Friday, August 10, 2018

Power Rangers Reflections Redux #12: Cyborg Rangers

Power Rangers: Lightspeed Rescue is a series that, for a period of time that I can recall, not a whole lot of people like to hold in high regard and at one point in time, I was one of those folks. It wasn't that it was a bad season, but rather a season that I lacked any real interest in and only followed because it was Power Rangers. I never really cared for the more militaristic nature of the show or the fact that it was something of a departure from what came before; a team of people with other jobs drafted into this Ranger team as a superpowered emergency force, equipped with weapons and tech designed by normal humans rather than enchanted items devised by alien sorcerers. I didn't downright hate Lightspeed, but it was never something high on my list of memorable PR seasons.

As years progressed and lesser incarnations came about, PRLR had started to grow on me somewhat. While the overall story isn't all that great, there were some decent ideas in there that I kinda dug. Having a Ranger team as public servants and with a public face is a nice concept that would get revisited in SPD (not so much Time Force) and the team of Rangers had eventually grown on me somewhat since they acted more like young adults rather than adult actors trying to be teenagers. The series' most notable contribution would be the Titanium Ranger, the first home-grown Power Ranger that isn't a carryover from a pre-existing Super Sentai show. And while he didn't have much of a role in the series (a missed opportunity if there ever was one), I thought it was a pretty cool add on.

Lightspeed Rescue has a number of episodes that might be worth revisiting in some form or another, but today, I want to look at Cyborg Rangers, the 7th episode in the series. Part of the reason stemmed from a viewing of Once A Ranger, which almost reminded me of this episode. Another reason was the need to go away from MMPR for a while.

The Rangers are facing Diabolico's latest creation, a diabolical (no pun intended) monster of the week called Strikning, a ferocious creature who shoots lightning... har, har... in any event, the Rangers are having some difficulty fighting this monster when suddenly another set of Rangers appear. These Rangers are almost similar in appearance to our regular Lightspeed crew, but have weird contraptions on their helmets and chest areas. They also happen to have black gloves, black boots, and black belts, which is a sure sign that these "Rangers" are not going to be the friendly type.

So these new Rangers make short work of Strikning, forcing the poor fellow to feel. The Rangers, amazed by these mysterious new guys, come to greet them and find out that they're robots - or rather, CYBORG RANGERS, controlled by a smarmy, arrogant little balding fellow in a lab coat. You know, the stock kind of scientist who just made a new toy and look down on others. The kind who will no doubt eat his own words when those toys go awry... because they will. I needn't bother with the spoiler warning; this is an eventuality.

Meanwhile, over at the Lightspeed Rescue's Aquabase (a really sweet-looking set, I have to say), head honcho Captain Mitchell and technical expect Miss Fairweather are baffled, as they know nothing about these Cyborg Rangers. Turns out that the Cyborg Rangers are the machinations of one General McKnight, the stock army general (four-star!) type with fifty medals pinned on his jacket and played by an older gentleman to drive home the point that he thinks very little of the "kids" that Mitchell recruited to become Power Rangers. You see, the Cyborg Rangers were designed to be "ten times stronger, programmed only for fighting, and never make mistakes."

Ooh, those am fightin' words, General!

Making a long story short, the "kids" return to base in awe of those awesome Cyborg Rangers, only to find out that those totally awesome Cyborg Rangers are their replacements and as such, our cast of regulars are discharged from service and forced to surrender their morphers. Captain Mitchell protests the decision, but General McKnight would not be swayed, even going so far as to openly questioning Mitchell in his drafting of these... "kids" to fight Diabolico. Captain Mitchell probably should've made the argument that "Hey, old timer. Two years ago, kids in spandex saved this planet from ultimate destruction." But I guess he's been suffering from Tzachor's disease; the inability to recall events that didn't take place in the current airing season.

The next couple scenes are nothing special; the stock Sentai scene where the crew of monsters are bitching over the baby and the eventual arrival of its mother, the stock scene between the general and Miss Fairweather over the positives and negatives of the new Cyborg Rangers, with the usual bickering over these things lacking a heart, and the scene where our now-former Rangers are on a bridge, contemplating life after forcibly relieved from duty. Chad Lee asks Carter if the Cyborgs are truly better than them and Carter is at a loss for an answer; he simply doesn't know. It's a cliche moment - having the Rangers be replaced and their contemplating if they're simply not good enough - but for some reason, .

