Season 4 of the much-beloved Cobra Kai is now ready for streaming on Netflix, and it’s a welcome return to the series, especially given the events of the previous season. The question is, how does the show’s established formula hold up since its original inception in 2018?
The answer is – not bad. That’s not to say it doesn’t misstep along the way, but overall, it manages to maintain its nostalgic-driven momentum.
Speaking of nostalgia, it continues to be the driving factor in why Cobra Kai is so popular. It connects to the original Karate Kid trilogy with a sense of authenticity missing from today’s remakes and long-belayed sequels. However, there’s only a finite amount of material left to draw on, which is why season 4 is, in essence, a watershed moment for the show.
The season begins in the direct aftermath of the brawl between Miyagi-Do and Cobra Kai students that took place in the halls of the LaRusso house. After a brutal fight between Daniel and Cobra Kai boss John Kreese, a deal was struck between the two dojos that involved the loser of the upcoming All Valley Karate tournament closing its doors, permanently.
This is where season 4 establishes its grounding, with Daniel LaRusso and longtime frenemy Johnny Lawrence teaming up to teach their combined student pool a mixture of styles. Naturally, that premise was bound to be wrought with conflict, and that’s precisely what happens.
Meanwhile, Kreese decides to track down his old war buddy and Cobra Kai co-founder Terry Silver, the man responsible for tormenting Daniel LaRusso during the events of The Karate Kid III. Silver now lives a quiet and comfortable life with his girlfriend, and seems to have given up his aggressive and destructive ways.
However, it isn’t long before Kreese manages to sink his hooks into Silver, and draw him back into the fold. Silver stops taking his medication, re-embraces the ponytail, and decides to team up with Kreese once more, in order to establish Cobra Kai’s dominance.
From there, the season bounces back and forth between the teenagers, and the adults, both of which are embroiled in a series of conflicts and personal problems. In the midst of it all, a young boy named Kenny Payne gets introduced as the victim of bullying at the hands of none other than Daniel’s own son, Anthony.
When Kenny begins training as a Cobra Kai, he becomes the unofficial protégée of Robby Keene, who takes the young lad under his wing. In the process, Kenny becomes a series wild card who ends up throwing discord into Cobra Kai’s plans for the tournament.
Fans of Cobra Kai’s previous three seasons will be pleased to know that the show’s formula hasn’t changed. It’s loaded with references to the Karate Kid films, but it handles those flashbacks with expertise, finesse and respect. The show’s creators know how to pull at the heartstrings, and utilize all the lessons of the original trilogy in order to tell a modern morality tale.
The characters continue to be likeable – even the unlikeable ones. That’s a testament to strong character building, and a sharp writing team. The established characters have grown as expected, given the circumstances of previous seasons, while new characters like Kenny still have a ways to go in terms of establishing their pedigree, despite their likeability.
As far as returning characters go, the most obvious one is Terry Silver, and he’s different from the man he used to be. That’s established early on, but it isn’t long before Silver starts slipping back into his old ways. However, it’s important to note that Silver never truly becomes the same guy that he was in The Karate Kid III.
Rather, he’s the logical evolution of a guy in his elderly years, who has grown from the experiences of life, yet is still capable of falling victim to his self-destructive past. Indeed, Silver himself openly admits that he was addicted to cocaine during the events of The Karate Kid III, which goes a long way towards explaining his mental state.
The writers could have rehashed young man Silver all over again, but they didn’t. Instead, they took the time to dissect the character, and explain why he is the way he is. It all builds up to a shocking moment in the final episode, which is a huge turning point for the series.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK
For everything season 4 does right, it also does a few things wrong, and the writers will need to exercise caution as they move forward. The nostalgia bit works, and it’s easily the linchpin of the show’s framework, but the depiction of character conflicts is starting to wear a bit thin.
This is most obvious in the way the relationship between Daniel and Johnny deteriorates so quickly at the beginning of the season. The second episode is easily the best, giving fans exactly what they’ve wanted to see since 2018 – the two working together.
It shows Daniel training Johnny in Mr. Miyagi’s ways, which is just as beautifully emotional as it is humorous. Next, it’s Daniel’s turn to learn from Johnny, and by the time the former is shown cheering triumphantly after passing the latter’s grueling trials, the audience is cheering right along with him.
Then, things fall apart, as expected. Cobra Kai has a nasty habit of going a bit overboard on drama, to the point of it feeling juvenile. Of course, half of the show is centered on the teenage characters, but even there, the formula is starting to erode. Exactly how many times can Miguel, Sam, Tory and Robby remain stuck in the same circular firing squad?
Ironically, the show’s message regarding balance is lost on the writers, and they’ll have to circle back and come up with a different approach for season 5, in spite of all that’s happened. Conflict makes for good drama, but a lot of season 4’s spats and feuds will make audiences roll their eyeballs.
The fight scenes also suffered a bit in season 4, as well. Characters move a lot slower when they fight, suggesting that not enough time was taken to tighten up the choreography. Ironically, this ends during the two final episodes of the season, which take place during the All Valley Karate Tournament.
In fact, the tournament fights are some of the best in the series, suggesting that a ton of time was spent getting them right, at the expense of other scenes. It’s not terrible, but it is noticeable.
