Per the Tokusatsu 2-Month Special going on over on my site as I'm writing up the backstory and mythos for Volkonir, I figured I'd stick to a theme I've been doing with @LadyTerror for a while now: She covers Marvel / DC, and I cover a few of the other franchises that I grew up with that don't belong to those two giant companies.
Today's topic is 23 times that either kids (or their parents / babysitters) could honestly say that a show as lighthearted and cheesy as Power Rangers suddenly got super dark out of nowhere.
The trailers for the 2017 film have me thinking that the re-imagining will be a combo of Chronicle-style plots and grimdark with a few cheesy one-liners, the latter being reminiscent of the original show.
But as campy and goofy as it usually is, there were moments when the writers actually got serious...or just plain weird. Enough to leave a lasting impression on viewers of all ages.
1. Tommy almost dies. Twice!
He's actually been in mortal danger several times in the show's early days. But there are two occasions where he came pretty close to hitting rock bottom.
The first time was the Green Candle saga, where Jason came very close to recovering the Green Candle and diffusing it before it could do its damage to the Dragon Coin. If not stopped somehow, the damaged Coin would somehow transfer all its energy to Rita.
The workaround to this was that the Coin was entrusted to Jason, to use as a power-up to his Tyranno power. However, while this kept the Dragon Coin from giving the power to Rita, it also meant that the coin had to be re-energized periodically. If drained completely, it'd be rendered useless.
Jason could've reversed it, as was revealed when Zedd developed similar candles in season 2 in an effort to wipe out four of the other Rangers. However, Tommy needed all the help he could get against the monster he was facing at the time.
In one of the most explicit violations of the "Never Say Die" rule of television of the time, Zack explicitly warns Jason:
Yeah, he may lose his powers if you don't retrieve the candle. But if you don't return now, he could lose his life!
It may not sound like much today, but that revelation was quite shocking to children watching in 1993: heroes can actually die on this show???
And a few kids with morbid imaginations were almost disappointed that Tommy's life was spared. How hardcore would it have been, if the Green Ranger actually died? Went down with the ship! After all, Burai in the original Zyuranger series was eventually killed off!
In an early warning that the early writers were at risk of running out of ideas quickly, the "Green No More" saga felt almost like a Groundhog Day Loop for Tommy.
Once again, he was at risk of losing the Green Ranger powers forever. And this time, he was trapped in some desert, with Goldar in no uncertain terms attempting to murder him over and over and over again. And even trying to give him the "Kneel Before Zod" (Zedd?) speech from Superman II, to add further insult to character and audience alike!
And totally-not-Blastoise here vows to perforate him, using that exact word! You won't hear language like that on Dino Charge!
(I forget sometimes how hard the 90s tried to prove how hardcore it thought it was.)
2. The Thunderzords were graphically mutilated
Source: "Ninja Quest"
A severed Zord head flying right at you! Sneaky bastards; Saban gave us Starscream's snuff collection!
Even the Turbo Zords' destruction wasn't as graphic as this! And TJ got a lot of crap for that! (More on that later.) This mutilated Thunder Megazord torso could just as easily be the darker and more twisted side of DeviantArt, that assaults you the minute you remove the mature filter. Just replace robot parts with human flesh digital renders and...well, you get the idea!
The censors were asleep when this happened. I remember watching it at the age of 11, and thinking: "They actually showed me that? That took balls! The censors are gonna eat Saban for lunch for this!"
3. The Alien Rangers nearly die of dehydration
In "Hogday Afternoon," the Hydro Hog tries to drain the planet's entire water supply. The Aquitian Rangers, of course, are basically Aquaman. Goes about as well as you'd expect. And since Aquitar has a lot more water than Earth, Hydro Hog has a lot less trouble draining things dry. The regular Rangers arrive at a swimming pool in the nick of time, as we see the fill-ins nearly die of thirst.
They couldn't rush them to a hospital or something? Just add water, and they're magically better? Dehydration that severe can cause tissue damage, right? Apparently, just making it rain with Billy's latest magitek solves that problem too.
