My reaction and review of Cobra Kai season 4… SPOILERS AHEAD!
In 2021, there were three things that I was looking forward to. My second daughter was the first. The second was the premiere of Amazon Prime’s The Wheel of Time. The third was the 4th season of Cobra Kai, now completely in the hands of Netflix. My daughter’s birth went well, though there were some minor hiccups. I’ve been enjoying watching her grow over the course of the past few months. The Wheel of Time was a mixed bag for me. I enjoyed seeing the characters and settings come to life on screen, but I am a little worried about going forward with the changes and directions they went with. Cobra Kai, which edged into 2021 with a premier on December 31st, blew me away.
Jay, from a reaction video channel that I like to watch, Jay and Adam’s pReviewed, had the perfect summary: That the show has no business being as good as it is. It’s true! It should have been a campy nostalgia-fest that was quickly forgotten. But instead, what we got was a show that not only had the nostalgia, but heart, action, and humor. I suppose that could have been foreseen, given the showrunners… the same guys that brought us Hot Tub Time Machine. A movie that should have been totally cheese, but actually worked.
What we got with Cobra Kai is a show that carries the story forward and through different perspectives. It gives more dimensions to some of the lesser defined characters in the original trilogy. The first season paralleled the first movie, but still gave us something new. The second season brought us new characters and changed the game. The long wait for the 3rd season while the show changed platforms turned out to be well worth it. That had some epic moments and ended with the makings of the alliance we have all been waiting for. The 4th season did not drop the ball.
There were many story arcs throughout the season. As I dive into it, I am going to look at various plotlines and how they developed through the season. Then I will look at the final two episodes and the outcome of the long-awaited tournament. If you have not watched the season, stop reading now, watch it, then come back for the analysis. After this point, “Thar be
DANNY and JOHNNY
The final scene of season 3 was exciting, with Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) standing side-by-side, having combined their students. As exciting as that was, inevitably, they would clash in their training. It was cringeworthy watching the two senseis clash as they attempted to train their students. The second episode where they train each other in their prospective styles was a delight. I was awash with delight when Johnny responded to Daniel with, “No be there!” following Daniel’s hockey fight.
It made sense that they would switch students to train in the other styles. However, it was disheartening, and also not too surprising, when the two eventually split up. I couldn’t help to be a bit frustrated with Daniel’s stubbornness. I also felt sorry for Johnny and understood his fears watching Miguel taking to LaRusso’s guidance. As the season went on, it was great to see that they did happen to influence each other as bits of their opposing training came out.
KREESE and SILVER
When I originally saw Karate Kid part 3, I hated Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith). He was annoying and an over-the-top villain. In recent years, I came to like that about his character, and I liked how Cobra Kai explained this by referencing him being high on cocaine throughout the 80s. Having “cleaned up,” he was reluctant to get back in it with John Kreese (Martin Kove). However, Kreese, master manipulator that he is, was able to get under his skin and pull him back into the game.
Still, it became clear that their alliance was shakier than expected. Often, Kreese would give Silver that glare as if he knew that his former partner was up to something. Throughout the season, there were signs that he may have regretted bringing Silver back into the fold. This culminated when Terry took Kreese to the old dojo and ambushed Johnny.
MIGUEL and SAM
Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) and Samantha (Mary Mouser) were pivotal characters of this season. While they were not as active in the first couple of episodes, their purpose at that point was to keep their respective sensei on the path of unity. As the season progressed, their focus came to their relationships with their sensei and how the other one was affecting them. For Miguel, his ease in adapting the Miyagi-Do style was vital in showing Johnny’s jealousy. He already lost Robby, now he felt like he was losing Miguel.
Of course, Johnny’s efforts to be a father figure to Miguel causes the latter pain as seen in episode 7. Miguel returns from the prom to find Johnny drunk after being beaten by a crazed Terry Silver. They begin to connect and in one of the most heart-wrenching scenes, Miguel goes from pure joy to utter heartbreak after Johnny begins to confess that he wants to be a father to him, but then calls him Robby. This was one of the best acted scenes and you could feel Miguel’s pain as his face shifted so quickly.
For Sam, her relationship with her father became strained as she began to adopt Johnny’s philosophies. This was somewhat to her detriment as she honestly became a little too harsh, especially when it came to instigating Tory. However, it did allow her to bring a new strength that she was lacking with Miyagi-Do alone. Of course, this caused riffs with her father whose stubbornness led him to believe that HIS way was the ONLY way.
