Review: Cobra Kai ~ Season 3
The date for Cobra Kai‘s season 4 just dropped in a new trailer (below), pitting Daniel and Johnny against Kreese and The Karate Kid III’s Terry Silver.
I have to admit I’m wary about this season.
I loved season one, and it set up season two perfectly. Season two was great, although it devolved a little too much into teenage relationship angst. I did also have some problems with the finale – not so much the big school fight, but the outcomes it contained.
For me, season three was a misfire. It was still enjoyable, but juggling so many characters, it felt like some had to remain in holding patterns while others were maneuvered into position. Also, some of the plotting became a little bit happenstance.
Here’s a list of things that bugged me …
Sam and Tory
A recurring theme through season three is that Sam’s suffering anxiety after her fight with Tory in the season two finale.
I appreciate that you can win and suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, as Sam’s portrayed here. But given the shape of season three, it would’ve made much more sense if Tory had beaten Sam at the end of season two.
Sam’s terror then becomes more understandable. We’d understand why she freezes around Tory. It becomes a classic set-up.
Some might counter that the writers are being novel, having Sam win and suffer that way anyway, so what’s the difference? Well, Tory’s the one who loses out. If she’d won that season two fight, she gets a major push in terms of stature and villainy. She becomes the junior antagonist for season three.
That’s something season three lacked. In the first two seasons, Robby and Miguel held those roles. In season three, both are on the outer for various reasons.
Peyton List, who plays Tory, has presence, is good at the karate, and would’ve made a believable antagonist – the new face of Cobra Kai. But she doesn’t carry the marquee because she lost that season two finale fight.
As if to compensate, Cobra Kai introduces ringers to fill the vacuum. Kyler, a minor antagonist in season one, is back. There are others. It feels like the writers know they’re lacking depth among the villainous teens. But they don’t carry much weight because they’ve all lost previous battles.
Tory should’ve been the one to spearhead season three, culminating in a rematch with Sam in the season three finale.
As it is, Tory plays the supporting act to the array of male antagonists: first Kreese (who solves her landlord problems), then Hawk, then Robby.
The Depreciation of Hawk
Hawk’s another one who suffers. In season two, Robby beats him in a fight at the shopping complex, Miguel beats him in a fight at the Cobra Kai training camp, and then Demitri beats him in the finale. If this was professional boxing or the UFC, I’d stop booking Hawk because he keeps losing all the damn time.
Yet season three tries to have him fill the role as the main teen antagonist. They push his villainy into caricature, and then flip him – while that’s always seemed a possibility, it’s inexplicable when it happens.
When he shows up Miyagi Doh and apologises to Demetri, it’s hard to accept: Hawk has constantly bullied Demtri, and savagely broke his arm.
And now a simple apology undoes all that?
The Cartoon Villainy
In The Karate Kid movie, Daniel is the victim of constant bullying. The same thing occurs to Miguel (and others) in the first half of Cobra Kai’s first season. In season two, Cobra Kai become the bullies.
In season three, they graduate from bullies to felons.
They steal a stuffed animal from Chris’s booth at the arcade; they steal the carwash money from Nathaniel and beat him up; Hawk breaks Demetri’s arm; they steal a snake; they throw Burt through a window and break into the LaRusso house, then start a fight.
Any victim could go to the police and lay serious charges. Breaking Demetri’s arm constitutes deadly assault. How did that play out anyway? Did Demetri go home and lie about what happened to his arm? That doesn’t seem the thing he’d do. If Demetri told the truth, Hawk and the others should be charged.
Yet the police are never contacted, even though Amanda, Daniel, and Sam have every right to do so, and are the sort of characters who you think would take this course of action.
While you’ve always gotten a sense that Hawk would flip, it doesn’t make much sense that he does now. I’m unsure what the trigger is given he’s enjoyed bullying and shown little sympathy for Demetri. In the third season climax, Hawk leads a home invasion, is winning the fight, and then he has an attack of conscious? Really?
Why now? The argument might be the culmination of all his misdeeds has finally gotten the better of him, but it just seems odd – something that happens because it needs to happen.
Surely a better motivation for the flip would’ve been Daniel showing him kindness, or Miguel or Sam or even Demetri sparing him when they have the opportunity to crush him. Or even something like Demetri suffering a blood clot as a result of the broken arm and almost dying, leaving Hawk to review who he’s become.