WHAT AMAZED US (Spoiler Warning)
Season 4 has its issues, but overall, it works because of the surprises. The writers clearly knew the material they had to work with, particularly where Terry Silver was concerned. As such, the show was able to progress beyond the stubbornness of some of its characters.
For instance, season 3 had established that Tory was in a bad place, having to work a job to take care of her family. Season 4 expands on this concept by introducing Amanda LaRusso as a sort of mother hen figure. The show doesn’t rush it, preferring to take the long road when it comes to Tory’s reactions. This laid the foundation for the next season, which was a smart move.
Terry Silver’s return to the franchise allowed the writers to introduce conflict where none was expected – between himself, and John Kreese. For a while, it seemed like Kreese was fully in control, but by the end of the final episode, it became clear that Silver was ready to assume the mantle of principal antagonist. The method used to get him there was clever.
This also gives John Kreese an opportunity for self-reflection, and redemption. At several points throughout the season, Kreese shows a remarkable sense of compassion and integrity, even when he’s using it to goad foes like Amanda, in the middle of a grocery store.
One key moment shows Kreese showing genuine regret over how his actions led to Johnny Lawrence being put directly in Terry Silver’s crosshairs, and given Silver’s betrayal in the final episode, it might finally be the catalyst for him to change, and redeem himself.
The All Valley Karate Tournament episodic duology was a major win, with some unexpected surprises and (proper) subverted expectations. It was a shock to see Miguel bail from the tournament altogether, which allowed a previously demoralized Eli to overcome his lack of self-confidence, and win the Men’s division title.
Samantha’s loss to Tory was not surprising, given the latter’s character arc over the course of the season. For all intents and purposes, she had to win, and it will be interesting to see how her more compassionate character deals with a defeated and demoralized Samantha in the next season.
Though not entirely unexpected, it was also a bit of a shock to see Chozen make a return in the final shot of the season, standing with Daniel LaRusso at Mr. Miyagi’s grave site. The two are obviously going to team up in season 5 in order to take down Terry Silver and Cobra Kai, and it’s going to make for one hell of a conflict.
And finally, it was a very nice surprise to see the character of Aisha Robinson make a cameo return, especially given how her character fell off the Cobra Kai map after season 2. Not only did her appearance give the character some much-needed closure, but it was an opportunity to show how far down the rabbit hole of anger Samantha had fallen.
IS IT WOKE?
Thankfully, the ever-changing political climate in the West has not affected Cobra Kai in the slightest. It’s still a show that Conservatives and traditional liberals will love, thanks in large part to how it’s grounded.
Cobra Kai knows exactly who its target audience is – those who grew up with the Karate Kid films during the 1980s, and it never risks alienating them with Woke political messaging.
In fact, it’s the opposite. Cobra Kai continues to heckle and lampoon Leftist culture, whether it’s making a mockery out of snowflake school teachers, watching John Kreese intimidate a snobby far-left elite at a swanky luncheon, or showing Johnny Lawrence dunk all over the actual concept of what it means to be Woke. And yet, Woke characters are there, in plain sight, and they never, ever overpower the narrative.
It was also shocking to see Cobra Kai actually entertain the concept of a separate male and female category in the All Valley Karate Tournament, especially in an age when biological males are allowed to compete in female sports, giving them a massively unfair advantage. This has become a point of increasing tension and resentment, and that’s only expected to get worse in the next few years.
Cobra Kai heads this idea off at the pass, and doesn’t apologize for it. Will the show receive any blowback for this creative decision? Possibly, but anyone who watched biological male MMA fighter Fallon Fox brutally beat and fracture the skull of Tamikka Brents during a 2014 match will get it.
Indeed, Cobra Kai is an oasis for anyone who had to suffer through the dismal pop culture far-leftism of 2021. The show was even bold enough to bring in Carrie Underwood for a spectacular musical number in the penultimate episode, when it could just as easily have brought in someone like Megan Thee Stallion, or Nicki Minaj.
Underwood is a devout Christian who doesn’t hide it, her husband is Conservative, and she herself remains steadfast in her public political neutrality. This is exactly what Cobra Kai is all about – leave your politics at the door, and enjoy the escapism.
Season 4 of Cobra Kai manages to stand tall, even when it loses its own sense of balance, and that’s a testament to just how passionate the show’s creators, writers, and stars are. The enthusiasm is boundless, the story is enjoyable, and the characters continue to pay dividends.
However, the writers really need to stop relying on the implausible and perfectly predictable quarrels and conflicts, which at this point feel like a way to spread the butter out over 10 consecutive episodes. It also needs to stop driving Daniel and Johnny apart, only to bring them back together, then repeat the process all over again. And finally, it might be best if season 5 closes out the show completely, lest it risk jumping the shark.
Aside from that, it’s a recommended watch. It’s not as bombastic and incredible as season 3, but it’s certainly no slouch when it comes to landing a solid, well-placed crane kick.
Sticks to a winning formulaTerry Silver’s character arcThe All Valley Karate Tournament
Character conflicts are becoming predictableDaniel & Johnny break up too fastUneven fight choreography