is out of town? Then, Justin acts like nothing is wrong when the dad comes back, gets Justin-herpes and up and leaves again, and then the cycle repeats. Sure there’s a happy ending to it all, but it’s yet another in the line of opportunities this season missed.
Just one thing after another, missed opportunity after missed opportunity, from the original teens graduation, the idea of a child Ranger, the writing out of the original team, the removal of Zordon and Alpha, and what that meant for the show. Bulk and Skull’s transformation and invisibility, all of them could have been really excellent story moments, really excellent character beats, leading to new and more exciting things for the team. Instead, we got The mass exodus. It started with Zordon and Alpha. It’s clear that SOME long-term story planning went into this season, as they removed Zordon from Earth so that the predicament he found himself in during Power Rangers In Space, could manifest itself. It could have been a turn toward a bit more self-reliance. This is where I want to bring in our first section from my co-host, Sasha Kaplan. As Sasha wrote:
“Getting rid of Zordon could have been an asset to the show, where the Rangers were now adults, and had to fight evil by themselves. They had fought off Lord Zedd and the Machine Empire by this point and Zordon was perhaps not needed any more. Since this is the season they finally graduated high school, it would make sense for them to be stronger and capable of fighting evil on their own.”
Instead what we got was Dimitria who only spoke in questions. This too COULD have been intriguing, if done right. Making the Rangers question themselves and having to seek inner truths about themselves. But no, she was written and executed poorly. You might as well have put a fortune cookie generator in the tube. If we are talking about Dimitria, we HAVE to talk about Alpha 6. WHO APPROVED THIS?!?! I mean genuinely who looked at this and went “yeah… that’s a good idea. Let’s replace Alpha with another alpha, but the new Alpha will talk ‘Street’… BRILLIANT!”
Then there are the Rangers. Ugh, where to start? How about with Sasha’s thoughts:
“The transition from Tanya, Adam, Katherine, and Tommy to Ashley, Carlos, Cassie, and TJ, while not the best written, did lead to an improvement of ratings in the show. They were new characters, creating new dynamics, and had something different to offer. This change and boost in ratings gave the franchise one more season before it was going to be cancelled. The writing also seemed to improve, with fewer PSA episodes, but still decent plots and storytelling.”
Let’s start with, there didn’t NEED to be an exodus of Rangers. What the show needed was a change, and they had the perfect vehicle for that (pun intended) with the group graduating high school. Rather than changing to new characters on screen, change the ones we had already. Have them deal with growing up, the harshness of the adult world, juggling college and work, and growing responsibility. Use that as a mirror to the pressure of being a Ranger. Show that not all evils and threats to the world can be summed up with a giant robot fight or some morality sting at the end of an episode.
This was not an option, however, as Jason David Frank, who plays Tommy, decided that he wanted to depart from the show and because of the writers deciding to dump the other three older Rangers too. WHY? So we got four new Rangers. Admittedly, the replacement of four out the five Rangers was welcome and definitely helped the show survive (even though they really wouldn’t come into their own until next season), but there was something else that this gave Power Rangers that it really needed, and I’ll let Sasha sum this one up:
“Another positive, is the fact that Tommy was more absent from the show. There were episodes where we hardly saw him. This gave the other Rangers more room to grow, after many had dubbed it the Tommy Oliver show, featuring the Power Rangers.“
I’ve made my thoughts on Tommy clear. Heck, when I reviewed “Switching Places,” in season one, I retitled it ‘The Last Episode before Power Rangers Becomes the Tommy Oliver Show for 25 years.” Sasha really nailed this, that the new Rangers WERE a breath of fresh air (there isn’t much to be said about their characters though, to be honest). The issue is with HOW the transition was handled.
The actual transition of Rangers takes place over a two-part episode, “Passing the Torch.” A TWO PART EPISODE. Kat, Tanya, Tommy, and Adam’s departure only gets a TWO-PARTER? WHAT THE HELL?
Also, there’s the hourglass running in the command center, that apparently has the Ranger’s power tied to it. WHY DO THIS? If the hourglass runs out and they aren’t back at the command center, what then? They just run out of powers and the bad guys win? It’s SO STUPID.
