Power Rangers: My Journey
Part 6: Once you go Space… You never go back!
By Ben Taylor
And here we are at the official end of the “Zordon Era” of Power Rangers. Made up of all the seasons from Mighty Morphin’ all the way through to the end of IN SPACE, the “Zordon Era” of Power Rangers was tied together by the presence of the large floating head-in-a-tube, ol’ Zordon himself. After this point, Power Rangers switched to be a more year-by-year story format, but more on that next time. After a resoundingly negative column last time with Turbo, I’m looking forward to this one, as IN SPACE (yes the all caps are necessary there) is a genuinely good season of Power Rangers.
Power Rangers IN SPACE (aka – Blasting Off!)
There is a lot I want to cover in this column. I’m going to talk about the Rangers themselves, as I didn’t address Carlos, Ashley, Cassie, and TJ’s personalities when they joined the franchise in Turbo. There was so much else to talk about, and given how good this season is, I feel they deserve it. I will also be talking about this season’s Red Ranger, Andros. I’ll break down the United Alliance of Evil, Astronema, and the issues that arose from the implementation they chose for it. There are also a bunch of other things to talk about this season, so let’s just get on with it.
I want to start by saying how good a job the crew did on this season considering, when they got the preview footage for the Sentai they would be adapting, they got spaceships and aliens and the like, hence the end of Turbo pushing them into outer space. However, it turns out that the Sentai IN SPACE is based on Denji Sentai Megaranger, and was actually themed around cyberspace and digital tech (The English translation of the name is even “Electromagnetic Squadron Megaranger), so the writers on this season of Power Rangers did a really good job of rolling with what could have been a KO punch for the season right out of the gate.
Another thing that the Writing team deserved credit for, was their attempts to wrap up a few loose ends left from previous seasons. You see, after the unmitigated disaster that was Turbo, the show was, as far as the production team was concerned, already cancelled. This allowed them to somewhat throw the rulebook out of the window and really take a few risks, and the ones they decided on, paid off.
One of those risks was basically that they made IN SPACE what Turbo should have been. Finally, the Rangers were alone. No all-knowing powerful mentor with nebulous omniscience, no established power base, no support system. The Rangers graduate highschool off screen and are forced to grow up and face a harsh reality. This is a much more… adult team of Rangers. Each one has a role to fill in the MegaShip they call home. They have duties such as manning the scanning stations and performing maintenance on the ship, like ADULTS. And the themes of the season are way more adult too, like the idea of the world being against them and dealing with the loss of a parental figure in their search for Zordon.
You see, this season’s Big Bad is “The United Alliance of Evil,” a team-up of all the previous villains featured on the show, led by “Dark Spectre,” a very powerful being who is a reuse of the Maligore costume from the Turbo Movie, and Astronema, the Princess of Evil, who is not only a scenery chewing attempt to appeal to horny teenagers, being played by a beautiful woman in tight clothing and smouldering looks, but the season’s real primary antagonist. While it is billed as “The United Alliance of Evil,” they aren’t united that often. Instead, they’re spread out, invading various parts of the galaxy, and never really operating as a unit, which is one of the main issues with the idea. Much like the Machine Empire before them, they have a massive army (including the Machine Empire) and still resort to Monster of the Week tactics. At the start of the season, we find out from a mysterious message in Turbo, that Zordon’s Home planet had been invaded. Dark Spectre has taken Zordon hostage, and has him in some elaborate death trap that will lead to the end of the Power Rangers forever.
Astronema is by far the most complex villain we’ve had yet in Power Rangers, and not in the nuanced, intricately acted and written way. Her storyline is complex and is intertwined with our new Red Ranger, Andros, but we’ll be back to that after we talk a bit about the other Rangers.
The Blue Space Ranger is TJ, previously leader of the team in Turbo. He exhibits great loyalty and friendship throughout the IN SPACE series, following from an absolute highlight episode in Turbo called “Part and Parcel,” where he helps Bulk and Skull prove their innocence when they get framed. IN SPACE continues this trend, in which TJ is often the steadfast member of the team, putting a little more thought into things that some of his compatriots.
Carlos morphs from Turbo’s Green Ranger to this season’s Black Ranger and has my personal favorite “focus episode” of the season, where he loses confidence in his abilities as a Ranger after he accidentally injured Cassie. Falling back to his old pre-Ranger impulsive acts, he leaves and has to get coached back into believing in himself by one of this season’s stand-out guest stars, who we’ll discuss later.