4. The Command Center is destroyed
That's one hell of a blast wave, knocking Adam over from that far below on the ground and that many hundreds of feet away!
The blast itself was not all that traumatizing. What really irritated kids (and parents alike!) was the shameless marketing for Zeo being done. "Wait until next season to see the happy ending we just robbed you of here!"
Meaning, if you elected to not watch Zeo, then you were forced to see a show end with the bad guys winning! That took some serious cojones in the 90s, especially for children's television in a highly-censored time period!
5. Mondo poisons the water hole
Couldn't find a good image, but yeah. King Mondo decides to pollute waterways near Angel Grove and convert the Earth's water supply into Cog fluid, so his minions can rule the Earth. Drinking water turns to toxic sludge!
Did the former city managers of Flint teach him that trick?
6. Jason's Gold Ranger powers almost kill him
In "Good as Gold," it's revealed that certain types of powers connected to the Universal Morphing Grid (as opposed to Zordon's much-inferior firewall for the Earth Grid used in previous seasons) can be encoded to only work particularly well with beings of a specific physiology, rejecting the incompatible forms over time.
So Jason got to fill in for Trey at a price...the Zeo Staff played with him about as nicely as the Palladium Arc Reactor Mk. II did with Tony Stark's bloodstream in Iron Man 2.
And with some far-fetched luck, they were able to fuse Trey back into a single creature, and then transfer the powers back to him. Some days, it sucks to be Jason.
7. Kimberly and Jason got thrown into a volcano, and miraculously survived
Okay, technically, this was in a (really bad) tie-in major motion picture film dubbed Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie.
The show later reveals that Elgar also survived...somehow. Yet, all his toughness was gone, as he became just as idiotic as Rito. And could be beaten up by an unmorphed Justin! (the Phantom Menace-era Anakin of PRT, but that's another topic for another time.)
The sheer heat from that scene above should've been enough to cook them. But since when does this show care about volcanic physics in the real world?
And this bondage scene of Kim is almost as bad as all the times she was tortured by Zedd in the show's original runs...which inspired a really twisted and depraved fanfic dubbed Agony in Pink. (Look it up, if you dare! You have been warned!)
Also, many are wondering why Jason and Kimberly make out in the trailer for the 2017 film, when she was always with Tommy in the show. You can thank Turbo for that re-imagining, as she appears to be very close with Jason in Turbo (but never anywhere else.)
Now I understand why others hated Turbo so much!
8. TJ got baked into a pizza
Actually, the whole team did...sans Phantom and Blue Centurion. This was adapted directly from Carranger, right down to the microwave being in Japanese! And...well, they probably should've skipped this one. It is easily the biggest jump the shark moment in the show's entire history! How did they survive this?
Even with their magic spa-
(Dr. K interrupts: "It's NOT spandex!")
Okay! Fine! Their magic...whatever that they're wearing, how do they get around basic microwave physics? They should be exploding like kittens in there! Did Bruce Wayne design this microwave?
The scene was every bit as disturbing as it was completely ridiculous.
9. The Phantom Ranger almost dies
After Divatox gets fed up with baking the Rangers into pizzas. (The original Pizzagate?) She decides to finally get serious, and take a page out of Zedd's playbook: playing the Rangers' own personality quirks, needs, and flaws against them!
She uses Cassie's weird crush on the Phantom Ranger to set a trap. With that trap set, a monster puts Cassie in one place while pretending to be Cassie in another in order to trick the Phantom into exposing his Power Ruby...without which he apparently can't survive!
(Somehow, Cassie became a substitute Kimberly? Too much pink agony is dangerous!!!)
Anyway, they get Cassie back, but lose the Turbo Megazord. And after a lot of stuff happens, they are just barely able to save the Phantom Ranger's life.
Later, during In Space, the Phantom is almost killed a second time! For a guy who can turn invisible, he sure does get hurt a lot! (And after that episode, Cassie's budding relationship with him is strangely never mentioned again.)