Two of the new Rangers are introduced IN THIS EPISODE. Yes Carlos and Ashley had a one off appearance earlier but TJ and Cassie come out of nowhere on a bus, alone, just the two of them, each not knowing the other, and they just so happen to be on the same bus. Cassie was headed to Stone Canyon to become a music sensation and TJ was on his way to Angel Grove to become a baseball player. Just alone. Meeting on a bus. Travelling like they are adults. No family around, nothing. Then a week later they are back in high school like teenagers taking classes. How’s that work? Ignoring the rest of the “plot” of the episode, there is the ceremony where each of the veteran Rangers passes their powers off to their successor with a little line about why they chose them. Let’s pull these apart shall we?
“I wouldn’t be standing here today TJ, and if it weren’t for your courage and strength. I choose you to lead the team as the new Red Ranger.” – Not much to pull apart here. TJ did act with strength and bravery saving Tommy in the episode. This is probably the most justifiable line. But still Tommy has NO IDEA about TJ’s real character.
“You’ll be the new Green Ranger, Carlos. You’ve proven yourself to be decisive and intelligent.” – NOPE. The one time we have seen Carlos on screen before this, he was willing to throw teamwork out of the window and wanted to be the star player and MVP in a soccer game.
“You showed compassion and integrity Ashley. I chose you with pride to be the new Yellow Ranger.” – NO YOU DON’T! Before this two-parter, TANYA LITERALLY NEVER SPOKE TO ASHLEY. And in this episode, they only have a line or two.
“Cassie, you came to my defense. I know you to be loyal and trustworthy. You will bring honor as the new Pink Ranger.” – YOU KNOW NOTHING OF THE SORT! You saw Cassie fight Piranhatrons for like 2 minutes, that’s it. That’s all you saw. Much like Billy and Tanya, you are handing your powers over to someone you know NOTHING ABOUT.
So much changes in Turbo that the only thing I can liken it to is when Steven Moffat took over as Showrunner for Doctor Who. EVERYTHING changed caters, sets, styles even the Daleks got redesigned. All to separate as hard as possible from the previous regimes.
In summation, I HATE Turbo. The good is so very much outweighed by the bad and terrible. This season had so much potential. It had so much promise. It should have been a season about not only the powers evolving, but the characters too. It should have been a season about growing up. The audience and the show could have evolved along with the characters, facing life beyond high school, facing adulthood as a parallel of the other threats. Instead, what we got was the show’s two longest running characters being turned into monkeys and learning nothing from it, a qualified police lieutenant deciding to run a juice bar, the Power Rangers equivalent of Scrappy Doo driving a mix of a Monster Truck and KITT from Knight Rider, the veteran Rangers being ejected from the series for being too old, and having to hand their keys over to a bunch of untested rookies, A literal intergalactic empire with an army and tanks and bombers being replaced by pirates with a submarine!, a villain that doesn’t think to shorten the fuses on her bombs, and the leader figure and his assistant we’ve been building up over four seasons, replaced with a Mr. Miyagi wanna be and a socially and racially insensitive robot! Ahhhhh! At least next time no-one will be able to hear me scream… IN SPACE.
SEASON POWER RANKINGS
- Mighty Morphin’ Season 3
- Mighty Morphin’ Season 2
- Mighty Morphin’ Season 1
I want to say a MASSIVE thank you to Sasha Kaplan for writing some amazing thoughts on TURBO for me. She wrote so much more than I could use. I wish I could have included it all, but as it was, this was the longest column I’ve written yet. And we didn’t even get into things like the Phantom Ranger, The Blue Centurion, or the fact there seemed to be less Zord action this season (that, Sasha and I agree, was a good thing). If you want to see more of Sasha, check out her episodes of Voices from the Grid or head over to geekgirl101.tumblr.com or her Instagram (@GeekyCaptain).
If you want to discuss things more or follow me, you can find me on Twitter @BobTGoldfish, or tune in to hear me co-hosting Voices from the Grid or VftG’s sister show, AwesomeMania, where Mike and I talk about things in the world of professional wrestling.
Until Then –
Guys, Gals, and Non-aligned Pals, in the words of the sixteenth President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, “Be Excellent to each other and Party On Non-gender specific honorifics!”