Monday, September 16, 2019

Power Rangers Reflections #22 - The Mutiny (3-Part Episode)

Wasn't planning on this... but figured it'd be both a worthy tribute of sorts and a way to kick off the series.

So this past weekend, voice actor Robert Axelrod passed away. And in a tribute of sorts, I want to muse on the three-part episode that introduced his most famous portrayal: Lord Zedd.

Axelrod wasn't a stranger to Power Rangers: he had voiced the character of Finster during the show's first season. But most people know him best as the voice of Zedd, the villain introduced in the second season premiere as a replacement for Rita Repulsa in order to change things up.

Even though this is a three-parter, we'll be blowing through these episodes pretty quickly with some bullet points and other bits of observation. This aired in prime time, you know. And it was a pretty big deal at the time to have Prime Time Power Rangers... I have no idea what that meant, but it was indeed a big deal and you knew shit was going down.

So the episode opens with the Rangers at a dirty rally; one of those races where it's for a charity of some sort and everyone is a winner... the perfect kind of competition for today's world, actually. This provides with a unique setting outdoor for the majority of the three parts, which is nice, outdoors, rocky terrain. Of course, this eventually becomes "another rock quarry" or whatever the joke was over time, but for the time, this was something different.

Meanwhile, we have Rita planning her next attack when suddenly the palace shakes. Goldar declares that Lord Zedd has resumed and indeed he has; appearing in the sky as the rest of the crew watch from the American balcony. Goldar and crew leave Rita behind to meet Lord Zedd in the new throne room, which is all American stuff and a really neat set, with the fog and the somewhat moody setting. The constant background painting of Earth in the background ruins the image a bit, but honestly, for a cheap set, it wasn't too bad.

And then there's Lord Zedd himself; the stuff nightmares were made of. A man with no skin and all internal guts and exposed brains, with metal bits and bobs and a face mask with glowing visor and a snake that turns into a staff with a Z on it, because it's Lord ZEDD, you see. Confusing the non-American English speakers who figured it was Lord Z.

The man in the suit is Ed Neill and he gives Zedd motion, but Axelrod gives Zedd his voice; a graspy yet somewhat sinister sounding voice (by kids standards) that alone makes this new villain sound like a force not to be messed with. And that is done without additional sound filters or editing. One could imagine an echo effect being added to make him sound even more imposing... actually, one need not imagine; the first MMPR movie does modify Zedd's voice to a degree where it's far more evil sounding than on TV, but make no mistake; the unfiltered voice that Axelrod provides Zedd was menacing enough. It had to be for the parents to complain about how dark he was, didn't it?

Rita comes in to plead to Zedd for another chance. I like that they tried (and failed, but points for effort) to film new Rita scenes in a way that didn't show actress Carla Perez's face because even kids will look at that and question why Rita isn't looking like an old Asian lady. Zedd scoffs and shrinks her, placing her in a mini-dumpster, and sending her away. Yep, there goes Rita. We will never see her ever again on the show... nope.

Zedd creates his own Putties... who get a great intro and are presented as a bigger threat, but they're actually Zedd's first tactical error in his war against the Rangers. See, while the Putties might be stronger than the previous stock - even moreso than the short-lived Super Putties - they had a massive weakness in the form of their chestplates with a Z embedded onto it. One touch on this plate is also it takes to kill one of these Z-Putties and it's the one thing that takes them down a notch. Also, I liked the variety of Putties among Rita's clan; some had ball fists and swords while others had rocky forms and things of that nature. Z-Putties come in one stock and one stock only... and it got boring after a while unless they did something interesting... which very rarely happened.

So the new Putties attack Bulk & Skull, who are lost in the desert and this prompts the Rangers to show up and fight them. They have trouble at first, but once the very obvious weakness is exploited, they emerge victorious. This close-up experience with the Rangers has given a new purpose in life for Bulk & Skull, for this is the beginning of their quest to discover the true identities of the heroes who saved them. It gives them new purpose and has them somewhat evolving beyond being harmless bullies.

Spoiler: Their efforts success several seasons later and they had nothing to do with it... but I digress.

The Rangers return to the Command Center to discuss their recent battle, where we witness the actors in the suits for the first time sans helm. Man, do those turtle necks look fat and not in the most flattering way. They'd eventually get better, but these are some growing pains. Speaking of which, Zedd decides to turn a random pirahna fish in a lake into Pirantishead, a monster that can control motor vehicles and other gimmicks. And then the Rangers return to action.

So even though the monster hasn't grown yet, the Rangers decide to summon their Dinozords, but Pirantishead uses his flute thing to freeze four of the zords that have the least amount of usable stock footage we can recycle. This is where we end Part 1.

