Cobra Kai Season 4 served as the “Empire Strikes Back” of the show, with both Daniel LaRusso’s (Ralph Macchio) Miyagi-Do and Johnny Lawrence’s (William Zabka) Eagle-Fang dojos defeated by Terry Silver’s (Thomas Ian Griffith) Cobra Kai in the All-Valley tournament — though as revealed last season, it was not a legitimate win, as Silver paid off the referees, which allowed Tory Nichols (Peyton List) to best Samantha LaRusso (Mary Mouser).
Season 5 opens with the formal disbandment of both dojos, with Johnny’s prodigy, Miguel Diaz (Xolo Maridueña), missing, as he has decided to make an impromptu trip to Mexico to find his father.
Silver proceeds to open Cobra Kai dojos all across the valley, mostly by buying and assimilating existing dojos. He isn’t satisfied with just conquering the valley; he wants Cobra Kai to go worldwide.
Daniel is having none of this, and he flies out past rival Chozen Toguchi (Yuji Okumoto) to help him dig up any dirt on Silver he can. This puts a rift in Daniel’s marriage with Amanda (Courtney Henggeler), who doesn’t quite understand the hell Silver put Daniel through in the third “Karate Kid” film and what he’s capable of doing to the next generation.
Robby Kene (Tanner Buchanan) and Miguel also clash this season, but they finally come to an understanding necessitated by the fact that Johnny (Robby’s father) is having a baby with Miguel’s mother, Carmen (Vanessa Rubio). The two also go through drama with their respective girlfriends (Samantha and Tory), each breaking up with them for different reasons; Robby, because Tory will not leave Cobra Kai, and Samantha actually breaks up with Miguel because she goes through an identity crisis this season.
Tory and Samantha also have great arcs. Samantha is tired of being considered “Daniel LaRuso 2.0” and having her identity be tied to karate, while Tory deeply disagrees with Silver’s direction at Cobra Kai, but only stays at the insistence of her mentor and former Cobra Kai sensei, John Kreese (Martin Kove), who is in prison this season after being framed for assaulting Stingray (Paul Walter Hauser). Stingray was in fact assaulted by Silver, who paid him off in exchange for his cooperation.
Chozen is the clear star of Season 5, as he brings a necessary outside perspective to Daniel and Johnny’s conflicts, and the three become great friends. Their chemistry is the strongest part of Season 5, and they all form unbreakable bonds that are a joy to watch develop. Chozen has a rigid sense of honor, but he’s also not afraid to have fun nor get his hands dirty if necessary.
Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan), whom Daniel faced in the third “Karate Kid” movie, also has a breakout, albeit small role this season. Daniel seeks him out anticipating that SIlver will try to recruit him, but instead finds a reformed man that has found joy in creating furniture rather than hurting people. However, when Silver burns down Barnes’ furniture store, he is out for revenge by any means necessary, and hasn’t lost a beat as a martial arts master (he no doubt could make for an excellent sensei next season).
The show’s overall themes that past enemies can be reformed into good friends and that most of Daniel’s past rivalries came not from overwhelming differences but a lack of understanding and compassion to each other are fully realized this season. I particularly love how Johnny and Daniel’s relationship has evolved — it hasn’t been easy, and there have been times when they’ve reverted back to their old ignorant old ways, but I feel like they finally understand each other as people and truly respect each other. Their friendship can only benefit their children and students who look to them as role models.
Even Kreese came very close to a breakthrough this season and I truly hope he achieves it next season. He understands that what he had to become to survive Vietnam and his early life made him toxic and has molded him into someone that hurts people he loves — I truly think he regrets hurting Johnny in the second “Karate Kid” film — but so far he has doubled down and defended that behavior whenever he finds success, which only sees him reverting to past behavior. I don’t think deep down Kreese is a bad person, he just needs to be humbled and find the strength to want to change. His biggest hurdle is his hatred for Daniel — hatred that is unwarranted, given that the downfall Daniel orchestrated for him came as a direct result of him terrorizing Daniel. Kreese became someone who would bully the younger version of himself we’ve seen in past seasons, and until he realizes that he is no different than his past bullies and that Daniel is not the villain he thinks he is, he won’t be able to find redemption, though I do think he is capable of obtaining it.
SIlver, on the other hand, I think is beyond redemption. Unlike Kreese, who I think has deep regret underneath his cold exterior, Silver has no empathy. He’s a cold businessman detached from reality, indifferent to the suffering he causes others. The fact that he also has unlimited resources also makes him the perfect overall villain for this show — no threat could be greater, especially if he manages to take Cobra Kai worldwide.
This season sets up the Sekai Taikai tournament — the largest karate tournament in the show’s world, in which both Cobra Kai and Miyagi-Do/Eagle-Fang qualify. I hope we see this next season, despite the unknown status of Silver and Kreese to participate, given the events of this season.
I can see no better way to end the show. “Cobra Kai” is still the gold standard of soft reboots, as it has enhanced every single “Karate Kid” movie it has borrowed from. It has changed a franchise that was known for one great film and a few spotty sequels into a legendary saga and it is easily one of the best shows not only on Netflix, but in the world due to its deep, sophisticated themes, great action and wonderful character development.
“Cobra Kai” Season 5 gets a 10/10