Spoiler alert! The following contains details from Season 3 of "Cobra Kai" streaming now on Netflix.
Let's be honest: "Cobra Kai," with all its references to "Ali with an I" without an actual appearance by actress Elisabeth Shue, has been the equivalent of a cruel, cruel summer. Finally, she resumes her role from "The Karate Kid" film for the last two episodes of the spin-off series' new season (now on Netflix), which has us feeling like we nailed a crane kick on a beach piling.
When we met Ali in the 1984 feature, she'd been broken up with Johnny (William Zabka) for "weeks" before she began dating the movie's protagonist, Daniel (Ralph Macchio).
In the closing shot of "Cobra Kai" Season 2, we saw that one Ali Mills Schwarber (her married name) sent Johnny a Facebook friend request, which he missed because he hurled his phone into the sand during a moment of frustration. In the new season, Johnny and Ali reconnect online and in real life. Shue first appears onscreen in Episode 9, "Feel the Night." Ali, now a Coloradan, decides to visit her parents for the holidays.
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While Ali has been on Johnny's mind, her visit coincides with a potential romantic reconciliation for Johnny and Carmen (Vanessa Rubio), the mother of his karate student Miguel (Xolo Maridueña). Johnny and Carmen decide to have a conversation defining their relationship, but he accepts Ali's invitation for lunch in the meantime, the first reunion for the two since high school. Over cheeseburgers, Ali reveals she and her husband have separated, and Johnny apologizes for taking her for granted and breaking her radio.
The two then venture to Golf N' Stuff – you know, the same place where Daniel's mom drove him and Ali on their date in "The Karate Kid" (which set the bar for this author's expectation of dates). Johnny and Ali play air hockey, mini golf and basketball and nearly kiss before Ali gets a text from her mom reminding her to go to a Christmas party. She invites Johnny, and the nostalgia continues in Episode 10, "December 19."
At the party, Ali spots Daniel and meets his wife, Amanda (Courtney Henggeler). The four catch up on the old days and the present, even revealing exactly why Daniel and Ali broke up (because he was insecure about a male friend of hers).
Off screen, Amanda tells Ali that Johnny's been involved with Carmen, which viewers see Ali encourage him to pursue. As Ali and Johnny part, they hug but don't kiss. She tells him, "I will always be there for you," which he reciprocates. She tells him to "get out of here" because he has "a future to find." And that future, heartbreakingly so for those who think Ali is "the best around," is Carmen. Johnny reveals he loves her.
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Reps for Shue did not respond to USA TODAY's request for comment about her "Cobra Kai" appearance, but for Zabka, reuniting with Shue was a dream.
"I loved it. I was so excited about the idea of her coming back," he says, mentioning how the show's first two seasons revealed "how much she's still part of Johnny and still a part of the rivalry between Daniel and Johnny and how important she is to the story and to their two lives."
"Cobra Kai" creators Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg longed for Shue's return since conceiving the series.
"We didn't know if she'd even consider coming back, but our hope was that if people responded to the show how we hoped they would, and if we came up with a present-day version of Ali with an 'I' that she could latch onto, then we'd have a shot," the trio say in a statement. They desired for her part to be meatier than a cameo. "We wanted her to have juicy scenes that would be impactful to both Johnny and Daniel's stories.
"Once we had a plan, we shared those thoughts with Elisabeth and she loved them," the showrunners add. "And it didn't hurt that she had some friends who were fans telling her that she must do the show."
Zabka says though he'd seen Shue "sporadically throughout the years," working together again felt like "seeing an old friend from high school."
"In between doing these scenes we're talking about our real lives and our real kids," he says, praising Shue as "lovely" and "the best." It turns out she's also "really competitive. When we're playing at Golf N' Stuff and doing the air hockey, and the basketball, she takes that seriously."
Though the two still have onscreen chemistry, Zabka understands why their characters aren't meant to be. "Johnny really loves Carmen, he really loves (her son, Miguel)," he reasons. While Johnny and Ali were momentarily transported to their teenage years during their time together, the reality is "They've grown… You realize that when you bump into somebody later in life – it worked then, we still love each other but we can't move from here forward.
"At the same time, she's strong and she gets Johnny," he continues, adding that he admires their bond.
"They were great friends, and that'll be there forever," he says. "And I love that she was big enough just to cut Johnny loose and say, 'Somebody else is on your mind,' and for him to say, 'Yeah.'"
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Cobra Kai' Season 3: Elisabeth Shue reprises 'Karate Kid' role of Ali