The fourth season of Cobra Kai dropped on New Year’s Eve on Netflix. The season was far better than the third season (which dropped on New Year Day 2021), which seemed a continuation of season two. But the series is starting to show its cracks.
Ralph Macchio, who plays one of the lead protagonists, Daniel Larusso, just turned 60. And Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) is finally start to grow up just a little bit each episode and season. That being said, I don’t know how many more seasons they can pull out of making the metro Atlanta area look like San Fernando Valley especially since Miguel Diaz (Xolo Mariduenna) is really starting to look older himself.
Despite a misconception, the third season wasn’t filmed during the Covid-19 pandemic but in 2019 as Sony Pictures Television negotiated the change from YouTube to Netflix after the second season. The first two seasons were great at establishing how Daniel and Johnny reunited and rekindled an old rivalry more than 30 years later.
Daniel was a wealthy and well-to-do businessman in the Valley with a car dealership while Johnny was struggling to make ends meet. It was actually a breath of fresh air to see what Johnny’s life was like as we mostly didn’t see much of his personal life outside the viewpoint of Daniel in the first Karate Kid.
The bond between Johnny and Miguel, his teenage neighbor, and how that conflicts with his strained relationship with his son, Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan) gave Johnny some complexity that the movie never focused on. He was just the high school bully.
The third season focused too much on Miguel’s injury and rehabilitation which I’m upset with because it shows that all people need to recover from serious spinal injuries is a “Can Do” attitude. Miguel is lucky he doesn’t have any permanent injuries and the brawl ending at Daniel’s house seemed a little outrageous.
This might be why the fourth season picks up with some mention of Daniel’s daughter, Sam (Mary Mouser), convincing her father and mother, Amanda (Courtney Hengeller) pleading with them not to call the police to press charges against bad-girl, Tory Nichols (Peyton List), and the rest at Cobra Kai dojo. The third season ended with alliances changing and Daniel and Johnny agreeing to a truce to train both their students.
As silly as the whole “Eagle Fang” dojo seemed, I’m surprised to see Johnny continuing it. Of course, tensions arises between Daniel and Johnny as always. I’m not giving much away. John Kreese (Martin Kove) who had reclaimed control of the Cobra Kai dojo at the end of season three tracks down his own Army buddy and former friend/business partner, Terry Silvers (Thomas Ian Griffith) who has changed his ways since appearing in third Karate Kid. There’s a line of dialogue that Terry delivers indicating he was doing a lot of cocaine at the time. As Daniel said in the first movie, “Hey, it’s the 80s.” Silvers, who was a wealthy business tycoon, did seem an odd stand-in for a villain. But there were a lot of things wrong with the third movie.
There’s still tension between Miguel and Robby and especially Sam and Tory. Amanda again seems reduced to being the voice of reason but she seems to have little to do this time around. Part of the joy of previous seasons was seeing how Daniel and Johnny found common ground or realized they were more alike than they’d want to admit. When Elisabeth Shue returned in the third season as “Ali with an i,” it cleared up some questions we had going from the second movie.
What was the key to the first two Karate Kid movies were the relationships among the people, but the series seems to be following down the same wrong paths as the movie. The first three movies are set over the course of one year, but they were distributed over five years. Part of the criticism by the third movie was Macchio who was 28 at the time looked it and was still trying to pass for a person 10 years younger. In my recollection, it seems one year has passed since the end of the first season and the end of the current season, but there has been over four years of filming.
Filming for the fifth season has reportedly wrapped before the end of 2021. I don’t know if Netflix will make this an annual end of the year release, but I strongly advise everyone involved to wrap things up either with the fifth or the sixth season. Not to give much away but it seems Tory and Sam may move on. Sam and Miguel attend the prom with other series regulars, Demetri (Gianni DeCennzo) and “Hawk” (Jacob Bertrand) and they talk of going to college. Most of the actors playing high schoolers can drink beers with Johnny in real-life.
A fan theory suggests that Tory’s mother may be Julie Pierce (Hillary Swank) from The Next Karate Kid, even though that movie was set in the Boston area. Once again, Tory’s mother is off-screen and only mentioned. And much of her history remains a mystery. Macchio has said he is interested in bringing Swank back as she was also trained by Mr. Miyagi (played by the late Pat Morita). Both Macchio and Zabka are executive producers on the show and it could happen.
But Swank is a two-time Oscar winner and I’m not sure she would want to play a character who’s near death. Season four does introduce a new younger character, Kenny Payne (Dallas Dupree Young) who has a mother that is mentioned but never seen. The addition of Kenny gives Anthony Larusso (Griffin Santopieto) something to do as the character has been mostly absent in the last two seasons. Here Anthony is one of Kenny’s bullies. Kenny eventually joins the Cobra Kai dojo. The addition of Kenny and giving Anthony more than one scene every other episode may be something they expand on in future seasons. But given Netflix’s reluctance to keep series going after three seasons, it might explain why they were so quick to get these episodes filmed within the same year.
As for the future, the fourth season ends with us wanting more, even though I don’t know how much more often these grudges among the characters can still linger without it getting tedious. Unlike other streaming services, Netflix releases the seasons all at once. I think this helps keep audiences tuned in when certain episodes aren’t as good as the others. I will say this, season four answers some questions viewers had after season three.
When Cobra Kai premiered in the spring of 2018, it seemed a breath of fresh air with nostalgia by bridging the generations between Gen Xers and Gen Zers, and Millennials in between. But how much longer can people listen to Johnny to talk about how rad the movie Rad was before audiences roll their eyes on pop culture references galore in movies and TV now. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait another year to see and surely Netflix will give us that long-delayed season four of Stranger Things to tide us over.
What do you think? Please comment.
One thought on “‘Cobra Kai’ Still Kicks, But…”
I really appreciate this balanced review. I too love the show, initially for the pure nostalgia feels, but also ended up getting invested in the characters. But I too feel it shouldn’t go beyond 5 seasons really, as much as I love it. As you say, some of the main players are growing up and will be leaving for college etc. I just hope they wrap it up in a satisfactory way that completes character’s arcs and gives us a real resolution 🙂