10. The Rescue Megazord's suicide
This became the first time in the show's history in which the Rangers would ever willingly and knowingly self-destruct a Megazord for the express intent of defeating one of their most-deadly-ever opponents. Goldgoyle's one weakness was so lame, that it seems horrible TJ didn't even think to scan for it. Which made sacrificing the Rescue Megazord seem...pointless.
And who's gonna clean up all that litter???
11. The Turbo Megazord gets the proverbial bridge dropped on it
In the exact same episode! Still not as graphic as the Thunder Megazord's savage mutilation p**n scene, but close enough to leave viewers thinking: "Sh*t just got serious on this show!"
12. The Power Chamber is graphically torn apart by Divatox
No, Alpha isn't actually being...ahem...back-ended by that Pirahnatron. That's just unfortunately how it looks. However, it sure feels that way to him, given his home for about a year has just been violated in the worst way he can imagine!
And this was one episode after the Turbo Zords got trashed in a savage beat-down curb-stomp battle! Kids watching at the time were feeling mixed vibes of: "Holy sh*t!" and "Yeah! Why didn't Rita think to try that when she had the chance five years ago??? Divatox made it look easy!"
13. Justin is almost arrested for trying to help his friends get into space
Some Blake Foster haters were actually cheering though, and felt more traumatized when he was able to talk his way out of it!
I mean, "Eltar" became almost as much of a cop-out "Why did you say that name?" moment as the Martha scene in BvS! (Yes, I went there!)
I personally think the director of Nasada should have said something to him like: "All well and good. But you still broke into this building. And we've got you on camera breaking and entering. So...the ship for the Rangers, and juvie for you."
It'd make Justin's sacrifice even more meaningful...albeit, even more traumatizing for kids in the audience! But it would do something valuable that the show's more mature direction wanted: it'd show that sometimes, even heroes face consequences for what they have to do to save the world.
Having a magic suit grow around you after you say some random words to a random object, and having to give up the Power of Greyskull, is not really a consequence audiences can exactly relate to.
But if Justin had to break laws to save the world, and doing it "in the name of aiding the Power Rangers" is not enough to get him out of trouble, that would be weighty!
(Though, to be fair, it would have made his return for his cameo in the next season near-impossible!)
14. Andros is forced to murder Zordon (and almost also his sister)
It is weird as can be that a Jewish investor like Saban would choose to make Zordon into a Christ figure. And the number of kids and adults that were torn up by this scene was almost on the level of the final breath scene in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.
Only problem? Zordon doesn't rise from the dead afterward! (Though, him being reimagined in the 2017 film comes pretty close.)
The sheer unimaginable cruelty of the sadistic choice that Andros had to face here - a whole three years before audiences saw Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man face a much-less-sadistic one - was pretty hardcore for the time. Not just for Power Rangers, but for children's television period!
Not even the original death of Optimus Prime had as drastic an impact on viewers, and THAT event was huge for its time period! (And Optimus came back!)
15. Kendrix is killed in the line of duty
Even after the Zordon era ended, the show's newfound bloodlust didn't stop! Though, she is resurrected through some sort of space magic later. This was the first time a Ranger actually died performing their duties - onscreen, anyway. In that same season, the original Magna Defender would also be unceremoniously killed off.
16. Ransik surrenders, and why
Time Force had a lot going for it. But the ending was the truly most tragic part. Blinded by the pain of all her losses, Jen comes dangerously close to becoming just as lost in hatred as the very monster she is duty-bound to capture. Yet, seeing his injured daughter with an adopted(?) baby in her arms nearly die by his own hand causes Ransik to realize that if he cannot protect those he presumes to love, punishing his enemies is in vain.
This devastating epiphany causes the hardened fugitive to have a change of heart, and turn himself in. This, in spite the fact that he'd previously handed the Rangers' asses to them! He nearly won, but stopped when he realized victory would've cost him everything!
The show would never again be this dark, this deep, and this much like an adult soap opera. It just plain wouldn't be this good again...for years!
17. Mack's suicidal tendencies
What's crazier? An android that has a death wish upon becoming self-aware, or the man who built him? Can you put a suicidal android in a psychiatric hospital? How would that even work?
