Welcome back to day 4 of Power Rangers Week, a feature I would not have guessed would be as popular as it is, but I suppose if you starve everyone for content, they're just grateful you did anything at all. After the utter dross that was the slog through Power Rangers Turbo yesterday, I'm pleased to announce the following: 1) We're covering Power Rangers in Space today. 2) In Space is the start of the creative peak for the show, wherein the writing gets a bit more ambitious, the storytelling takes a few more chances, and the show builds to a climatic finish, not just for itself, but for the 6 seasons continuity previous to it.
So let's hop right in, shall we? Continuing from the events of the Turbo finale, which saw the Rangers utterly defeated and Divatox called away for a meeting of the United Alliance Of Evil (which, despite what you may have heard does not keep Atlantis off the maps and the metric system down) which features Rita, Zedd, the Machine Empire, Divatox, and our new villain for the season, Astronema, who I'm sure was someone first crush/fetish, as she combines being evil with a slinky black catsuit, armour that is less "protective" and more "look at my boobs!" half the wig budget for the season, and freckles, and even among the very evil, aren't freckles totally adorable?
Astronema is flacking for Dark Specter, who is the monarch of ultimate evil and is in no way shape or form just the monster costume from the Turbo movie, because that would just be silly. Dark Specter has decided to gather his forces and begin the assault on the universe even though the Blue Senturion said that wouldn't happen until the year 2000, but really, who gives a toss, because the Blue Senturion was an idiot and at the time it was not a sure thing Power Rangers would make it to 2000 (more on that later)
The meeting's crashed by a new Red Ranger, Andros, who is our main character through the whole season--pretty much all the storyline turns this season turn on him and his backstory, which we'll get into later. Andros eventually meets up with the other Rangers who were flying blind on a space shuttle after last season and there's your Space Rangers. Thus, the engine for the season is thus: Astronema plans to advance Dark Spectre's plans (Dark Spectre rarely does things himself, because evil is never more pimp than when you're allowed to delegate the less important shit to your flunkies) the Rangers thwart her, occasionally in space.
There's more going on, of course, but let's peek behind the curtain for a second: Had the ratings not improved for Turbo in the last half (generally because it became a slightly better show and wasn't trying so damn hard to be the first two seasons of Power Rangers over again) Turbo would have written the finish for the whole franchise. As it was, it only gave them a one-season extension.
So the producers apparently decided they had nothing to lose, and went all out. This is usually when your best work happens, of course, and this certainly qualifies. Because once they get the kinks sorted out, this actually becomes a pretty decent show.
This despite the fact that it's Super Sentai counterpart, Megaranger, had absolutely fuck-all to do with space (consumer electronics saved the world that year--no, I don't get it either), which was kind a problem, as the Americans had really counted on the fact it would be. Fortunately, lemonade was made from this, but the problem of the Japanese and Americans not being on the same page reaches a critical mass of sorts next season.
Before that happens, there's a crossover episode with the god-awful live-action Ninja Turtles show they were trying to peddle around this time. It's really rather bad and stupid and really, the kind of thing best left forgotten/skipped over
Anyways, in addition to the main storytelling engine, the Rangers are trying to find Zordon, Andros is trying to find his sister, and everyone's trying to sell toys. Ultimately, it shakes out that Astronema is actually Andros' sister, kidnapped by her treacherous second in command Darkonda back in the day and raised to be evil be loyal adjutant Ecliptor (this whole "one honorable and loyal bad guy"/"one underhanded backstabber" at the second in command level gets carried forward into later seasons) Astronema actually ends up remembering all that momentarily and it looks like she'll actually go all the way and become a good guy . . .
. . .but she's kidnapped again and brainwashed, turning even more evil and cybernetic implants to ensure her evilness. Good idea--don't want your evil empresses wandering off and turning good, after all. Bad idea in that now Astronema is utterly evil and has no loyalty to anyone. Now, instead of just prosecuting Dark Specter's war and trying to kill the Rangers, she's also trying to kill Dark Specter as well.
This leads to a late-season arc that takes a cliche that Power Rangers had used a lot over its previous seasons--the bad guys come up with a team of evil Rangers!--and finally gets it right. The Psycho Rangers hit the scene, and man, are they awesome. They're way stronger than the Rangers, utterly relentless, and in a microcosm of the whole Astronema situation, borderline uncontrollable, as they're willing and able to go through Astonema and Ecliptor if it means a chance to kill the Rangers.
Worse yet, they're goal isn't really to destroy the Rangers at all. The Psychos tap their power directly from Dark Specter, and letting them off the chain is just a means to weaken him so Astronema can kill him and take over. The Psychos last pretty much through to the final episode, returning again and again to plague the Rangers and even when they manage to pick one off, it's usually only just. This was a big deal, because usually these "evil ranger team" episodes only ever seemed to last 1-2 episodes before.
This all builds to the final two-parter "Countdown to Destruction" and with a name like that, it's sure to be a laugh-fest, isn't it? This was written as though it were going to be the finale for the franchise as a whole, and really, it's plain to see it in that there is no stone unturned in wrapping things up: Dark Specter finally orders his forces to attack; the Ranger's giant robots are all destroyed; the Gold, Alien and Phantom Rangers are fighting to a standstill on various planets, and Zordon is held captive by Astronmena as she begins her final assault on Earth.
Before the end of part 1, the Rangers are on the run, Dark Spectre is destroyed (by Darkonda, who decides now is the time for his power play, which, in the best Starscream tradition, ends up with him getting killed too) and Astronema is now in charge. The only thing that can stop the ultimate triumph of evil is Andros and Zordon making the supreme sacrifice.
While the finale of "Countdown" is a bit disappointing--Evil's ultimate triumph is negated by breaking a tube, killing Zordon, and unleashing the most powerful deus ex machina in history to wipe out all evil in the universe--more or less the one thing Power Rangers never wanted for was deus ex machina endings.--where it succeeds in is making Power Rangers have some tension. For the most part, the Rangers have been on the defensive in the back half of the season. The Psychos were put down, but it was a hard as hell job, Astronema put their backs to the wall most of the time, and even destroyed all their robots. By the finish of Part 1 and through quite a bit of part 2, they're almost completely sidelined, which just didn't happen up until this point. When, save one, your title characters are pretty much stuck in a story wherein the outcome is completely out of their hands, especially on a show with as rigid a formula as this, well . . .it's a bold move.
But it was the right one. In Space saved Power Rangers even as it wrote finis to Power Rangers as viewers had known it. Now, along with the costume changes, the casts would change each season as well, and for the most part, each season would become its own separate story with little connection to previous seasons.
That was the plan, anyways. The logistics of that final transition is something we'll be looking at on Thursday, when we look at Power Rangers Lost Galaxy. Join us tomorrow for troubled production, a standalone story that wasn't, and trying to be out in space when you're stuck in a forest, won't you?