The post Cobra Kai Strikes Hard Through an Operatic, Over-the-Top Season 5: Review appeared first on Consequence.
The Pitch: As the Bard once wrote, things are rotten in the San Fernando Valley. Under the mentorship of obscenely wealthy karate villain Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith), Cobra Kai won last year’s All-Valley tournament — due in no small part to Silver’s illegal intervention. Plus, Silver’s money has given the dojo a facelift, and he plans to expand its no-mercy ethos to kids all over the country. Moreover, he’s framed former sensei Kreese (Martin Kove) for assault, leaving him unfettered control over the dojo while his mentor rots in prison.
Our heroes aren’t exactly equipped to combat him, either: The loss at All-Valley months prior has broken Daniel LaRusso’s (Ralph Macchio) spirit, driving him further into paranoid obsession over Silver’s influence on his life. Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), meanwhile, is doing his best to move on from the ’80s-karate-dirtbag life, especially as the prospect of starting a family with Miguel’s (Xolo Maridueña) mother, Carmen (Vanessa Rubio), looms just around the corner.
But the pair receive some unexpected motivation courtesy of former Karate Kid Part II rival Chozen (Yuji Okumoto), who’s flown in from Okinawa to help Danny complete his mission of vengeance. Will it work? And just what are all the kids up to while the grown-ups play out their adolescent rivalries?
Cobra Kai (Netflix)
It’s a Karate Miracle! A Cobra Kai season is a curious thing: Start it off with a big status-quo shift carrying huge personal stakes; stumble through a saggy middle act where your expanding cast of characters while away the minutes with less-interesting subplots; but close out big with a campy, high-stakes (and high-kicking) finish. Oh, and be sure to throw in a couple more supporting characters from the original films, as long as the actors are alive and still have their SAG cards.
Season 4 certainly delivered on that front, even as the show has strayed from its deconstructionist roots into a more open, unironic celebration of the ’80s tropes of its source material. And Season 5 promises more of the same, Cobra Kai fully entering the Silver Era of its lifespan, which takes the conflicts even more outside the dojo than ever before.
It’s clear showrunners Hayden Schlossberg, Josh Heald, and Jon Hurwitz are done rehashing the specific plot beats of the Karate Kid films; I wouldn’t be surprised if last season’s finale is the last we see of the All-Valley tournament. Instead, they’re more interested in showing us the ripples Silver left in the Valley when he and his cunning and largesse returned to the fray.
Some are trying new beginnings: Hawk (Jacob Bertrand) has cut his hair and resumed his nerdy friendship with Dmitri (Gianni DeCenzo). At the same time, Johnny stumbles towards adulthood (and potential fatherhood) with all the meathead bravado we’ve come to expect. (A midseason montage of him figuring out how to baby-proof his shitty apartment is easily a season highlight.)
Others, meanwhile, remain stuck in the endless, violent cycle of karate rivalry. That’s most true of Danny, now with Chozen at his side (and living in his house, much to wife Amanda’s (Courtney Henggeler) consternation), laying Machiavellian plots to take down Silver, who continues to use his money and wits to outsmart them at every turn. And, as always, the younger cast of characters take their simmering resentments out on each other both in and out of the dojo, the sins of the senseis being passed down to their students.
Cobra Kai (Netflix)
Cobra Kai is still very good at demonstrating the poisonous cycles of bullying and revenge, and the ways it rots the people trapped in them. That’s especially true of Kenny (Dallas Dupree Young), the bullied kid from Season 4 who turned to Cobra Kai, only to become a bully himself; this season sees him relishing the newfound power karate has given him, with former sempai Robby trying to pull him back to the light.
But then again, he still has his own beef with Miguel to deal with, proving that the web of revenge runs deep. (We even get yet another return of a Karate Kid rival, Part III‘s Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan), who serves as fresh meat for the middle-aged grievances playing out in the Valley.)
Playing With the Boys: While Cobra Kai maintains a stiff-lipped sincerity during its professional-wrestling level plot turns, it still knows how to have fun from time to time. Zabka remains the series’ MVP; when the show focuses on his man-out-of-time machismo and how it clashes with the modern world, Cobra Kai feels like the high-concept parody it started out as. Whether bumbling through the gig economy or building homemade escape rooms to settle Miguel and Robby’s beef, Zabka’s laidback dirtbaggery keeps the show light on its feet.
It’s also interested in continuing to upturn the Karate Kid universe and shaking it to see which remaining characters will fall out. That’s especially true of Chozen, who takes a much larger role this season; with his steely sense of honor and bemused curiosity about American culture, he functions as a pseudo-Miyagi for Danny. But entertaining as he is, this version of the character veers a little too close to ’80s Asian caricature for comfort.
Speaking of which, the show grinds to a halt when it sinks too greedily into the well of ’80s nostalgia — a trend that’s long since worn past its welcome. There are a few fun gags, like Johnny bonding with his new family by basically reenacting the shirtless volleyball scene from Top Gun. But then we get characters quoting Rocky IV or the boys shout-singing to “Eye of the Tiger” in a limo, and it feels like Cobra Kai is stuck in the same Kung Fury-level irony-posting that brought the series to fruition back in 2018. The show has outgrown that brief in so many other places, so it’s a bit annoying to see them crop up now and again.
The Verdict: Cobra Kai Season 5 feels like a new era of the show, even as it carries many of the same problems that plagued its middle seasons. With a cast this big, and with so many intertwining soap-opera plotlines, it’s inevitable that the season would meander a bit. But bringing Griffith back as Silver turned out to be a masterful move on the part of the show, teasing out new dimensions to the show’s existing ruminations on revenge. It hasn’t quite swept the leg yet, but at least Cobra Kai is back on its feet.
Where’s It Playing? Cobra Kai crashes the party with a few well-placed roundhouse kicks on Netflix on September 9th.