Cobra Kai that follows the title Karate kid Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and one of his many arch enemies, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) have retired their fourth season on New Year’s Eve over thirty years after the events of the film trilogy. If you’ve slept on the show so far, you really shouldn’t be doing this. The show offers great parenting lessons and balances nostalgia pretty well with a great Netflix binge. But there was always something wrong with Cobra Kai, until now. Because of this, the excellent fourth season fixed the show’s biggest problem and why the next season will be even better. Spoilers ahead.
In the San Fernando Valley, where Daniel is now a successful car salesman and Johnny… is certainly a choice.
So many cultural commentators have suspected, this is likely embedded in the nostalgic franchise run by white men both behind and in front of the camera, despite being a sport that has deep roots in Asia. From season three there was no Asian writers in the staff, and the lack of racial diversity on the show, especially in central roles, is glaring.
Even so, the show has a legion of dedicated fans who are responsible for catapulting it to the top of Netflix’s most-watched rankings since season four. I’m still not a fan, but I appreciate how season four began fixing some of the show’s issues.
In addition to Daniel and Johnny, Cobra Kai lets us immerse ourselves in the lives of a new generation of karate kids, especially Daniel’s daughter Samantha (Mary Mouser), Johnny’s estranged son Robby (Tanner Buchanan), and Johnny’s neighbor Miguel (Xolo Maridueña), all of whom are enemies, of course, and multiple It comes to Karate showdowns. By highlighting its younger stars and female characters, including the bad girl Tory (Peyton List), Cobra Kai at least tackles his toxic masculinity.
The feud between Sam and Tory is at the fore this season and serves as the culmination of the All Valley karate tournament, where Daniel made a name for himself a long time ago. Sam was the most interesting, or at least realistic, character of recent seasons, struggling with what she sees as a weakness stemming from her PTSD after being attacked by Tory at one of the aforementioned karate showdowns in season two. (Miguel’s physical rehabilitation after he was temporarily paralyzed during the fight had potential, but of course Johnny ruined that by trying to scare him into the disability.) Tory gets their money’s worth too and leaves the bad girl facade falling from time to time reveal glimpses of vulnerability, insecurity and need.
Through Sam, Daniel and Johnny can see that their rigid mentality does not fly with the new generation. “We’re stuck, but these kids can use what we teach them and go their own way,” says Daniel in the finale of the ten-part season as a kind of theme for the story arc.
He and Johnny decided to team up (lol) to fight Johnny’s Cobra Kai karate school, which was taken over in season three by Johnny’s former Sensei in the movies, John Kreese (Martin Kove). Needless to say, this is not going well and Daniel and Johnny continue to make up and split up, as they did monotonously for most of the show.
Kreese was also pretty simple-minded as the villain at the beginning of the series, but by building his backstory and adding in Karate Kid Part III Opponent Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffin, who has aged immaculately and suddenly made me a lot more interested in this show!), Gets some much-needed nuance. That’s one thing Cobra Kai works better and better: with each season adding even more objectionable characters, there is the previous one Big bad something to play out that offers a focus on character rather than making Johnny’s ignorance and Daniel’s self-righteousness the driving force of the conflict.
Another villain’s cameo The Karate Kid Part IIChozen Toguchi (Yuji Okumoto) hints at the end of season four that he will do well by playing a pretty big role in defeating Cobra Kai for good in the already renewed season five.
Another exciting perspective this season is the reckoning of the men with their broken relationships with their fathers and the reckoning with the relationships they have built with father figures. Miguel is attached to his father, whom he never knows, and has many feelings about the father figure Johnny being with his mother. Much work has gone into pulling back Kreese’s shifts over the last two seasons and how he tried to be a role model for Johnny and Silver but led them the wrong way. Even little Anthony LaRusso (Griffin Santopietro), who’s grown up this season, gets a father-son bow, with Daniel and Amanda (Courtney Henggeler) battling to raise the one kid who has no interest in karate when everything they do is related to it .
By really dealing with these relationships and not the overt one between Daniel and Johnny, Cobra Kai Season four moves in the direction of a reconciliation of nostalgia with the more diverse television climate of today.
Cobra Kai is streaming on Netflix. Season 5 is expected by the end of the year.
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