Operation: Overdrive created some disturbing questions that I'm not even sure Blade Runner's writers could come up with answers for!
This especially struck a nerve with me, as Mr. Hartford is one of the inspirations behind Dr. Hanom in Volkonir. Hanom would never make himself an android son. Especially not one that is so determined to kill himself!
I was glad to be in college when this was on, and not have kids of my own tempted to watch this. What would I tell them?
18. Dillon's virus is an obvious cancer metaphor
So not only can Rangers die in the line of duty; or even commit suicide...they can get cancer too???
I loved how dark RPM could get. But sometimes, with kids watching...it could cross a line or two. This is made worse when you realize that RPM was on TV around the same time as Breaking Bad. Need I say more???
19. Dr. K is almost arrested
And it was WAY harder for her to talk her way out of it than it was for Justin to talk his way out of things in Turbo!
In previous seasons, it was almost an unwritten rule for the show that the Rangers' mentors needed to be in all things above reproach, per 1 Timothy 3:2's requirement of Christian ministers. Dr. K obviously didn't get that memo.
Venjix, it turns out, was her fault originally. So even as she is doing everything in her power to undo him, she is very nearly on her way to Corinth City's equivalent of Club Gitmo! And she barely manages to avoid the hangman's noose! But in her alternate timeline, 90% of humanity is extinct because of her and the evil Alphabet Soup Corporation. So...she is trying to fill Zordon's shoes to atone for being basically female Hitler. Makes sense, right? This is a children's show, right?
20. Ziggy nearly dies in a cave from lack of oxygen
And this is hardly the only time his stunts have nearly gotten someone killed! Did I mention RPM could get really dark at times??? This is actually worse than the time Billy nearly suffocated in a cave after battling a snake. No, really!
21. Dillon and Tenaya's backstories are obvious Holocaust metaphors
Ugh! This franchise is giving me some serious whiplash! From getting baked into a pizza, to a rapping pumpkin, to...Matrix Blade Runner Terminator Holocaust???
Disney knew Saban was buying back the rights, after complaints about how bad Mystic Force and Operation: Overdrive were. So they decided that with their second-to-last kick with the franchise's gig before handing it back, they were going to go all out.
RPM will always hold a special place with me, as it is bar none the ballsiest season since Time Force.
22. Half of RPM has been in jail before
Here's an idea! Need new Rangers? Why not just recruit them from right out of prison??? After all, the Wild Force Red Ranger outright murdered his roommate in real life.
Jack and Z were recruited to SPD from a jail cell, Ziggy did some time (not much) for having ties to a mob boss he owed money to, and then Gem and Gemma were in a forced labor camp for a while.
And let's face it: being a Ranger is BOUND to get you more time off your sentence than anything seen in Breakout Kings! (At least it's not DCEU Suicide Squad, right?)
And if Scott Lang were recruited right at the gate of San Quentin, instead of that nonsense heist, Ant-Man would've been at least half an hour shorter in runtime!
In this scene above, Dillon has been mistaken for a Venjix threat (almost true!) by Corinth security, and is being held at a local jail until further evaluated. A fight breaks out amongst the prisoners...over Jell-O!
Kid's show, Disney!
23. Shelby, Tyler, and Ivan nearly suffocate underground
Even the blatant buy-these-toys-now toy commercial extravaganza that is Dino Charge couldn't resist some really dark moments! Yeah, this is a rehash of Ziggy and K's dilemma from RPM, but what really irritated viewers was that their salvation rested on Chase atoning for ridiculing Shelby earlier...to appease a judgmental dinosaur ghost! All so his powers would work again!
Does that Dino Ghost not realize that holding a bigger grudge against Chase than Shelby does is not helping anyone while the clock is ticking down on their lives???
They will die, and it will be your fault! And I won't let you save them! Because you made fun of a band she likes!
- Almost the Armor X's dialog
What a d**k!
This is why you don't let judgmental dinosaurs, nor aliens named Keeper, control the source of your Ranger powers. SPD could've handled this without going total Snowflake! Dino Charge had no excuse!
So these are the moments I noticed. Did I miss any that mattered to you? Comment below.