Fans of Netflix’s hit part teen, part midlife crisis dramedy Cobra Kai got the TV show equivalent of a double feature in 2021. After kicking off the year with Season 3 of the Karate Kid spin-off series, Netflix released ten new episodes of Cobra Kai just twenty-four hours before the beginning of 2022. Created by Josh Heald, John Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg, the show started its fourth season with the first real look at former rivals Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence’s (William Zabka) new dojo, and the return of the franchise’s most maniacal, mustache-twirling villain: Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith). At the end of Season 4, Episode 1, “Let’s Begin”, fans were left with numerous questions in their minds: will Daniel and Johnny finally see eye to eye? What is up with Terry? Will the Miyagi-Do/Eagle Fang joint-venture have what it takes to defeat Cobra Kai at the All Valley Karate Tournament?
Thanks to the gods of streaming and binge-watching, none of these questions remained unanswered for long. In the season’s tenth and final episode, “The Rise”, all pieces of the puzzle fell neatly into place. The picture they formed, however, wasn’t exactly what audiences expected. With a surprising turn of events and a departure from the films’ original order that the show had followed so far, “The Rise” was puzzling and intriguing in many ways. Let’s break down just what exactly happened in that finale and what it means for the show’s future.
“The Rise” opens with a shot of various CT scans lined up on a hospital wall, hinting to the possibility of Miguel’s (Xolo Maridueña) spinal injury coming back to haunt him. After all, the previous episode ended with Johnny’s star pupil falling to the ground in pain after trying a roundhouse kick in his fight against Miyagi-Do’s Eli, a.k.a. Hawk (Jacob Bertrand). Thankfully, however, we soon discover that the scans show not Miguel’s, but Stingray’s (Paul Walter Hauser) insides. While the former Cobra Kai student and aspiring security guard wakes up from his Terry-induced coma, Miguel learns that he has only pulled a muscle and is perfectly fine to go back to the mat if he so wishes. The problem is he’s not so sure he wants to finish the fight anymore.
In Episode 8, “Party Time”, Miguel arrived at Johnny’s house after his junior prom only to find his sensei and quasi-stepdad drunk on the floor, physically and emotionally hurt from his encounter with Terry. Miguel helps Johnny to his bed and, after a heartfelt conversation, tells his sensei that he loves him. Johnny’s response? “I love you too, Robby.” Having your karate teacher/father figure mistake you for his biological son has got to hurt, and Miguel’s heart only breaks to even smaller pieces when he realizes Johnny just wants him to go back to the fight no matter what to prove the superiority of the Eagle Fang method. Without telling anyone where he’s going, Miguel walks out on the fight. It is only at the end of the episode that we learn that Miguel has left to look for his real father in Mexico – the problem is that his father doesn’t know about him.
Miguel keeps his feelings mostly to himself at the arena, but he lets some of them out in a goodbye to his mother and grandmother. Johnny, on the other hand, finally speaks his mind to his own former teacher and surrogate father. When Kreese (Martin Kove) approaches him, trying to make amends, Johnny vents about how he felt after the fight with LaRusso all those years ago and accuses Kreese of using him to promote Cobra Kai. The two split on the same terms as before, and Kreese’s expression doesn’t betray any sign of empathy or understanding. It’s only during the night’s final fight that we realize Johnny’s words had some effect on him.
With Miguel out of the picture, it’s up to Eli to fight for the trophy with none other than Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan), who won his ticket to the final after defeating a now stronger and savvier Demetri (Gianni DeCenzo). Both Eli and Robby are karate extraordinaires, which makes the fight’s result impossible to predict. At first, Robby’s status as a protagonist suggested that he would be the one to emerge victorious, but something happens that gives Eli the upper-hand: after catching his young protegé, Kenny (Dallas Young), beating and threatening a defenseless Anthony LaRusso (Griffin Santopietro) in the locker room, Robby starts to question Cobra Kai’s philosophy and his own role in the karate world. He still puts up one hell of a fight, forcing Daniel to concede and allow Eli to use the techniques he learned at Cobra Kai, but loses in sudden death. The trophy goes to Miyagi-Do.
Unfortunately, this does not make Daniel’s dojo the night’s big winner. Earlier this season, after a series of endless debates, the All Valley Karate Tournament’s organization decided to implement a few changes to the championship. The dojos now have to compete in multiple categories – including Miyagi-Do’s greatest strength, kata – being awarded points for each win. Furthermore, the fights are now divided by gender, making Eli only the boys’ champion. And, with Cobra Kai leading the scoreboard, Miyagi-Do also needs to win the girls’ competition to reach first place. This means that it is up to Tory (Peyton List) and Sam (Mary Mouser) to determine which dojo will become the true karate king of the Valley. Given that Johnny and Daniel’s deal with Kreese, in Season 3, was that they would give up teaching altogether if Cobra Kai won the tournament, Sam’s shoulders are more than a little heavy with responsibility.
