Not Easy Being Green: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Season One - part two
A gruff, no nonsense personality, a feral fighting style, deadly retractable adamantium claws and an unstoppable healing factor were among the traits that singled out Wolverine as the breakout character from Marvel Comics' Uncanny X-Men. Provided with a perfectly crafted tough guy voice by Cal Dodd, the same was largely true for the incarnation of the character appearing in the original X-Men animated series from the early 1990's. Wolverine was ''the cool one'', having the allure of a character with an edge. Actor Jason David Frank, who portrayed Tommy Oliver in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (MMPR), is a declared fan. He has suggested that the Green Ranger shares with Wolverine a similar potential to succeed in a solo capacity. I believe that the two are also deserving of credit for increased interest in their respective franchises. What Wolverine was to the popularity of the X-Men, the Green Ranger was to the continued pop cultural ascendance of MMPR.
The first appearance of Tommy Oliver is anything but subtle. As a town with a surprisingly (bizarrely?) active martial arts culture, Angel Grove is in the midst of hosting a Martial Arts Expo. Newly arrived high school enrollee Tommy is on hand to participate as Jason's challenger, and the two engage in a fiercely contested bout that ends in a draw. Tommy is shown to be a good sport as well as talented fighter when he reciprocates Jason's friendly congratulations on a strong match. Later, after he scares away a pestering Bulk and Skull on her behalf, Kimberly (who is clearly attracted to him) asks Tommy to join the gang at the Youth Center.
As is often the case, all of this is observed by Rita via her telescope. It transpires that the witch possesses a sixth Power Coin, and she sees Tommy as a viable choice to become her own Ranger servant. First she must be sure that he is worthy beyond the prowess he has already displayed, and attacks him in an alley with Putties. After dispatching them (using a trash can lid as an improvised weapon at one point), Rita appears, declaring: ''Tommy, I have chosen you!'', and with a blast from her magic staff, sends him to her moon castle. There, he is put under an evil spell of obedience, and transformed into the Green Ranger. So begins ''Green With Evil'', the first multi episode story - a five parter, no less - in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and one which would raise the stakes in the battle against Rita.
Once Tommy has become a Ranger, he can go where only Rangers may tread, and Rita wastes no time in sending him to the Command Center. Upon arrival, he sabotages both Alpha and the control panel, which causes Zordon to fall out of sync with our reality. Elsewhere, Kimberly and Trini relay to the others that Tommy didn't show up to meet them as had been discussed, when they receive a transmission from Alpha. This leads them to the Command Center, where they discover the damage that has been done. Billy, showing himself to be perhaps the most vital member of the group, manages to revive Alpha, but before they can deal with the absence of Zordon, Goldar appears. The Rangers morph and summon the Megazord, ready for a fight, only to have their opponent disappear as quickly as he arrived.
Then something very surprising happens. The Green Ranger, materializing without warning, leaps into the cockpit of the Megazord itself and wreaks havoc on its occupants, knocking them bodily out of the machine and sending them falling to the ground. What strikes me as odd about this is how it breaks the perceived inalterability of the Megazord's control room. By this point in the series, we have time and again seen our heroes dispatch foes from its apparent safety. It's kind of brilliant, - though perhaps unintentional - to develop a monotonous ritual of the Rangers jumping into their giant robot over and over to defeat a monster in always the same way, only to pull the rug out from under the audience the moment they've gotten used to it. Having the Green Ranger attack in this way is not just a surprise in the story and for the characters, it's an intrusion on the show's formula itself, and this goes that much further in conveying the heightened level of danger he represents.
After a brief hand to hand skirmish, each party retreats. Back at school, though, the Rangers, particularly Kimberly, must deal with an overtly unkind Tommy who is still utterly enthralled to Rita. And Rita looks to enhance her control over the new Ranger by bestowing on him the ''Sword of Darkness'', which will make her spell permanent for as long as the weapon remains intact. The witch isn't done yet, sending her Ranger on another mission to destroy the command center. But this time Alpha is ready, and captures him in a force field before Rita manages to retrieve him. While he was imprisoned, the Command Center's computer had time to run various scans on him and thereby discovered his identity. The Rangers meet there to see Tommy revealed as their enemy. They offer to help him at school, explaining that he's under a spell, but are met with the mean spirited snarkiness that has lately become characteristic of their friend.
Every Ranger has a Zord, and this is no different for our emerald villain. Continuing to test the Rangers beyond what they've encountered before, Rita summons the Green Ranger's Dragonzord to wreak havoc on Angel Grove. The Dragonzord is a bipedal reptilian colossus, armored in black, gold, and silver. With a wide base of powerful legs tapering upward to a thick neck, and with an incredibly long segmented tail that ends at a sharp spinning tip, the Dragonzord bears a passing resemblance to Godzilla. Albeit a mechanical Godzilla designed by a luxury car company. Our heroes show up to battle the beast, and after an entertaining (and rare) showdown with the Red Ranger's Tyrannosaurus Zord, which includes many tail strikes and a kangaroo style double kick from Jason's robot, the Megazord is formed.