Cassie’s character becomes somewhat of a tomboy in this season. Her first appearance in Turbo, she was acting like an adult and on her way to Stone Canyon to become a recording artist. In her continued appearances in Turbo, she was back in high school. Now, her character is a little all over the place, though in what is a neat subversion of the usual trope, despite being IN SPACE’s Pink Ranger. Unlike her predecessors, Cassie isn’t the love interest of the season. That falls to this season’s Yellow Ranger.
Ashley. Ashley is an odd character. She has the least change between Turbo and IN SPACE, but in some ways she didn’t need it. Her character was already laid out perfectly in Turbo. She tried to see the best in situations, is kinda clumsy, and often has issues applying herself. She’s kind, thoughtful, and instantly takes an interest in Andros.
Andros is the closest that this season has to a mentor, teaching the previously Earth-based Rangers the ins and outs of the Megaship and acting as their guide to space. The good thing is, he’s not some omnipotent, all-knowing sage. He’s just someone who has a bit more experience than the Rangers and has to help lead them into this new world. He’s confident in most things and a stable leader for the team. Props should also go to Christopher Kayman Lee for his performance of Andros, which seems to hit exactly what it needs to and is just alien enough in the right amount that he would be someone out of sorts on Earth. He has just the right amount of ham when doing his backstory flashbacks. Andros has, at the end of the season, to make the hardest choice any of our Rangers have ever made, which I’ll discuss a bit later.
The only other character of note for me, is Ecliptor, Astronema’s surrogate father figure, who, while a member of the United Alliance of Evil. isn’t really that interested in ruling the universe. He just wants to protect the young woman he raised. He’s proud of Astronema and when his free will is taken away by the machinations of another villain and his feelings for Astronema are wiped out, it’s heartbreaking, but that makes his eventual breaking free from that control and his shielding of Astronema for the Z Wave (we’ll get back to that) knowing it will destroy him, just amazing.
Yes, there is a 6th Ranger this season, Zhane, but he doesn’t have much of a character other than being a bit smarmy (I feel like they were going for a Han Solo type with him, the way he always kicks his feet up on the console). He fills no real role on the team other than the one time he and Ashley spend time talking and Andros gets a bit jealous. Oh, and to pilot another Zord.
The Phantom Ranger returns this season, and while I noted that they spent some time wrapping up loose ends, this was not one of them. He was just there, no development, no explanation, no continuation with the thing he and Cassie had going. He was just mostly in the background, and really added nothing to being included in the season, or for that matter, Turbo really. Even there he was a way to get the Turbo Rangers new Zords. It was a pointless build up to a mystery they never paid off. But I guess it was super important to have lots of filler episodes or that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles appeared this season. I can’t think of a single better use for those episode allocations. Nope. No stories that needed tying up… Nothing.
And yes, you read that right. There is a whole episode dedicated to Astronema mind controlling the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (all five of them… yes five) from the “Next Mutation” into fighting the Power Rangers (who the Turtles don’t believe in and think that the Rangers are just comic book characters). The Turtles break into the Megaship and take it over, even reprogramming it’s AI to speak like them, until they break free of the mind control and team up with the Rangers to fight off Astronema. All that happens in just the 4th episode of the season.
Now, I said I would get back to why Astronema was such a complex villain after I discussed the characters, so I shall. Early in the season, we find out that Andros has a sister, Karone, who was kidnapped when they were playing as young children. In what is the best piece of storytelling Power Rangers has pulled off, this is a running story for the entire season. This story was so well told and so well received, I genuinely believe that it helped inform the fact that future Ranger seasons (once it was decided there would be) would have more story arcs in them. You may have caught in my description of Ecliptor, that I mentioned that he was Astronema’s surrogate father figure and you should be able to put two and two together and puzzle out that Astronema is in fact Karone. This is revealed to the characters about half-way through the season and THAT is when things get complicated with Astronema turning good, then getting captured, mind controlled, becoming pure evil, acting against Dark Spectre, and more. It’s really well executed.