Then there are the characters – such as Chris and Burt – that Cobra Kai expels. They show up in the climax and join Miyagi Doh.
Wait a minute! Hang on!
In season two, Mitch and several others leave Cobra Kai because they reject Cobra Kai’s philosophies. This is their decision. They then show up at Miyagi Doh and willingly want to embrace a new path.
Mitch and the others are thrown out. They do not reject Cobra Kai. Cobra Kai rejects them. Then they embrace Miyagi Doh? Why? They haven’t had a moment of clarity. They’re still the same people.
While the argument can be made that Miyagi Doh is inclusive and Daniel probably believes he can bring out the good in anybody, it’s difficult to reconcile the motivation here.
The first two seasons are tightly plotted. Season three feels lazy at times. Often, things just happen to occur so characters can be moved from Point A to Point B.
Here’s a small sampling:
- Daniel and Johnny are at a service station, filling up, when the exact van they just happen to be looking for pulls in
- In Okinawa, Daniel just happens to bump into Kumiko
- Kumiko shows Daniel a bundle of Mr. Miyagi’s letters, and Daniel just happens to pull out the one letter Mr. Miyagi wrote that addresses his current emotional and spiritual plight
- Daniel learns the little girl he saved in The Karate Kid II just happens to now be a top executive at the car company he needs to win over
- Miguel and Johnny are having lunch; Johnny excuses himself, and Tory enters and sees Miguel – Johnny and Miguel just happened to pick the one restaurant Tory works in
- Miguel and Sam are play-sparring and it gets intimate; that’s exactly when Robby just happens to walk in (he doesn’t have to ring a bell or knock on the door or anything) and see them.
I know some might counter, It’s just a TV show, but that as a defense is as lazy as using the coincidences to drive the plotting.
Outcomes should be a result of choices and actions, rather than coincidences.
Robby is an absolute dick throughout season three. We can say he’s confused and alienated. That’s fine. You always got the sense he would flip and embrace his inner bad boy.
But everybody keeps making efforts for him: Daniel constantly reaches out to him; Johnny comes to see him when he’s discharged from juvy; Sam constantly writes him emails, which he ignores.
Then, when he gets out, he turns bad effectively because he feels nobody’s made an effort.
It would’ve been easy enough for Daniel and Johnny to turn Robby in (for his own good) and to use that as the basis for his flip. Daniel does turn him in. But Robby just continues to muddle through, and then flips unjustifiably later.
One thing the writers have done so well throughout the first two seasons is integrate canon in a way that is satisfying and organic. There have also been so many great callbacks to the movies.
And then we have Ali.
In The Karate Kid, Johnny is an absolute prick to her. Here, they’re close. Maybe they settled their differences some other time, but it’s a jarring reconciliation. It’s also annoying that shortly after Johnny consummates his relationship with Carmen, he almost cheats on her with Ali.
Johnny’s won a lot of favour throughout Cobra Kai – arguably, he’s the star of the show. People love his straight-line approach and politically incorrect attitude. But he lost a lot of credit with this.
Also, the dinner Ali has with Johnny, Daniel, and Amanda, becomes an exercise in revisionism. Ali’s break-ups with Johnny and Daniel are recorded in the first two films. But now the context is changed.
Everybody eagerly awaited Elizabeth Shue’s return as Ali, but it really was just ultimately gratuitous and added nothing to the story.
The counter might be she was there to put Daniel and Johnny on the same page. But Robby already was trying that at the end of season two when he spoke to Johnny. Johnny and Daniel had formed a begrudging friendship. It could’ve developed organically from there.
While an argument might be made that it had to be Ali because of her history with them, let’s not forget she’s been out of the story for thirty years.
If you wanted deux ex machinas solving the problems, why not use a Miyagi letter? Or one of Johnny’s Cobra Kai friends?
This honour really should’ve fallen on Amanda, who’s been preaching at Daniel for two seasons up to this point, and didn’t have much to do this season outside of frowning a lot.
Odds and Ends
There were lots of odd little beats that didn’t feel genuine. Daniel’s sudden dealership crisis was contrived just to somehow get Daniel to Okinawa. And then it was immediately resolved.
Then you have little things, such as Johnny wanting to see Miguel, but the nurse not letting him in because he’s not family. Johnny could easily enough lie and say he’s an uncle. Nope. He goes into the toilet and smashes himself up so he’ll be allowed entry in as a patient, although presumably Miguel should be in INTENSIVE CARE, while Johnny should be processed through EMERGENCY.
