Why is this episode one of the best?
Often times, Power Rangers does not get to be overly cerebral or deep in its storytelling. The series runs the gambit from funny to dramatic, but Power Rangers is usually very on the surface. That isn't the case with Fighting Spirit. The episode starts with Tommy being accidentally put into a coma when the rangers' tech designer, Hayley, tries to make him visible again (it's a whole thing that we won't get into here.) His Dino Gem (this season's ranger power source), is used as the power source for her machine, and when the machine overloads, the gem breaks into three pieces and Tommy is left in an unconcious state.
While the other rangers battle a monster who negates their powers, Tommy is made to battle 3 past versions of himself, taking the form of Zeo Ranger 5, White Ranger and Green Ranger. It is revealed toward the end of the episode that what Tommy has really been battling is his approaching death. His will to live overcame the destruction of his powers, and the gem is returned to him in tact. Receiving a new power-up, he and the other rangers are able to take down the monster.
Besides just being full of Tommy VS Tommy battles, the episode gets to be really deep. As far back as Mighty Morphin we have been told that the ranger powers are actually bonded to the rangers themselves. When Kimberly is without her Power Coin in Season 3, her health actually declines, and it's implied if a ranger is forcibly removed from their powers, they will die, or enter a state close to death. (Kendrix's death and subsequent revival in Lost Galaxy could be attributed to this; Kendrix died, but her Saber was kept in tact and may have actually housed her essence. Weird times.)
When Tommy's gem splits into 3, it actually splinters his being into 3 parts. Only by beating them is he able to restore the gem to its original form, and become whole again. That's some Kingdom Hearts stuff right there.
Why is this episode not higher on the list?
Power Rangers being what it is, this episode is probably not as great as it could have been. For one, there is not as much tension as there should be in the hospital scenes. I don't know if this was a result of Disney, or just the writing in general, but we never really get the feeling that Tommy is in any danger.
I'm a Tommy fan....but even this episode can be too much Tommy at times for me. I think this was a missed opportunity to develop Hayley a bit. We know why Tommy knows how to do ranger stuff; we see him grow with it. We're just told about Hayley's backstory and her friendship with Tommy. (I guess I'll wait for the Boom comic to explain it all to me.)
The villains are barely a factor in this episode, and that's sort of a rarity for Dino Thunder. Their only purpose is to drain the rangers' powers so they can show they're badass enough to fight without them. While that's definitely viable from a plot perspective, Mesogog is sort of left to just be "Big Evil" here, and that is usually not the case. Plus it introduces the idea of their being other power sources comparable to the Dino Gems...but we never hear from that again.
One sticking point for a lot of fans is also the Green Ranger helmet in this episode. I'm unclear as to what the actual story is, but I think they just didn't have the original prop, and the one that they had was painted incorrectly. It's not that big of a deal, especially for the kids who were watching this when it aired- they wouldn't have been born when the Green Ranger was a thing. For older fans like myself though...it's annoying. Power Rangers has a lot of these moments- the production wants to do big things, but they have so much going on they don't pay attention to key details. (Super Megaforce, in a nutshell.)
How does this episode influence the new movie?
Early pictures from filming of the movie show that Rita is playing mind games with the rangers here. She's not just attacking them physically, she's playing on their fears and their weaknesses; probably because she had/has those same issues. Like I said above, Power Rangers is almost always on the surface. That's fine for the TV show, but this movie has to dive just a little bit deeper into each character if it's going to be all that it can be.
NOTE: TICKETS ARE OFFICIALLY ON SALE FOR THE POWER RANGERS MOVIE! THE MOVIE OPENS NEXT FRIDAY, MARCH 24th, with THURSDAY SHOWINGS AVAILABLE IN SOME AREAS.
Head to Fandango and check for theaters in your area!
On this coming Monday, (March 20th), there will be a special episode of Cake Wars featuring the Power Rangers movie on Food Network. Becky G (Trini/Yellow Ranger) will be a guest judge. Check your local listings for times!