Spoilers ahead for Cobra Kai seasons 1-3

Cobra Kai (2018-present) returned for its third season at the start of 2021, a week before its previously announced release date, much to the excitement of fans, who were given season three’s first trailer at the beginning of December. 

Season three of Cobra Kai picks up two weeks after the season two finale, with West Valley High School still reeling from the aftermath of the Miyagi-Do/Cobra Kai brawl that ultimately resulted in Robby (Tanner Buchanon) kicking Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) off of a stairwell and sending him into a coma. Robby is on the run from his assault charges, with neither Daniel (Ralph Macchio) nor Johnny (William Zabka) having heard from him since. The two join forces for a much awaited “buddy cop” style team up in their search for Robby. Their entertaining team-up ends up being short-lived and the two part ways.

Cobra Kai’s third season delivers more drama and nostalgia to fans, who have been eagerly awaiting the show’s first season since its move to Netflix. The inclusion of Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita) and Chozen (Yuji Okumoto) was a welcome throwback to the second movie in the Karate Kid trilogy, which featured some of Mr. Miyagi and Daniel’s strongest moments. Daniel’s business brings him to Tokyo, but after a failed business dealing with Doyona International, he makes his way to Okinawa, the home of his mentor and the place where the events of the Karate Kid Part II (1986) take place. Some of the most heartfelt moments of the season involve Daniel and Kumiko, particularly when she reads Daniel some of Mr. Miyagi’s letters he wrote to her Aunt Yukie.

Kumiko surprises Daniel by having him meet with Chozen, his rival from The Karate Kid Part II. Their meeting is hilariously awkward, especially after Kumiko makes an excuse to leave and Chozen brings Daniel to his dojo, which contains Miyagi relics and heirlooms. While Daniel does refer to himself and Chozen as “karate cousins,” Chozen is right to stop Daniel from taking the scroll which contains the secrets of his signature crane kick. Daniel isn’t the only student of Miyagi-Do, and Chozen reminds him of this through their sparring sessions, especially when he uses a Miyagi-Do technique unknown to Daniel, which renders his limbs useless and allows Chozen to recreate the “honk” from The Karate Kid Part II.  

While it’s great to see Kumiko and Chozen return, it feels odd that neither of them had families of their own, as if that part of their lives was stuck in 1985, with the original encounter with Daniel. Before he leaves Okinawa to return to LA, Kumiko has Daniel meet with Yuna (Traci Toguchi), the young girl Daniel saved in The Karate Kid Part II. In a convenient deus ex machina moment, Yuna is Vice President of Sales for Doyana International, and she helps secure him the deal that ultimately saves LaRusso Auto Group. 

While Daniel returns to LA with great news about the family business, he finds that in his absence, things have escalated with Kreese (Martin Kove) and Cobra Kai. The Cobra Kai and Miyagi-Do students get into a fight at Golf n’ Stuff, resulting in Hawk (Jacob Bertrand) breaking Demitri’s (Gianni DeCenzo) arm and Sam (Mary Mouser) having a panic attack. Amanda (Courtney Henggler) also confronted Kreese on her own, smacking him across the face, which results in him filing a restraining order against her. As Robby struggles in juvie, feeling betrayed and abandoned by the adults in his life, Miguel struggles with regaining his ability to walk, but is ultimately able to through Johnny’s unorthodox methods. As Miguel abandons Cobra Kai under Kreese for Johnny’s new dojo, Eagle Fang, he and Sam rekindle their relationship, much to the dismay of Tory (Peyton List) and Robby, who still have feelings for Miguel and Sam respectively.

Kreese takes advantage of Tory’s and Robby’s situations and feelings of abandonment, giving them the stability and positive reinforcement they desire. They’re able to look away from Kreese’s more questionable actions because of their increasing loyalty to him. The same, however, can’t be said about Hawk, who after embracing Kreese’s Cobra Kai, becomes disillusioned as Kreese kicks out his friends and he finds himself fighting them at a bizarre Christmas party brawl in the LaRusso house. 

Alt text: Robby (Tanner Buchanon) confronting Johnny (William Zabka) and Daniel (Ralph Macchio) as he is released from juvie.] 

The season ends with the return of Ali Mills (Elizabeth Shue), and Daniel and Johnny are able to get closure with her and in a way, with each other. Johnny finds out about the brawl between the Cobra Kai kids and the Miyagi-Do and Eagle Fang kids and confronts Kreese. Robby decides to defend Kreese, and while attacking Johnny, Johnny knocks out Robby, further cementing Robby’s disdain for his father, who wasn’t there for him through the season and most of his life. As Kreese is about to supposedly kill Johnny, Daniel arrives, seemingly intent on killing Kreese himself until Robby stops him. The three men agree to settle things through the nearly cancelled All-Valley Tournament, and while Kreese makes a phone call to whom fans are hoping is Karate Kid Part III antagonist Terry Silver, Johnny and Daniel combine dojos and begin teaching karate together.

Johnny’s relationship with Miguel is one of the most heartfelt of the series, it also shows that Johnny is capable of being a caring and involved father, but not consistently for Robby. He misses a chance at visitation with Robby in juvie to be with Miguel in the hospital. He then clumsily tries to make amends while Robby is working community service at a soup kitchen. This only causes Robby to resent him further and draw him to Kreese, who gives Robby the sense of acceptance he wants, especially while his mom is in rehab and he feels betrayed by Daniel, who turned him in to the police. Perhaps seeing Robby emotionally dependent on Kreese, a position Johnny was in during the first movie, will be the motivation Johnny needs to step up as Robby’s father.

While season three raised the stakes for the series and brought viewers more character development and nostalgia, Aisha’s (Nichole Brown) absence was definitely felt in this season. As Sam’s best friend and arguably the most level-headed Cobra Kai student, Aisha often acted as the bridge between Cobra Kai and Miyagi-Do. It’s obvious that some of the conflicts between the dojos throughout season three wouldn’t have happened if Aisha were there to talk sense into everyone. She was written out in an off-hand line about how her parents wanted to send her to a private school after the fight at the end of season two and not mentioned much again the rest of the season. Hopefully she will make a return in season four, as she played an important role in the first two seasons of the show.

Season three did spend some time developing various characters. Kreese’s backstory as a soldier in Vietnam and his friendship with Terry Silver being interspersed throughout the season brought an interesting perspective to his character. The showrunners may not have done this to garner sympathy, but instead shed insight into Kreese’s motivations and show how he became the ruthless, blood-thirsty karate sensei behind Cobra Kai’s mantra: “Strike first, strike hard, no mercy.” Sam’s trauma from the school fight comes to a head as she deals with anxiety and panic attacks, feeling helpless, especially when dealing with Tory, whose determination to seriously harm Sam nearly comes to fruition by the end of the season. On the other hand, Tory becomes the sole provider for her family as her mom’s illness becomes worse. After Kreese saves her from harassment and extortion from her landlord, her loyalty to him only becomes more intense. 

Cobra Kai’s fourth season is set to be even more of a powder keg than ever before, with the show’s conflicts only escalating with the season three finale. 

I am a graduate of UNC Charlotte with a passion for writing, movies and social issues. Feel free to contact me at nicolesanacore@gmail.com or on Twitter @nicolesanacore