Strikning shows up again and wrecks havoc. The Cyborg Rangers show up (along with their controllers) and they take on Strikning, much to the approval of the easily impressed General and much to the chagrin and consternation of the Captain and Miss Fairweather. Meanwhile, the Cyborgs manage to get the upper hand over Strikning and are about to finish him off with their blasters, but WAIT JUST A MINUTE, KING! STRIKNING launches his almighty LIGHTNING SPIKES (spikes that are embedded and attract destructive lightning) and the Cyborg Rangers are taken down, much to the shock of the once-proud General. Strikning, impressed by his handiwork of taking down the Cyborgs, flees to fight another day because... sure, why not?

Meanwhile, the former Rangers notice the big explosion and, despite some initial hesitation from Joel and Sasha, decide to check out what's going on. Register that for a minute; these five individuals, who've been Rangers for about six episodes up to this point, have been forcibly relieved of duties and forcibly stripped of their powers, notice this big explosion and decide to check it out, regardless of the dangers to themselves. There's no quest to find an ancient sword to get their powers back or anything like that. They just GO.

So the bald guy, once filled with arrogance and uptightness, shows concern for his creations, but they get up with some scratches, much to the bald guy's relief. Unfortunately, that lightning rattled the Cyborgs a bit and fucked with their programming, as they're now going after the bald guy and his aids... "Gee, didn't see that coming," he lied.

Back from commercial, the Cyborgs are slowly pursuing their former controllers due to what Miss Fairweather calls fried circuitry. The General, once proud of his new toys, whimpers that they're not working the way they're supposed to and cries that somebody needs to stop them... Fairweather and Mitchell eyes the briefcase with the morphers.

Cut back to an extended chase scene that seemingly goes on forever, as the controllers run from their amok Cyborgs and we get lots of explosions... which seems a lot less impressive these days when Kalish-splosions is a thing in Power Rangers. After what seems like an eternity, the real Rangers FINALLY show up and save the scientists from getting choked. Carter manages to (rather easily) knock the Red Cyborg down, who hauntingly taunts him with termination as he slowly gets up, revealing the circuitry behind the cracked visor. Despite claims that nothing can stop the Cyborgs, Carter and the others firmly hold their ground, ready to fight whether they have powers or not.

Fortunately, Captain Mitchell shows up and gives the Rangers their morphers back... because sure, why not? With that, the Rangers morph and we have our obligatory color co-ordinated Ranger-on-Ranger fight sequence, with the real Rangers making short work of the Cyborgs. The fight sequences here are as you'd expect; lots of flipping, kicking, and some mild explosions when laser blasts strike the chest. Fine for the time, but given the quality of the Super Sentai fights, this feels a little tame. Of course, the Red Cyborg gets the "goriest" destruction since the Thunderzords' demise back in Season 3 - it literally falls apart and explodes.

The rest of the episode is just a formality. Strikning shows up again, does the lightning spike thing that the Rangers are able to dodge, they get the upper hand, monster grows, bring in the Megazords, monster dies. The final scene has the General admit the error of his ways and give the "kids" his seal of approval. The end.

Cyborg Rangers is the typical man-versus-machine story where our human protagonists are replaced by computer-driven equivalents that are supposed to be superior, but then go crazy for some reason or another and it's up to the usual human protagonists to overcome their would-be replacements. It's the classic story that's been touched upon in various science fiction series and stories and things of that nature. And this story is no better or worse than any of its ilk. Now Power Rangers somewhat touched on the whole Robot Ranger thing in a prior episode of Turbo, but that was an attempt to be cute and those Robot Rangers (clones of the Turbo team) were then shipped off to Eltar and never seen again. But that has no real relevance in this story.

What Cyborg Rangers did was reinforce the determination and the "heart" of our core Ranger team, in that despite being discharged from service, despite no longer possessing their powers, despite the insurmountable odds, they still wanted to do their thing and they still wanted to fight the good fight, as it were. It is a stark contrast to a later group of Rangers in a later season, who were stripped of their powers and were replaced, and their response was to quit. And it didn't help that this later Ranger team were already unlikable pricks and never evolved beyond that point in the umpteen episodes prior. Whereas here, we only knew these Rangers for seven episodes. They only knew each other for seven episodes. And despite that, they trusted each other well enough and were committed to the cause that they were willing to keep going whether they were Rangers or not. It's one of the few times where the oft-mentioned, painfully-corny "Once A Ranger, Always A Ranger" seems to have some sort of merit and actually means something.

All in all, this was a rather fun episode to revisit. Nothing amazing or spectacular, and certainly nothing that makes any attempt to advance the plot forwards - certainly the Cyborg Ranger plotpoint would've been worth revisiting at some point and they never did - but as an off-the-cuff filler episode, it fills the time quite nicely.

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