TITLE: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always
STARRING: David Yost, Walter Emanuel Jones, Steve Cardenas, Catherine Sutherland, Charlie Kersh
WRITERS: Becca Barnes, Alwyn Dale
DIRECTOR: Charlie Haskell
PREMIERE DATE: April 19, 2023
SYNOPSIS: Tragedy strikes when Rita Repulsa returns in robot form.
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By Rob Siebert
Let’s, first and foremost, come at Once & Always with gratitude. We’ve had anniversary episodes featuring past Rangers before. Super Megaforce was even an entire season dedicated to the history of the Power Rangers franchise (albeit one that was ill-executed). But this is the first time we’ve gotten an extended anniversary special dedicated to the characters and lore of Power Rangers. The folks at Hasbro and Power Rangers were by no means obligated to give us something like this. But they cared enough about the show and the fans to give us something that’s never been done before. For that, they deserve our thanks and appreciation.
Let’s also be thankful for the actors and performers who not only agreed to return, but in most cases agreed to fly out to New Zealand (where the show is filmed) for an extended period of time. It’s been well documented that, despite quickly becoming the biggest kids show in the world, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers wasn’t always kind to its actors. Relatively minuscule pay mixed with grueling filming schedules (and in David Yost’s case, something far worse) meant the actors weren’t left with memories nearly as positive as those of us watching at home. But again, for the fans, they agreed to come back.
Nevertheless, conspicuous by their absence are Austin St. John (who played Jason, the original Red Ranger) and Amy Jo Johnson (Kimberly, the original Pink Ranger). I can only assume St. John would have been involved if not for the legal trouble he wound up in, which would have prevented him from traveling to New Zealand for filming. He did, after all, just come back for an episode a few years ago. I’ll reserve my judgment about his legal situation for after he has his day in court. But regardless, it sucks he’s not involved here. He was arguably the face of the show during its first season.
Johnson, unfortunately, got flack from some in the fanbase for not coming back. The accusation was that her decision came down to money. She eventually went on Twitter and addressed it. Again, it sucks that she’s not here. Johnson is as responsible for the show’s popularity as anyone else. She is, however, writing a Power Rangers comic book for BOOM! Studios this year. I’m very interested to see what she turns in.
Once & Always is dedicated to the memory of Thuy Trang and Jason David Frank. Trang played Trini, the original Yellow Ranger. She was tragically killed in a car crash in 2001. The episode is largely centered around her character, as we’ll dive into shortly. It’s beautiful that the show is paying tribute to her this way. It’s overdue, quite frankly. She was, by all accounts, a kind and gentle soul who was taken from us too soon.
Jason David Frank, who played Tommy Oliver on the show for a number of years and different incarnations, tragically took his own life last November. His is a loss that many fans, my self included, are still trying to process. Frank had apparently opted out of participating in this 30th anniversary special. But his presence is inevitably felt when you go back and look at the early years of Power Rangers. In truth, this special makes me miss him that much more.
The redux version of Ron Wasserman’s “Go Go Power Rangers” plays during the episode’s opening fight sequence. Wasserman, of course, did the music in the early days of MMPR, and composed the show’s iconic theme song. He doesn’t compose any more rock songs. But having him work on this special still brings it extremely valuable credibility. To say we’re lucky to have him back is an understatement.
Hearing characters use the word “kill” in a Power Rangers show takes some getting used to. “She killed mom,” etc. Historically, the show has always used words like “destroy” instead of kill.
We see Trini take a blast from Robo-Rita that was meant for Billy. As a result, she falls off a nearby cliff to her death. My initial impulse was to be turned off by this. We didn’t need to actually see Trini die, after all. But I’ve come around on it. She goes out like a hero, saving Billy, who she always had a special bond with on the show. This is as good a way as any to write the character off.
It sounds like they used archived dialogue from MMPR to lend voices to Trini, Kimberly, and Tommy in their morphed forms. A wise move. Mysteriously, the only one who doesn’t sound like himself is Jason.
Billy: “It’s always just been [Minh] and Trini. She doesn’t have anybody else.” I wondered how they were going to handle the question of Minh’s father. Fitting for a special aimed at adult Power Rangers fans, they went a slightly more mature route and made Trini a single mom. We can probably presume that Minh’s father didn’t want to be in the picture. What’s more, perhaps Trini’s family disowned her after she got pregnant out of wedlock. Thus, the idea that it’s always been just the two of them.
We quickly see that Zack took over raising Minh after Trini’s death. I love that. It adds a whole new dimension to Zack’s character. Minh even alludes to Zack being a former congressman! Well that’s a move I didn’t see coming. Apparently he’s been back from Aquitar for awhile now…
One year after Trini’s death, Robo-Rita returns with robotic versions of her old monsters the Minotaur and Snizzard. I’m a little curious as to why they went with those two monsters specifically. I can only assume they picked Snizzard because he was famously voiced by Bryan Cranston. But why the Minotaur? There are plenty of monsters more famous and synonymous with the show. Pudgy Pig, Eye Guy, and King Sphinx come to mind immediately.
