‘Cobra Kai’ review: Season three ups the ante with more karate and more laughs [A]
Considering its humble roots as an original series on the short-lived YouTube Red, it’s been nothing short of a delight to watch Cobra Kai slowly but surely ascend the ranks from an above-average web series to a bona-fide breakout hit, thanks it large part to its acquisition by Netflix. After surprising and delighting viewers with four seasons of teenage karate beatdowns, 80s nostalgia throwbacks and a hearty dose of generation gap comedy, Cobra Kai returns for its fifth and most high-stakes season yet. Despite upping the stakes and delivering a season that’s bloodier than ever, Cobra Kai still manages to remain one of the funniest and most heartfelt shows on TV – striking the perfect tonal balance to deliver yet another ass-kicking season of karate mayhem.
Picking up in the wake of the shocking season four finale, which saw Cobra Kai (now helmed by the terrifying sensei Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith)) defeating the newly-formed Eagle Fang and Miyagi-Do dojos at the All Valley tournament, resulting in both dojos closing their doors, and former Cobra Kai sensei John Kreese being thrown in prison for the alleged assault of Stingray. With Kreese behind bars and Silver’s Cobra Kai dojo empire expanding by the minute, it’s a race against time for Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) to find a way to defeat Silver once and for all, and put an end to his reign of Karate terror before Cobra Kai’s insidious teachings spread across the globe.
There’s no question about it: Cobra Kai season 5 is the show’s most high-stakes, violent, and massively scaled season yet. Thanks to his seemingly endless fortune, season five sees Silver transform Cobra Kai into a high-tech karate franchise, having recruited the fiercest sensei from around the globe and opening new locations left and right. If his material fortune and wealth of resources aren’t worrying enough, Cobra Kai goes even further to establish Silver as the kind of virtually invincible villain our heroes should fear by showing he has no qualms about getting violent outside the realm of karate.
In previous seasons, the worst we’ve seen a villain do outside of the mat is break into the LaRusso’s house, but Silver’s list of violent crimes outside of the karate world (which we can’t mention here for fear of spoilers) are an effective and shocking way of demonstrating that Silver isn’t the kind of baddie who can merely be defeated by tournament victory. So, with such a dastardly villain, it’s only fair that team Miyagi/Eagle Fang would gain a new, equally ruthless ally – the reformed baddie Chozen Toguchi (Yuji Okumoto) joins season five in a recurring role.
Though having such a violent villain (and a new, equally violent ally) looming over the series may sound like it would weigh Cobra Kai’s tongue-in-cheek tone down, that’s (thankfully) not the case – because as with previous seasons, the series continues to somehow find the right balance between suspense, heart, and humor. Oxymoronically, much of the humor in season five comes via Chozen – whose character is an utterly charming walking contradiction – one minute, he’s swearing to seek vengeance and kill for Daniel if need be, and the next he’s trying long island iced teas for the first time.
Besides the re-introduction of Chozen to counter the ever-growing threat of Silver’s global karate empire, season five seems most interested in continuing to explore the complicated family dynamics and ideas of fatherhood that have underscored the series for the entirety of its run. Though things may no longer be as simple as Johnny fighting to build a relationship with Robby, Cobra Kai continues to explore its’ characters relationships with fatherhood in new and surprising ways.
As Johny continues to grow closer to Miguel and Carmen Diaz, his relationship with Robby has solidified, resulting in a refreshing reversal of fortune between Johnny and Daniel: suddenly, it’s the former giving the latter advice on everything from manhood to parenting. That’s not to say Johnny doesn’t face his fair share of challenges, either – he certainly gets a few (very spoiler-y) curveballs thrown his way in season five, but the character has reached an incredibly satisfying point in his personal narrative where he’s emerged as a good man and a better father – even with his foul mouth and old-fashioned attitude.
Things aren’t going so well, however, for the LaRusso family – with Miyagi-Do shutting its doors in the wake of the tournament loss, and Silver continuing to put pressure on Daniel by going after his family (both in and outside the mat) season five may see Daniel at his lowest point in the entire series – a tough to watch but effective progression that both strengthens his character and reinforces the idea of Terry Silver as a genuine threat in all aspects of Daniel/Johnny’s lives.
Johnny and Daniel aren’t the only ones dealing with fatherhood, either – season five sees Miguel finally resolve his series-long struggle to reunite with his estranged family, and even John Kreese has his own past with Johnny and budding familial dynamic with Tory to sort through – he may be behind bars, but he certainly isn’t out of the fight.
As previously mentioned, though, just because season five may be Cobra Kai’s tonally heaviest season yet, don’t think the series isn’t just as funny as ever: the writing continues to craft a charming blend of culture shock and generation gaps with characters like Johnny and Chozen to deliver some of the show’s funniest moments yet, not to mention a number of hysterical sight gags that will have you rewinding your Netflix window.
Though Cobra Kai has once again found a way to up the stakes in the world of San Fernando Valley Karate, season five of the Netflix dramedy is one of its funniest yet – a silly, at times brutal, always heartfelt series that has long since surpassed the ‘nostalgia cash grab’ label arbitrarily assigned when it first began. Whether you’re tuning in for the expertly-choreographed fight scenes, the continually affecting character work, or the classic Johnny Lawrence one-liners, Cobra Kai season five is the series at its best.
All 10 episodes of Cobra Kai season 5 will be released on Netflix September 9.
Photo Courtesy of Curtis Bonds Baker/Netflix © 2022