Like a fine wine, Cobra Kai is just getting better with age. While the first three seasons were full of familiar beats and callbacks to the iconic trilogy, which defined the 80’s for most, show writer/creators Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald have elevated this show to new heights in season 4. While this season does have those melodramatic moments we all love, Cobra Kai season 4 is their best to date.
Now in the interest of keeping the experience fresh for those diving into this new season when it drops on December 31 on Netflix, we won’t get into too much that would spoil the experience for fans. To do so would put me at risk of being at the receiving end of multiple crane kicks from any member of the show’s writing team. What was striking to me is just how far off base the fans have been about their theories concerning season 4. Usually, these super-charged fan bases will sometimes be in the ballpark with their theories concerning a storyline or the outcome for a show or character. Hurwitz, Schlossberg, and Heald have managed to balance the integrity of this franchise while crafting a unique and well-written direction for the series without sacrificing the depth of the new season.
Season 4 does kick off essentially where three left off; with Johnny (William Zabka) and Daniel (Ralph Macchio) united to take down John Kreese (Martin Kove) in hopes of shutting down Cobra Kai once and for all. Kreese recognizes that he’s at a disadvantage and reaches out to an old friend, Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith, another returning guest from the original films after Elisabeth Shue, Yuji Okumoto and Tamlyn Tomita), to help even the odds. Kreese views that with Silver by his side that he can take down Johnny and Daniel for good. Silver ultimately agrees to join with Kreese for reasons we can’t get into (remember, no spoilers). So, the battle lines are set for an epic showdown, or are they?
If there were one word to describe this season, it would be ideology. Daniel and Johnny are set in their ways are now faced with finding some common ground as they work towards defeating a common enemy. The appealing aspect is how the show allows its central characters to make their own decisions. Nothing seems forced or unnatural. Samantha (Mary Mouser) and Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) are drawn to what each of their sensei has to say. They have to make a choice. Does Samantha blindly follow what her father has taught her? Does Miguel do what Johnny has always preached? Robby (Tanner Buchanan) has some decisions to make this season, too. While his hatred for his father, Johnny, has caused him to turn towards Cobra Kai, Robby begins to see the dangers of blindly following Kreese’s ideology after seeing the impact it has on the younger members of the dojo.
Ideology is also at the center of the volatile relationship between former Vietnam soldiers and karate teammates Terry Silver and John Kreese. Kreese’s methods are apparent; show no weakness, strike first. Silver hasn’t forgotten the one time he followed Kreese’s methods and how it ruined him. Silver is now a more, now a wealthy elitist, is more methodical and looks at the big picture before acting. The only weakness he seemingly has is an intense loyalty to John after he saved his life in Vietnam. It transforms Silver into someone subservient to Kreese. Therefore, they work so well together. Can it last? Could loyalty lead to their undoing once again?
This season’s biggest surprise may be the storyline involving Tory (Peyton List) and Amanda Larusso (Courtney Henggeler). For those who have seen the first three seasons, it’s obvious why there would be no love lost between these two; Tory has attacked her daughter on multiple occasions. Carrying that conflict through, at the beginning of the new season an incident occurs between these them at Tory’s place of employment. It takes Amanda learning about Tory’s circumstances from an unlikely source to understand the origin of her anger. This leads to Amanda immediately trying to help her out, which goes very poorly initially. This narrative was the strongest that List and Henggeler’s characters have had the entire series and led to some fantastic performances, especially in the final episode of the season. This season, any list of the best performances that doesn’t include these two actors is incomplete.
Zabka and Macchio continue to shine as well in Season 4. Daniel and Johnny must come to terms with the changing world and decide if they can find common ground for the betterment of both their personal and professional lives. Daniel doesn’t understand why Amanda is so invested in Tory. Johnny has never been much of a family guy (for obvious reasons) but has to put his baggage aside if things will ever work out with Carmen (Vanessa Rubio), Miguel’s mother. Whether each of them can compromise is a significant portion of season 4.
While Cobra Kai season 4 certainly still leans into the humor and nostalgia it’s known for, which makes the show a joy, this season’s writing is the best it’s ever been. William Zabka, Ralph Macchio, Courtney Henggeler, and Peyton List deliver knockout performances. In a season full of twists and turns, the return of Thomas Ian Griffith is the chef’s kiss that will leave fans begging for the 5th season. My advice is, don’t ruin your experience by seeking spoilers on Twitter before the season drops. Go in blind and once you’ve finished the season, come back and join in the discourse. There’s undoubtedly going to be much to discuss.
Season 4 of Cobra Kai hits Netflix on December 31.
Photo: Curtis Bond Baker/Netflix