In a previous review, I said that “Cobra Kai” Seasons 1+2 were the gold standard in terms of reboots of beloved franchises, as it managed to not only be its own thing, but work within the parameters of the world set up by the original three “Karate Kid” films, embracing both the good and the bad of that franchise’s legacy. Coming into Season 3, the bar had been set high, and I was a little nervous, as Season 3 marks the point in which Netflix had officially taken over producing the show from YouTube Red, and I remember seeing early rumors suggesting that the show was about to take a deep dip in quality.
Thankfully, those were only rumors.
Season 3 has to deal with the aftermath of the consequential finale of Season 2, with Miyagi-Do and Cobra Kai students alike facing consequences for the school fight that left series protagonist Miguel Diaz (Xolo Maridueña) in a coma. Specifically, Cobra Kai member Aisha Robinson (Nichole Brown) has been transferred to another school, and is not Season 3; Miyagi-Do member Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan), the estranged son of Cobra Kai Sensei Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) has been expelled and is on the run, and faces possible prison time; Cobra Kai member Tory Nichols (Peyton List) has been expelled for wounding Miyagi-Do member Samantha LaRusso (Mary Mouser) with a weapon, with Sam herself (the daughter of Miyagi-Do Sensei Daniel LaRusso [Ralph Macchio]) has been suspended for a few weeks.
The season starts with Miyagi-Do voluntarily shut down as a result of the brawl, with Daniel’s car dealership suffering as a result of the bad PR. Lawrence is banished from Cobra Kai, as his former sensei, John Kreese (Martin Kove) managed to swindle it out of him at the end of last season, and he spends most of his time trying to make right by Miguel, who is unconscious for much of the beginning of the season. The school fight also has far-reaching consequences for karate in the valley, as the local government moves to shut down the All Valley Under-18 Karate Championship, which Miguel won in Season 1.
Like Season 2, there isn’t necessarily a big tournament to build up to, but Season 3 focuses on developing interesting drama with its large cast of characters.
Daniel focuses on getting his mojo back via an impromptu trip to Okinawa, the home of his deceased sensei, Mr. Miyagi, that he previous visited in the second “Karate Kid” film. He meets Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita), his love interest from Karate Kid 2, and Chozen Toguchi (Yuji Okumoto), his rival from that film that almost killed him. It’s a nice little episode in which Daniel reconciles with a former rival, who in turn teaches him aspects of Miaygi-Do karate he didn’t know existed, and he sees how Chozen has legitimately changed, which has always been a major character flaw for both Daniel and Johnny in the previous seasons of “Cobra Kai”; neither can admit that the other has changed since high school.
Meanwhile, Johnny helps Miguel get back on his feat, first by paying for his surgery and then by personally training him to slowly get used to his new legs. He juggles caring for Miguel with first finding and then supporting Robby, his biological son, during his stay in a juvenile detention center. Miguel, while reluctant to accept Johnny’s help, eventually rekindles his bond with him, while Robby is weighed down by years of neglect, ultimately choosing to follow John Kreese as a father figure, who is constantly scheming this season, using his students as proxies.
Kreese perhaps has the most character development of anyone this season, mostly due to the fact that we get flashbacks from his past sprinkled throughout the season. In the first flashback, we meet young Kreese (Barrett Carnahan) a a nerdy, polite dishwasher who is bullied by a jock (played my Martin Kove’s actual son, Jesse) who is later abusive to his girlfriend, Betsy (Emily Marie Palmer). A natural fighter, in true Karate-Kid style, young Kreese beats the bullies, and eventually wins the affection of Betsy, before enlisting in the army to fight in Vietnam, where he is recruited by Captain Turner (Terry Serpico) who teaches everything he knows, including his twisted ideology about how only the strong should survive and how he should show no mercy.
Turner by all means is a proto-Kreese; he’s a man Kreese eventually finds himself in a situation where he has to kill him or be killed, and he does the former, which in the process, makes him exactly like him.
Kreese is also not completely evil in this show, as he saves his student, Tory, from her predatory landlord and offers to led her attend Cobra Kai tuition free, recognizing her gifts as a fighter. He also rescues Robby from juvi, but he is also needlessly brutal to his students that he thinks are weak, kicking some off the team for refusing against feeding a live mouse to the dojo’s new pet snake and losing to an untrained fighter. There’s also the fact that he repeatedly provokes acts of domestics violence against his rivals in this season, specifically towards Daniel’s Miyagi-Do students, but we at least understand him a bit better.
This show does a great job of naturally developing the relationships with all its characters, with Sam scarred mentally and physically by Tory; Hawk (Jacob Bertrand) struggling to prove his worth under Kreese’s brutal leadership, leading him to break the arm of his former best friend, Demetri (Gianni DeCenzo); Johnny patching things up with Miguel, and by an extension, his mom, Carmen (Vanessa Rubio); and Daniel reconciles his family and employees, while finding himself in an unlikely alliance with Johnny against Kreese.
The show even introduces Daniel and Johnny’s mutual love interest from “The Karate Kid”: Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue) who helps them realize what fans knew from the start of Season 1; Johnny and Daniel are not as different as they think, and were shaped more by their circumstances than anything else. As adults, they and their kids share a lot of the same interests and values and they should be friends, and it seems like that’s the direction the show’s going in, as Season 3 ends with them both being Co-Senseis at Miyagi-Do. In fact, both of their arcs follow complimentary paths this season, with Daniel learning that there is a time and a place for offensive strikes, and Johnny learning that his teachings can go too far, as he learns to be compassionate and understanding through his care of Miguel.
Overall, Cobra Kai Season 3 does not miss a beat, as it creates interesting scenarios from its large cast of characters that all work, and pair it with some great karate action. In my opinion, it’s just as good as Season 2, as it juggles its cast fantastically while successfully bringing in more elements from the Karate Kid films. It also sets up an interesting scenario for Season 4. Needless to say, “Cobra Kai” Season 3 maintained the gold standard it established in its first two seasons, at times exceeding it.
“Cobra Kai” Season 3 gets a 9/10