Actually, had they not just used a version of Goldar in Beast Morphers, I’d have had them use robotic versions of Goldar and Rito Revolto.
It quickly becomes apparent that Once & Always isn’t here to impress us with dramatic acting chops. Which, at least to me, is fine. Power Rangers has had some really good actors. But it’s never been what I’d call an actor’s show. Plus, let’s remember that most of our stars haven’t done a lot of acting since their days on Power Rangers. The acting is a flaw in the special. But it doesn’t doom it.
Robo-Minotaur smashes a tombstone that says “Harvey Garvey.” That’s an Easter egg referring to the Rangers appearing on “The Harvey Garvey” show back in season two. Cute.
Robo-Rita refers to Billy by his last name, Cranston. It’s always been generally accepted by fans that Cranston is Billy’s last name. But to my knowledge, this is the first time the name has actually been used in the show.
We go to Cranston Tech, a building that’s clearly modeled after the old Command Center/Power Chamber. On a lower level, we see a large room designed similarly to the Rangers’ original home base. We also meet Alpha 9. Not Alpha 5, as the casting of Richard Horvitz, Alpha’s original voice actor, seemed to suggest. I suppose we can finally take this as confirmation that Alpha 5 has been destroyed. If they were ever going to bring him back, now was the time.
We learn that prior to Trini’s death, it was Billy (along with Alpha 8) who accidentally created Robo-Rita by reassembling her evil energy while attempting to bring back Zordon. They specifically use the phrase “Z-Wave” when referring to Zordon’s sacrifice. Like the Cranston name, I think this marks the first time that phrase has been used in an official capacity.
I like the idea of Billy trying to bring Zordon back. He, as much as anyone, had an emotional attachment to the character. And by standards, it makes enough sense as a way to bring Rita back.
Katherine’s first line in the episode is a reference to “JJ’s junior karate camp.” We know from Ninja Steel that Tommy has a son named JJ. Then later, Kat directly references Tommy as JJ’s father. Thus, we get official in-show confirmation that Tommy and Kat have a son together. We can probably assume they’re married, as Kat is wearing a wedding ring. (Though that might simply be a matter of Catherine Sutherland not taking her wedding ring off.)
As she’s taking her proxy Power Coin, Katherine says: “I don’t care how dangerous too much pink energy is.” That’s a reference to a famously silly line Zordon has in “Wild West Rangers, Part II.” Nice little fandom hat-tip there.
We don’t get a Bulk and Skull appearance in Once & Always. But we do get a blatant reference to them, complete with pictures, in the “Skullovitch & Bulkmeyer Bulk Food Co.” sign. A nice allusion to the show’s classic comedic duo. If we weren’t going to actually see Bulk and Skull in the special, they had to do something to at least acknowledge them.
The recreation of the old juice bar set is glorious. I’m sure it’s not a perfect one. But it’s good enough to get high marks from this MMPR buff. Amazing work.
In a neat little trivia note for fans, they clearly used Lightning Collection action figures to represent the captured Rangers in Robo-Rita’s machine. Based on what the special shows us, in addition to the three Mighty Morphin Rangers, she’s captured…
- Tanya, the Yellow Ranger from Zeo.
- The Phantom Ranger from Turbo.
- Ashley and Carlos, the Yellow and Black Rangers from in Space.
- Leo (Red) Damon (Green), and Kai (Blue) from Lost Galaxy.
- Merrick, the Lunar Wolf Ranger from Wild Force.
- Conner and Trent, the Red and White Rangers from Dino Thunder.
- Ravi (Blue), Devon (Red), and Nate (Gold) from Beast Morphers.
Barbara Goodson returns as the voice of Rita Repulsa. As expected, she’s pitch-perfect. For my money, if they couldn’t get her, there was no point in even using the Rita Repulsa character. Goodson is that important, and that good.
Much like its acting chops, Once & Always clearly isn’t here to impress us with special effects. I refer specifically to how the Megazord and giant Snizzard look. I’d have preferred to see them use physical costumes. That’s how the show did it, after all. That being said, the CGI Dinozord unearthing sequence looked pretty amazing, as did the transformation into the Megazord. Clearly done with a lot of care, and definitely a step up from what we usually get on the show.
Adam and Aisha’s roles in this episode are fairly small. Apparently the characters are now part of a group called SPA, an offshoot of SPD. Apparently they oversee other Ranger teams throughout the galaxy…? It’s never made quite clear. But it’s still great to see Johnny Yong Bosch and Karan Ashley return to the franchise.
The use of old Trini footage just before Minh morphed into the Yellow Ranger for the first time was very effective. As was the use of the season two footage of Amy Jo singing to the team. Honestly? Both nearly brought a tear to my eye…
There are a few unanswered questions here, not the least of which being when the Rangers got their powers back and became an active team again. But all in all, Once & Always was exactly what I wanted it to be. The nostalgia hand was definitely played. But the characters were also advanced, and the use of Power Rangers lore was in full effect. Is it perfect? No. But neither is Power Rangers itself. Once & Always has a beautiful soul to it. More than anything, that’s what I came away thinking about.
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