ROBBY and TORY (and AMANDA)
Robby (Tanner Buchanan) and Tory (Peyton List) had interesting arcs, both together and separate, throughout the season. It was interesting to see them going from distrustful of each other to close and romantically involved as the season progressed. I felt that their relationship was fitting, and they seemed like a good match. For Robby himself, he was disciplined and a powerhouse. The first episode where he challenges the class to hit him, then proceeds to take the group out before finally taking that hit from Tory, he goes from a disrespected delinquent to a leader and example for Cobra Kai. He even takes a student under his wing, though he later learns that he was not ready for that task.
Tory’s personal arc truly shined throughout the season. More of her homelife is divulged, especially after a visit from her aunt. This opens the door for more sympathy toward her, especially for Amanda (Courtney Henggeler) who is learning the truth about her and is seeing reflections of herself when she was a teenager. Had that background been kept under wraps, then perhaps it would have felt deserving the treatment that Sam was giving her at the kids’ party and later on. However, having that knowledge really made Sam out to be a bit of a jerk in the process.
DEMETRI and HAWK (ELI)
That brings us to the Binary Brothers. Having reconciled at the end of season 3, Eli (Jacob Bertrand) and Demetri (Gianni DeCenzo) went through a lot over the course of the show. They started out as best friends. However, when Eli joined Cobra Kai and took on the moniker of Hawk, they soon became thorns in each other’s side. Season 3 saw some of the worst of Hawk’s personality. However, also saw him waver in his actions. This brought the two back together in the season finale.
Going into season 4, despite having reconnected with Demetri, who has become quite formidable himself, Eli was struggling to fit in with both Miyagi-Do and Eagle Fang. He quickly corrected that by building the bridge that helped to unite the two dojos. I loved when he went in with the plans to build the sparring deck. This put him back on even footing with his peers until he was ambushed by Cobra Kai and “lost” his Hawk identity. Like Samson, he felt that his strength had gone once his mohawk was gone. Enter Demetri and Moon (Hannah Kepple) to build his confidence back up in time for his character to reach his pinnacle.
ANTHONY and KENNY
Breaking out this season were the characters of Anthony LaRusso (Griffin Santopietro) and newcomer Kenny Payne (Dallas Young). I have to say; I enjoyed watching Anthony take a larger role this season and become more involved in the storyline. He was annoying in the earlier seasons (with his best moment being his “confrontation” with Johnny in season 1). In this season, we got to see a dark side where he was the aggressor in bullying the new kid. It soon becomes obvious that his “friends” encouraged his antics and that he seems to regret his actions.
Of course, peer pressure being what it is, he continues to let his classmates push him into tormenting Kenny, who he sees as a rival. This leads Kenny, brother of Shawn (Okea Eme-Akwari), who spent time in Juvey with Robby, to seek out Cobra Kai. Over time, we see the pendulum shift as Kenny and Anthony switch roles by the end of the season. Even when Anthony tries to make amends, the damage is already done now that Kreese and Silver have their fangs in Kenny. Something that would not have happened if not for Anthony antagonizing the kid.
On a side note, this storyline led to a surprise cameo by Julia Macchio, Ralph’s daughter. She played the role of Vanessa, Cousin Louie’s (Bret Ernst) younger sister. She is a therapist who helps Daniel and Amanda get an understanding of Anthony’s bullying behavior. Amanda also refers to her as “Marisa Tomei Jr.” given her mannerisms, which were very close to Mona Lisa Vito, the character portrayed by Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny (another film featuring Ralph Macchio).
CAMEOS (UNDERWOOD, AISHA, and STINGRAY)
Speaking of cameos… I must mention the appearance of Carrie Underwood at the tournament. I am not a fan (though I have no animosity towards her) but it was nice to see some celebrities (outside of the franchise) making appearances. And I liked the fact that she was singing a Survivor song.
More importantly to the show was the appearance of two alums from previous seasons. First, Aisha (Nichole Brown) was a nice callback. It was a good moment for Sam to reconnect with her and for the audience to get a glimpse of where she ended up.
Then there was Raymond, aka Stingray (Paul Walter Hauser). While his character could get quite annoying, he still provided some comic relief, especially at some tense moments. Still, his appearance this season proved to be intense. I felt sorry for him when Kreese outright rejected him. But I must admit seeing his ultimate fate in episode 8 when he ran into Terry Silver was heartbreaking.
