Reliving my awkward otherness through Gem and Vesper from RPM to Hyper Force
Power Rangers RPM is probably one my favorite in the series because of how it tackles serious themes like despair/depression, death, accountability for past mistakes, and even the harshness of war. And these were things that stuck out to me as a kid dealing with a lot of these things, but there was something else that stuck out to me as big.
It started with Dr. K who is no nonsense, capable, smart, intelligent, blunt, and always looking for innovation and a way to make things better. She was like me, trapped in a world that couldn’t speak the same language that you were speaking even though you’re using the same words…kind of. She was stuck in a world where she has to rely on other people using her work and her words to make things happen and the pressure itself is anxiety inducing. I felt her anxiety in those moments. I also felt her frustration when the Rangers wouldn’t trust her on the things that she created, how she was feelings, and also the plans that were rushing through her mind. I understood that because I was living it as a kid. Stuck in programs that were to “enrich the mind” without any time to be me or be a kid or have an experience outside of what someone wanted me to be.
And then there were Gem and Gemma who are energetic and loud, quirky, speak in odd sentences, dressed flashy, their ranger gear was flashy, and everything about them was so cool. They understood each other and Dr. K because they could empathize with each other. They understood each other’s hopes and dreams. They celebrated their accomplishments together. They were stuck together because someone wanted to force their will onto them. They kicked so many asses. And yet they were also vulnerable. They were also misunderstood and really constructive and really destructive.
As autistic teen these three were my Power Ranger idols. I felt everything they felt. Their triumphs were my triumphs, and their failures and weaknesses were my own. And every time I saw one of them on the screen doing something awesome I was excited. I think I rooted for them just for saying that they like something weird that made them excited, because I understood that too.
So a few years later a show called Power Rangers Hyper Force appears. I’m already excited because it’s one of my favorite series on my favorite Twitch channel Hyper Rpg being played, written, and GM’d by some of the most amazing cast and crew members ever. And one particular character that struck me was Vesper played by Cristina Vee.
Vesper is socially awkward. She’s blunt about her feelings and yet doesn’t fully understand all her feelings. When she’s talking to the rest of the team there always seem to be a communication gap. She doesn’t understand tact or the point in keeping secrets/lying and is excitable about her favorite things. She’s not afraid to take action. She’s weird but she’s okay with that. And I rooted for her the same way that I rooted for Dr. K, Gem, and Gemma. She was my new socially awkward fav.
And then came the RPM chapter (episodes) of Hyper Force which threw me into a whirlwind of emotions. A lot of things happen; the team is thrown into a post-apocalyptic wasteland with their communication down and somewhat banged up from their last fight. They end up getting beaten up by Venjix bots, Chloe almost harms some civilians, the team gets captured, and things are just really looking like their worse. But suddenly, Vesper is infected with the Venjix virus…we find out that she is an android and is now being force to beat up Eddie almost to the brink of death.
My emotions just everywhere because here is my new favorite Power Ranger, finding love only to have that love be forced away from her…having everything that made her herself being taken away from her, and having her identity exposed to everyone and her agency and personhood stripped from her. And I felt her pain. I felt her pain when the team looked at her memories and found out those moments when she felt weird and out of place. Or when her friend died. Or the fact that there were a lot of things she didn’t like about herself and finding people who love her for her. I felt all of that because I lived that. I’ve had people in my life who’ve done the same things to Vesper as they’ve done to me. I’ve lost friends just like Vesper. I’ve awkwardly fell for someone just like Vesper. Those moments I could replay in my mind over and over again.
And then there was Gem on the screen being Gem, and having his story told. I got to watch him shine again showing off his antics and the attempt at finding his sister. The mentioning of alphabet soup with a slight glint of contempt at the mentioning of another letter that was Dr. K. And he was there helping these new rangers save the day in his own destructive kind of way. I was reliving the same excitement that I felt in 2009 watching RPM. In fact, I was even more excited.
And like the fully functional adult that I am cried only for 5 hours after the three episodes aired. What I liked about Cristina Vee’s performance of Vesper just like Mike Ginn portrayal of Gem is that they gave those character’s feelings, antics, and personality some weight. They weren’t just quirky to be quirky for someone to laugh at for a punchline, but they portrayed people that are different. They portrayed people that are looking for someone to listen to them, understand them, and empathize with them instead of just having someone put them in a box to work around. It would have been easy for Power Rangers RPM or Hyper Force to just leave these characters as “they’re just weird” and not go any further…but they didn’t they gave them a presence and for someone like me that’s enough to make me feel heroic.