Speaking of well executed, let’s circle back to that guest star that I mentioned earlier when talking about Carlos’ crisis of confidence. Adam returns and really shines, helping Carlos confront his inner demons. Adam also hits several home runs in the “greatest Ranger ever” contest in this episode, when we see him really missing being a Ranger, having an air of pathos around him when discussing it, and generally acting how Tommy didn’t when he lost his powers. Then, despite only having a faulty Morpher, and it having a chance to kill him, Adam takes the risk and morphs anyway to save Carlos’ life.
Side note about morphing, and I didn’t bring this up in the Turbo column as it was already super long, is that Turbo started a trend of each season having a unique morphing call instead of “It’s morphin time.” Turbo had “Shift into Turbo,” which worked really well as they performed a complex hand gesture and jammed a key into an ignition slot on their morphers. IN SPACE has “Let’s rocket,” as they enter a code into their Morpher. I always wondered what would happen if they put a different alphanumeric code into the Morpher, but we never see that. We do see the franchise’s first Battlizer mode.
We also get the introduction of the Psycho Rangers, a team of evil rangers designed by Astronema to outmatch the Rangers, which they do, very, very well. Their designs are amazing, and by far the best implementation of “evil Ranger team” to this point. They are a staggeringly potent and impactful enemy and this won’t be the last we see of them. The fights between the two teams are very well done and the various ways that the Rangers try to defeat them are creative, including all dressing as the Blue Ranger to defeat the algorithm that has a Psycho be super strong against it’s counterpart on the Ranger team. There is an episode with a super cool concept I wish they’d done a bit more, where after the Psychos lose a member or two, they are upgraded to be able to pick out the Ranger’s voices, so the Rangers can’t talk to communicate or warn each other.
Then there is the moment that six seasons of Power Rangers have been building to. In the finale, “Countdown to Destruction” (which as far as anyone knew was going to be the final episode), Earth is invaded and held hostage and the real heroes of the Zordon Era come into their own. Bulk and Skull. Astromena informs the inhabitants of Earth (and by Earth here, I mean Angel Grove, let’s be honest) that unless that Rangers turn themselves over, she will start murdering civilians. So in order to buy the Rangers time, Bulk steps forward, declaring himself to be the Blue Ranger, Skull the Black Ranger, and inspiring many other civilians to do the same. They lead the civilians of Earth in aiding the Rangers against the army of foot soldiers. This is the Zordon Era’s finest moment. Bulk and Skull have been the only real constant throughout the show for 6 years, and seeing their evolution over the seasons led to this moment. It wasn’t reduced to comedy slapstick, making it the best pay-off yet.
This is the official end of the Zordon Era, and as I alluded earlier, Andros has to make the hardest choice a Ranger has ever made. During the finale, while the other Rangers are helping Bulk and Skull fight off the army on Earth, Andros makes his way to the mind controlled Astronema’s flagship to face her down. Upon arriving, he finds a fading Zordon, who orders Andros to smash the tube, destroying him, which will destroy the Alliance of Evil. Andros wrestles with this, but ultimately takes his Spiral Saber, strikes the tube, and destroys Zordon, releasing a wave of energy, known as “The Z Wave.” It washes across the galaxy, destroying some evil doers. It turns Divatox good, who looks a lot like Dimitria (oh yeah… there was a whole fan theory about the fact Divatox and Dimetria were sisters as they were played by the same actress and there had been some lines suggesting one of them had lost a sister). It purifies Rita and Zedd (and surprisingly, puts Zedd’s skeleton back on the inside of his body and his skin the right way round) and way way more.
You’ll notice that I mentioned mind control a lot in this season review, and while the main stories this season are the search for Zordon and the Andros/Karone/Astronema thing, the season as a whole has a really strong subtheme of choice. Be it Andros’ choice, the mind control elements, or perceived destiny, and it really resonates at times. The Rangers have to grow up and make choices, hard choices. It’s exactly what was needed.
Overall, this season is a JOY to watch, despite a few flubs and flaws. At several points while writing this, I would post in our group text chat about how it feel great to be writing positive things about Power Rangers after the Turbo review, and the cool thing is that after “Countdown to Destruction,” it was decided to continue the franchise. So join me next time as we head to what I* consider to be the end of the Zordon Era, but we’ll look into that as we head to a… Lost Galaxy.
SEASON POWER RANKINGS
- IN SPACE
- Mighty Morphin’ Season 3
- Mighty Morphin’ Season 2
- Mighty Morphin’ Season 1
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, Awesome Mania, 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!”