Then it all came down to episodes 9 & 10 in the tournament. The showrunners really upped the game with the tournament, compared to season 1 and the original movies. The events of the tournament spanned over an episode and a half and featured many great moments. Episode 9 started out with the introductions of the main dojos competing. I am assuming that other dojos were announced in similar fashion – in universe – but they just highlighted the main three that we are concerned about.
After the introductions, we get started with the skills competition which included kata, board-breaking, and weapon demonstrations. The students put on an amazing display. My heart sank a bit when Eli failed to break the final board in his skills entry. Then you had Mitch (Aedin Mincks) who dropped the ball (or, more specifically, bo staff) during his demonstration, followed by embarrassingly running off the stage. The competition ended with Cobra Kai taking the lead. This led into the appearance by Carrie Underwood which was interlaced with the first rounds of main male and female division fights. On a note, it feels like the skills and women’s division additions to the tournament is something that should have happened 20 years ago (at least).
The last part of the episode took us to the quarterfinals. Cobra Kai had Robby, Tory, Kenny, and Kyler (Joe Seo) reach the finals. Miyagi-do made a showing with Hawk, Sam, and Demetri. Lastly, Miguel and newcomer Devon (Oona O’Brien) held on for Eagle Fang. It was great seeing Eli get his confidence back (with assistance from Moon) and shut down Kyler. It really brought his character around full circle. His Binary Brother, Demetri, really made a showing. He certainly came far since this show started.
The tournament went on and ended with a match between Miguel and Eli. Both were apprehensive about facing their friend, and both were encouraged by their respective sensei to leave that behind for the moment and win. It starts out well as Eli and Miguel shake as they get set to start their match. Then as they were fighting, Miguel launched himself up to do a special move and his back cracked.
Episode 10 opened with the sounds of a heart-monitor in the background as the camera pans across a plethora of CT scans in a hospital room. This is a testament to the writers as I believed (and so did pretty much every reaction video I have watched since) that it was Miguel. Then it is revealed that the person in the hospital bed is Stingray. He is unresponsive and listed as a John Doe, giving the impression that he was dumped somewhere without ID and unconscious after his beating.
Then cut to Miguel back at the tournament being looked over by the event medic. It turned out that his injury is just a sprain and not as bad as it looked, still, his return was questionable. A pep-talk by Johnny fails and leads to Miguel NOT returning in his allotted time, thus forfeiting the match, and advancing Eli to the finals.
While we wait for Miguel, we are treated to the match between Robby and Demetri. While the outcome of this match was expected, I liked a moment when Demetri waves Robby toward him in a “bring it” fashion. Unfortunately for “Meat,” he loses the match. However, I must give kudos to the character for his progression from his whiny origins.
Then we have a confrontation between Anthony and Kenny. Anthony attempts to apologize to Kenny for the way that he has treated him, but the damage is already done. Kenny is unforgiving and begins to attack Anthony in the locker room. Robby walks in and intervenes but is taken aback by how Kenny has morphed from a scared kid to a vengeful brute.
This leads to the first finals match between Robby and Eli. The match is quite well, with each scoring a point and otherwise blocking each other’s attack. The time limit is reached, and they go into Sudden Death overtime. Robby, who’s Gi was opened during the match, strips it off. This prompts Eli to do the same, exposing his hawk tattoo. To this, I have to say that I love the hawk sound effect that is inserted.
They continue their battle. Just as it looks like Robby is going to win, he is distracted when he sees Kenny yelling to “Finish him.” This throws him off balance and allows Eli to escape and turn the tables. Finally, Eli scores the winning blow, crowning him the new champion. I loved this and felt that it was the perfect cap to Eli’s redemption story.
In the intermission between the final matches, we have a moment that resolves one of the major plot points of this whole season. Daniel asks Johnny for his help and to stand in the corner with him for Sam’s match. They apologize to each other, finding value in each other’s teachings, and agree to team up. Daniel even (begrudgingly) refers to their union as “Miyagi Fang.” This is a clear nod to the fans who came up with this term immediately after the third season concluded.