But things aren’t any easier for Tory. Before the fight, she is approached by Amanda LaRusso (Courtney Henggeler), who played a big role this season in helping Tory find the support system she needs to take care of her mother and younger brother. In return for her assistance, Amanda asks Tory to follow the rules during her fight with Sam. It’s a simple request that Tory has no problem heeding to, but Sensei Silver doesn’t agree. He asks Tory to fight dirty in order to defeat Sam, making her feel uneasy. Tory is then comforted by an unusually sympathetic Kreese, who, mollified by his conversation with Johnny, tells her to do as she feels right.
Meanwhile, on the opposite corner, Daniel remembers a talk he had with Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) in The Karate Kid Part III and finally recognizes that his daughter and his students have the right to choose their own paths. After witnessing Eli’s use of Cobra Kai karate, he reaches out to Johnny for help winning the tournament, and for one night and one night only – at least according to Daniel – Miyagi-Do and Eagle Fang become a single dojo: Miyagi Fang.
This seems to put an end to the rivalry that has been at the heart of the show since Season 1, but this is far from the first time showrunners have hinted at a LaRusso/Lawrence alliance. Let’s not forget that Season 4 started with Miyagi-Do and Eagle Fang briefly joining forces, after all. Whether or not Johnny and Daniel will finally see eye to eye for good this time is anyone’s guess. Right now, all that matters is that Sam is instructed to use everything she has learned from both her senseis to beat Tory.
Sadly, though, Sam’s moves aren’t enough, and Tory wins fair and square. Or, well… almost. Two of the referee’s rulings make both Johnny and Daniel raise an eyebrow. First, he lets Tory off with a warning after she accidentally elbows Sam in the eye. Then, he refuses to award a point for Sam arguing that Tory was already out of bounds when she scored. LaRusso and Lawrence complain but to no avail. Little did they know the ref had an agenda of his own. After the fight, Tory overhears the referee talking with Terry and finds out her victory had less to do with her karate skills than with the ancient art of bribery.
Terry Silver was first introduced to audiences as John Kreese’s long-time friend in The Karate Kid Part III. Feeling defeated after his star student lost the All Valley to LaRusso, Kreese asks Terry for help. A rich entrepreneur that dumps toxic waste on developing nations and has a weakness for ruining high school martial arts championships, Terry hires a “karate bad boy” to defeat LaRusso for good and return Cobra Kai to its former glory. His ultimate goal is to open various Cobra Kai dojos all over the Valley, but his plans are foiled by Daniel and Mr. Miyagi. Now, with Tory’s victory, he can finally expand his business empire to karate schools. He only needs to get rid of one more obstacle: Kreese.
And he does so via Stingray. Tired of having his war trauma rubbed in his face and being reminded of his life debt to Kreese, Terry has agreed to allow Stingray back into Cobra Kai if he blames the near-deadly injuries inflicted on him by Silver on his former sensei. While celebrating their victory over a glass of champagne at Terry’s mansion, Kreese is arrested for aggravated assault and attempted murder, leaving his friend-turned-foe in full control of Cobra Kai.
While Terry savors his first few moments free of Kreese, Johnny promises Carmen (Vanessa Rubio) that he will bring Miguel home safe, and Daniel goes to Mr. Miyagi’s grave for comfort and guidance. Seeing no value in honoring a promise made to men that have no honor, Daniel vows to bring back Miyagi-Do to wipe Cobra Kai off the map and asks for help. The camera pans out and we realize he isn’t talking to Mr. Miyagi’s spirit, but to another of his former rivals: Chozen (Yuji Okumoto), who he faced on The Karate Kid Part II.
Also a Miyagi-Do alumnus, Chozen had already made an appearance in Cobra Kai Season 3. He met up with Daniel in Okinawa and taught him about a whole different facet of Miyagi-Do karate. His return, as well as Kreese’s arrest, marks a turning point for the series. Up until Season 4, Cobra Kai has been following a structure that mirrored the franchise’s original films. Seasons 1 and 2 focused on Daniel’s rivalry with Johnny, with a little bit of Kreese thrown in, just like The Karate Kid. Season 3 saw Daniel returning to Okinawa, the place he visited with Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid Part II. Season 4, as previously mentioned, had The Karate Kid Part III’s big bad as its main villain.
The logical thing, considering the show’s adherence to the “Miyagiverse”, would be for Season 5 to feature Hilary Swank as The Next Karate Kid’s Julie Pierce. But, even though Ralph Macchio has suggested that Swank’s return might be in the show’s future plans, there is nothing indicating a Julie storyline in Season 5 so far. But who knows? We might be in for a surprise.
Cobra Kai Season 4 is streaming on Netflix.