Friday, July 20, 2018

Power Rangers Reflections Redux #11 - Carlos On Call

A repeat of sorts...

Hey, kids. Guess what? It's time for another Power Rangers Retrospective!

So, in order to deviate from the norm, today's subject matter will NOT be an episode of Mighty Morphin, but rather an episode of Power Rangers In Space, the season which was supposed to be a grand space epic where the Rangers set out on looking for Zordon... but spend most of their time on Earth. Anyway, today's episode is Carlos on Call, the overall 32nd episode of PRiS.

Fun fact about this episode; this is actually the second episode in the Psycho Ranger saga that would take up a good chunk of In Space (6 episodes along with a couple teases and a final episode that retroactively sets up a future episode the following year) and yet in the VHS release of Power Rangers In Space that supposedly edits the initial Psycho Ranger Saga into one movie, THIS episode was omitted entirely.

Our pre-title sequence opens at the Surf Spot - the redressed Angel Grove Youth Center with a "surf" theme and a new owner - where Carlos (your Black Space Ranger) is seen struggling through a video arcade game that some gamers might recognize as WWF Superstars, the first arcade outing of the World Wrestling Federation that is often neglected in favor of its much more popular sequel, WrestleFest. If you want to go meta in this regard, the appearance of this one video game confirms the existence of a WWF within the Power Rangers universe... although where it's in the same form as the real deal or not is best left to those who could be bothered to speculate.

Looking back on this one, I was somewhat surprised to see an actual arcade game being played in Power Rangers, especially one based on a rather lucrative license. I almost have to wonder if the game was chosen completely at random or was it specifically chosen for whatever reason. I bring this up because 1998 was the year that the WWF got really red hot and wrestling in general had reached heights of popularity that hadn't been seen before or even since that time. Was this intended as subtle acknowledgement of that point... or was it a random choice? Possibly the latter, but... one has to wonder.

Of course, in an effort to presumably cover their asses, the producers saw fit to cover up the giant WWF logo just below the video monitor and the in-game sound is completely replaced with a generic video game tune with sound effects taken from Donkey Kong for Atari 2600. And yet despite the best efforts of Saban to cover the giant WWF logo on the cabinet, they neglect to cover up or remove the marquee header that spells out the name of the game, which is very much visible on certain shots. (Especially those close-ups.)

I suppose it would've been too much for them to gut the machine and switch to a more generic looking arcade cabinet, but then again, it probably wouldn't have mattered since the WWF logo is predominantly featured in the main game anyway and it's still generally easy to make out former mainstays such as Hulk Hogan or Ultimate Warrior... but I digress.

Carlos runs into his old teacher, who promptly introduces him to Sylvie, our child guest star for the episode... I get weary whenever children are featured on an episode of Power Rangers, either due to bad acting or bad dubbing... or both. Carlos is left to tend to Sylvie, which he does by boasting his "mastery" of Not WWF Superstars... by sucking. Naturally, like any loser, he blames the game being broken.

"Whenever people lose, they think the game must be broken." Little Sylvie may not know, but she had just described the underlying philosophy of every would-be angry reviewer on the face of the planet... as well as the segment of Let's Players who post entire playthroughs of them sucking at a game... Carlos dares her to do better and, of course, she predictably dominates Not Ultimate Warrior with her Not Hacksaw Jim Duggan.

Yeah, you know what? Now I remember this episode well... this is usually where I stopped watching since the rest of the episode... as a matter of fact, I think the video game is the only reason why I wanted to talk about this episode in particular, but we'll keep going.

Well, Carlos gets called away, morphs in a photo booth that somehow takes his pictures, and these pictures are discovered by Sylvie and... Zordon is not pleased by these turn of events... or he would be not pleased if he weren't, you know, captured and stuck in a tube filled with lava or something.

So in between spouts with the Psycho Rangers, we have Carlos getting an e-mail (an e-mail that looks like it was typed up in Wordpad rather than anything resembling an e-mail program) but anyway, Carlos gets an e-mail from someone who knows his identity and apparently has no e-mail that Carlos can trace to find out their identity. Boy, that someone must be some slick hacker or someone truly devious and intelligent to pull off that kind of trickery by 1998 standards.

That someone turns out to Sylvie... the little girl.

And so what follows is Carlos forced to go on rides with this little girl, buy this little girl treats and gifts, and playing marbles. She even gives Carlos a pager in case she needs him for... stuff. Even in 1998, parents were spoiling their kids with high-end technology like pagers and shit. What's next? Cellular telephones?

Eventually, after Sylvie asks for a moon rock, Carlos loses his cool, blows up on the kid, and goes away. This makes Sylvie sad. After cooling down, he and Ashley visit a doctor, where he reveals some interesting backstory; Sylvie's brother had gotten ill and the family decided to move to Angel Grove in hopes that he'd get better. Unfortunately, Sylvie's brother died a couple months before the episode took place... wow, this is heavy for Power Rangers; quite possibly the closest we'll get to touching on death in this franchise... and before anyone brings it up, the two temporary sabbaticals of Mike and Kendrix in the following season's Lost Galaxy doesn't count. Sorry if I spoiled the season for anybody.

Anyway, the rest of the episode plays out as you expect; the kid gets in trouble, the Rangers fight off against the Psycho Rangers, they fend off the Psychos, the kid is saved, Carlos gives her the moon rock and even takes her on a ride in space on his Galaxy Glider... because, you know, people can breathe in space.

In the grand scheme of things, Carlos On Call contributes nothing to the overall Power Rangers mythos; it does little to move the story forward, the Psycho Ranger stuff felt thrown into the episode for the sake of being there, and the whole thing really feels like nothing but a throwaway filler episode. There's a fairly good reason why this episode was dropped from the home video release back in 1998 and I'm not just talking about the video game predominantly featured at the beginning of the episode. (Though I doubt that would've meant anything in the long term, considering the episode is on the DVD set, game and all.)

That having been said, this is one of the rare instances in Power Rangers in which we were told explicitly that someone had DIED due to illness. Death, in any form, is something that rarely gets touched on in the franchise; the closest we'd get is people getting "destroyed" rather than getting killed. Some kid dies, his sister doesn't take it well, promises to bring home a moon rock some day, and suddenly gets her chance at that when she discovers the strip of photos of Carlos morphing, her initially happy, spoiled demeanor hiding the pain of coping with the loss of her brother. And when she's riding on the Glider with joy, that's actual joy and not some pretence or fascade.

I'm probably looking too deeply into this, but it's one of those rare cases where an episode of Power Rangers, if for a fleeting moment, actually touched on a very real thing that has happened to people and did not attempt to "lighten the mood" or dumb things down, but gave it the kind of weight and tone that such a subject should be given. It's the kind of tone and content that is rarely touched on in Power Rangers and one that has no chance of ever getting touched on in the current Saban/Nickelodeon era of Mega Fails and Legendary Forevers.

On a whole, I actually found myself enjoying this episode a lot more than I had originally expected. It's not a hidden gem or anything of the sort, but as a throwaway episode, it's quite watchable and well done.

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