The girl’s final begins with Tory and Sam, each getting motivated by their respective senseis. As they begin, Sam quickly scores the first point using a technique that Johnny taught her. The match goes on and Tory soon gets an edge, eventually bringing the score to a 2-2 tie. When she stepped out of bound after being hit and the ref called “no point,” I started getting suspicious. That suspicion was furthered when he told her to elbow Sam again after her first elbow got her a warning. The final blow was bittersweet as Tory landed the hit and won the match.
Tory showed remorse for her actions during the tournament, with apologizing for the elbow to the face as a reactionary accident. It was also a turning point in her character to see her ask Sam if she was alright after her victory, before being dragged off by her teammates. The ultimate blow to her character was when she walked in and overheard Terry Silver talking to the ref and thanking him for his “service” while ensuring that his bank account will be bigger the next day.
With Tory’s victory, Cobra Kai secured the overall championship of the tournament. Considering the deal struck between Kreese and Johnny and Daniel, this does not bode well for their future. However, that seems to be the least on Johnny’s mind as a trip to the Cobra Kai dojo that he opened, now shut down and, for lease, leads to a touching moment between him and Robby. They finally embrace and appear to be on the mends in their relationship. However, Johnny is also hit by the news that Miguel has skipped town and is heading to Mexico to find his own father.
Meanwhile, Terry and Kreese are celebrating the victory at the tournament when Terry pulls the carpet out from under his partner. With Stingray in the hospital, it is revealed that Terry struck a deal with Stingray where he will allow him to be a part of Cobra Kai if he fingers Kreese as the person who assaulted him. It is an interesting web that is weaved.
The final scene is with Daniel. Having returned home with his family in defeat, he is seen as Miyagi’s grave. He is going over the events and his feelings as he stares at the gravestone. It appears that he is NOT going to shut down Miyagi-do when he states that he cannot honor an agreement made with men who have no honor. As he finishes his speech, the camera pans around to show Chozen standing in the background listening to Daniel’s plee. When Danny asks Chozen for help, he responds with a simple “Yosh!” (After a quick internet search, the word is actually “Yoshi,” but the “i” is silent in this case).
FUTURE SPECULATION AND PREDICTIONS
There is a lot to unwrap in the final moments of the season. From Miguel heading off to Mexico City in search of his father to Tory’s championship and later revelation that she may not have wholly earned it to Chozen showing up to help Daniel. For the former, that will make for an exciting arch. It is clear that Johnny is going after him and very likely that Robbie will join his father. What could come out of it is anybody’s guess. It could go any way for each person involved.
When it comes to Tory, it comes to wonder what she is going to do with her knowledge. As her hard shell has been beginning to crack this season, it would not surprise me if she goes to the Larusso’s over what she heard. She wanted a legitimate win and even if there is a chance that it was unearned, that will ruin her whole glory over the victory. With that, there is hope that the rivalry between her and Sam will begin to fizzle.
As far as Daniel’s storyline, I don’t see him giving up Miyagi-do. It was even hinted that he could not honor an agreement with dishonorable people during his talk with Chozen. And with Eli becoming the new Champion, Miyago-do won’t just collapse. It will be interesting to see how that develops.
That leaves Eagle Fang. If Miyagi-do does not close, it would seem possible for Eagle Fang to stick around too. However, with the absence of both the star pupil and the sensei, who will lead them? The remnants could filter into Miyagi-do until Johnny returns. How will the “Most Badass Girl in the Valley” fit in with this change? I think she would certainly utilize what training she could get out of it. But her spirit is more in line with Johnny.
Finally, we have Cobra Kai itself. Now with one head gone, Terry is the King. Kreese is now a wildcard with it being hard to predict how he will respond. He certainly will not forgive his former partner. Will he be willing to side with his former rivals in order to payback his betrayers? Stingray is set up to be the Smee to Terry Silver’s Captain Hook. Being the bumbling, loyal sidekick to the arch-villain will fit Stingrays role and allow him to continue to be a bit of a comic relief. However, how long will it last? Will he have a change of heart and be the linchpin that brings down Cobra Kai once and for all?
One thing is for sure, as exciting as this season was, I am looking forward to season 5 more than ever. Still, I feel that this was the best season yet. It just seems that each season just gets better and better. For a show that was set up to be a cool throwback to an 80s classic, it really has taken on a life of its own. And I am enjoying every minute of it. Perhaps there are some things to nitpick about it, but they are rather minor to the full narrative and the little details scattered throughout. I’m ready for more!