Part 2 begins with the remaining two zords, the T-Rex and Dragonzord, being possessed by Pirantishead and turning them on the Rangers, who promptly retreat to consider their options. It is at this point where Zordon introduces them to the next wave of Zords; the Thunder Zords. The Rangers are excited - except for Tommy, who gets no new Zord due to his weakening powers - but Alpha informs them that they need the old Zords to use the new Zords. Billy and Trini leave to devise a device that will break Pirantishead's control over the Zords while the other Rangers fight more Putties before eventually confronting the Zords again, closing out Part 2. Not much to say about this middle part.

When we begin Part 3, Billy and Trini come in with the device and attempt to block the signals, but it doesn't work, so the Rangers need a distraction. They form the Power Blaster and tease using it on the zords - which would've done some damage, but not by much, I would think - but they instead shoot the Piranha monster instead. Billy switches batteries and the device works; the Zords are back in their control, but Zedd causes the earth to rip and sinks the Zords into the depths below via recycled footage and really lamely imposed flame effects on the Ranger bits... fortunately, Alpha was able to save enough of the old Zords that could be used to create the new Zords.

I never got this. Why do they need old Zords to create new Zords? Why couldn't they just get the new Zords and get rid of the old Zords? Why not keep both sets of Zords in case we need them or something? I get that they want to explain away the switchover in order to make use of that fancy Dairanger zord footage and I also get not wanting to create new Zord footage or anything like that, but several episodes utilize some of the new Zyu2 footage and that footage still used the old Zords. Maybe if they had kept the old Zords for a time, they wouldn't need to do the hideous splicing job that they would do later on... but I digress.

So the Rangers reconvene at the Command Center where they learn that they can now use the Thunder Zords against Zedd's monster, who has now grown in size thanks to one of Zedd's growth bombs. The Rangers then summon their Zords, which involves a vocal summoning and recycled posing, cut to the old Dinozord toys "morphin" into the new Thunder Zord toys in a somewhat creative little clip. The five Thunder Zords then turn into the Thunder Megazord; a samurai-looking thing with a giant katana that they call the Power Saber... because we can't just call it the thunder sword or something like that.

So this is our first taste of the Thunder Megazord in action against Zedd's Piranha fish monster... and it's not a good showing. I wonder how many kids saw this and noticed that none of the shots featured both combatants at the same time or that some of the shots featuring the Megazord getting hit was of the old Megazord and not the new one, which was from a completely different show. This was a recurring thing for some of the earlier (and honestly, even some later) episodes and it never does come across as a seamless battle and sort of emphasizes the cheapness of the whole production.

But then again, Power Rangers was always a bit on the cheap side. It added to its overall charm. And as time would go on, Season 2 was perhaps the more turbulent season of the Mighty Morphin run, as we shall soon see... eventually. With that in mind, I have to give props to the editing crew in that while the Sentai ZyuDai patchwork didn't quite work out, they at least tried to salvage what they could to present a battle between two different pieces of stock footage when they could've just done a Thunder Megazord squashing of the enemy monster.

So the Rangers defeat the monster, Zedd is angered by this defeat, and we even get a quip from Finster saying that if he had created a monster, none of this would happen. Ironically, truer words were never spoken... but let's not kill Finster's dreams just yet.

So, the day is saved, the Rangers and Bulk & Skull return to the charity race dead last and all is well in the world... I suppose.

For a three-part episode and especially a season premiere that established the new status quo going forward, it would seem that I had very little to say on the actual episodes itself. One might recall the Reflections I did on the 3-part Ninja Encounter being of substantial length... though my argument on that count is that I simply had more to say on the matter, while in regards to the Mutiny, outside of the few elements this story introduced that changes things around, there's really not a whole lot to it.

Lord Zedd is given a fine introduction and makes his presence felt, resulting in the need to introduce new Zords. And while his creations fare no better than Rita, they were aimed at chipping away the dwindling powers of the Green Ranger, whose time was reaching its expiry point. In essence, the Rangers were indeed dealing with a much graver threat than before and while not much happened, what did happen made their mark just fine.

With a need for new Sentai stock to recycle comes a need to introduce new Zords and while some would argue that Saban should've went full bore with the Dairanger changeover - suits and all - I, for one, was more than happy to stick with the Zyuranger suits. Quite frankly, they look nicer and more heroic. I wouldn't have minded if they stuck with the suits to this day. I look at the Dairanger costumes and my first thought is "Why are they all wearing white vests?" It was simply too much of a change and it just wasn't worth it at the time. Even when the changeover to Zeo was made, there were some who stopped watching because it wasn't the same show, even though it kind of was... but I digress.

So that was The Mutiny; a three-parter that made its mark and not much else. When we resume this series in October, we'll be jumping a year later and embark on a Ninja Quest, if you will.


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