Miguel’s rehabilitation, while well-intentioned, is farcical. Johnny’s methods are cartoonish (and as somebody who’s done some serious rehab for an injury, I feel I can remark that some are offensive), and Miguel’s improvement rapid.
My biggest disappointment is the handling of Tory, because Peyton List plays that character so well, and the writers missed a genuine opportunity to give her the lead as the antagonist and let her run with it. Her beating Sam in the climax of season two, and letting Tory run as the Big Bad in season three, could’ve set up the whole season, and also done something daring.
I think season three would’ve unfolded better if Tory had won that season two finale fight, and she led Cobra Kai with confidence.
The Good Stuff
I love the use of Chozen – so often with continuations, the characters we revisit are now broken, and/or bitter. Chozen has had a constructive life. I do wish the writers would lay off the karate super move, though. Anytime they introduce some new move, you know it’s just a matter of time before it’s employed.
Kreese’s backstory is great, and shows how he’s become who he is. But his grudge is just psychotic. He won countless karate tournaments, then lost one, and his whole life spiraled out of control, and is fixated on this vengeance.
Probably the scene I enjoyed best was Daniel and Miguel chatting, with Daniel offering his version of what happened between him and Johnny. It was a nice little connection between Daniel and Miguel, and showed how memories are filtered through perspective.
At some point, Daniel and Johnny were always going to ally. You’d have thought it would’ve happened once Kreese took over Cobra Kai – like, right from the first episode of season three. Nope. Johnny just flops around for much of the season, until he’s forced into a confrontation with Kreese. Kreese throws out his challenge, so Johnny and Daniel decide to ally against him.
This is what I meant by holding patterns. Towards the end of season two, Johnny, Carmen, Daniel, and Amanda have dinner together. You feel Johnny and Daniel acknowledging a begrudging friendship forming. Johnny allowing Sam and Robby to stay over when Sam’s drunk forces a wedge in the burgeoning relationship. But with Miguel ending up in hospital, Robby on the run for the assault, and Kreese taking over Cobra Kai, it’s logical that Johnny and Daniel’s alliance should start now. They have enough common ground to build upon.
It doesn’t, though, because we have to wait until the other pieces are moved into place. Kreese is where he needs to be as the head of Cobra Kai. But Miguel is in hospital and faces a long rehabilitation. Robby ends up in juvy and needs to serve time. Nothing meaningful can happen in the Cobra Kai-Miyagi Doh battle until these two are ready to rejoin the conflict, so Daniel’s given his dealership woes, Johnny his drunkenness and dislocation, and Sam her trauma, until Miguel and Robby can catch up with them and the genuine story can move forward again.
What I Would’ve Preferred
I would’ve preferred in the final episode if Johnny confronted Kreese, beat him, and Terry Silver ambushed Johnny. Daniel arrives to help Johnny and the two hold their own against Kreese and Silver, but then Mike Barnes emerges. Together, Kreese, Silver, and Barnes eject Johnny and Daniel from Cobra Kai.
The baddies win and gloat.
Then Daniel and Johnny have a genuine reason to ally. It’s also a shock ending.
Silver’s already been featured in promos, so we know he’s back. Sean Kanan, who played Mike Barnes in The Karate Kid III, is open to returning – who knows if the writers haven’t already planned a surprise? (Although you suspect they’re staggering inclusions to get as much mileage as they can out of them. If so, I would’ve been happy with Silver and Kreese besting Daniel and Johnny.)
But I thought it would’ve been much more dramatic if the season ended with the antagonists in the ascendency. That would’ve built up their marquee. That’s one thing Cobra Kai hasn’t done as well as it could’ve: by having villains like Tory and Hawk and Kreese lose (and in some cases repeatedly), they’re diminished as threats. Compare that with the way Sylvester Stallone builds up antagonists in the Rocky franchise. In six movies, Rocky never faces anybody with a dash in their loss column.
I think it would’ve also been a better build-up for season four, knowing that Daniel and Johnny have lost once, and will now have the odds against them.
Instead, we’re back to settling this at the karate tournament. I can appreciate why they continue to use this as a touchpoint, but it just feels like that some of these characters have lost their impetus and now the animosity exists as a gimmick.
Hopefully now everybody is where the story needs them to be, though, they can hit the ground running next season.