The Dragonzord is subsequently manhandled and tossed around, and while possessing the upper hand, Jason challenges Tommy to a hand to hand fight. With impressive symmetry, the five part story climaxes as it began: with a showdown between Jason and Tommy, this time as Rangers, this time as enemies. And it is a fantastic - if brief - battle, with flurries of swordplay, exchanges of energy bolts, and martial arts. In the end, Jason emits a blast from his own sword to disarm Tommy of the Sword of Darkness, and fires his Blade Blaster - the standard Ranger sidearm - into the cursed weapon, destroying it. With this done, Tommy is suddenly and fully himself again. Jason offers him a place on the Power Ranger team. Tommy, surprised and touched to be so quickly forgiven, accepts. And just like that, the five Rangers become six.
"Green With Evil" is fairly ambitious, arriving relatively early in the run of the first season's sixty episodes. And while there are moments of struggle between its Western and Eastern parts, this is without question the point when MMPR transcended that struggle and really became a show. Given the extra time allowed by a serialized story, the creators are able to focus more on the Angel Grove half of the equation, and build on characters and their relationships. In this way, the series becomes a balanced collaboration, with the american half co existing with the Japanese element, instead of being subordinated to it. As Tommy finally emerges from serving Rita, so MMPR manages to step out of the shadow of Super Sentai and carve out an identity of its own.
Back in his normal state, Tommy is soft spoken, humble, and generous, though he is not one to trifle with in combat, and is less likely to tolerate Bulk and Skull. Jason David Frank fully embodies these traits in his portrayal of a friendly guy with a tough side, and also shows great facility for acting the jerk when under Rita's spell. Tommy is very shy regarding his feelings for Kimberly at this early stage of their relationship, which would grow in later episodes. He's established as fairly forgetful, a charming quirk which would continue to reveal itself on occasion. The good natured alpha male tension between Jason and Tommy is resolved in an episode called ''Gung Ho'', where they must work together to retrieve new weapons for their teammates, and as a competing duo in yet another martial arts tournament, in this case the ''Team Ninja Finals''. They also encounter a new Zord named Titanus - a kind of sauropod - in the story, which, like the Dragonzord, can combine with the others to make the Ultrazord.
But the excitement of being a Power Ranger would not last for Tommy. In an excellent two parter called "The Green Candle" (the multi part format again showing itself to be a benefit to the series), it is revealed that while under Rita's control, he had come into contact with a magic wax. Once made into a candle and lit, the wax syphons the power of whomever touched it. While trying to summon the courage to ask Kimberly to a school dance, Tommy is taken to the dark dimension, where he is shown the burning candle and offered a proposition by Goldar: ''If you serve Rita, you can keep your powers. If not, you'll lose them when the candle burns out!'' In a typical display of resourcefulness and warrior skill, Tommy manages to break himself out of the dark dimension by taking control of Goldar's sword, which he observed as the means of travelling to and from the place.
Once free, his powers begin to weaken as he and the others battle Rita's shape shifting Cyclops monster. Since his proximity to the candle will only make it burn faster, Tommy reluctantly agrees to let Jason attempt to recapture it at Zordon's insistence. But while Jason attempts to fight his way past Goldar to reach the candle he is teleported out to help save Tommy, who is losing a fight to the Cyclops because of his dwindling powers. The candle burns out completely, and to prevent Rita from taking the Green Ranger's power from it, Tommy entrusts his Power Coin to Jason. Tommy is thus a Power Ranger no more, but there is a silver lining. Kimberly, as predicted by everyone but Tommy himself, agrees to go to the dance with him.
The Rangers continue their battle against Rita's forces without the Green Ranger for a time, facing particularly great danger in a story called ''Doomsday'', wherein they fight a powerful robot monster piloted by Goldar called Cyclopsis, which looks like a cross between The Guyver and a transforming jet from Macross. But before long, in yet another two parter called "Return of an Old friend", the Rangers would find themselves without their Power Coins, having given them up in a failed exchange with Goldar for the return of their captive parents. But they only gave up their own five Coins. Jason still holds the Green Ranger's Power Coin. With the help of Zordon's own energy, Tommy can briefly become a Ranger again, and while on a daring solo attempt to rescue the five Power Coins, he is shocked by the forcefield surrounding them. This re energizes his power more fully but Zordon warns that this too is temporary, and asks Tommy if he wants to remain a Ranger if there is a risk of his powers failing him. Not surprisingly, Tommy is willing to take that risk and remain a Ranger while he can.
While the dark origins of his powers and the possibility of their abandoning him still hang over Tommy, things for now return to normal. The gang would go on to face the whimsical Pumpkin Rapper monster in a Halloween episode lazily titled ''Trick or Treat'', and the Slippery Shark monster that would cast a spell on Jason and Tommy to cause them to turn on each other in ''On Fins and Needles''. Like always, though, the Power rangers would defeat him and overcome his spell. In ''An Oyster Stew", the final season one episode, Zack would finally manage to get a kiss from his long time crush, Angela. It wraps up something of golden period for the show, where the creators have come into their own through the use of serialized stories, and the original cast of six is still present. It wouldn't last long, as some significant changes would come to pass in season two. But for now, like a photo from a High School yearbook, here is recorded the bond of six friends on the adventure of a lifetime.