Cobra Kai season three ended with a not so subtle tease. John Kreese, the returning sensei of the once again villainous Cobra Kai, looked at a photo from his days in Vietnam, picked up the phone, and called an old war buddy. With that, Karate Kid obsessives knew exactly who to expect in season four.
Terry Freaking Silver, that’s who. Though the plot has not been “confirmed,” [Update 5/27/21: It now has been. See below] when io9 asked executive producer Hayden Schlossberg about it, he was as clear as he could be without spoiling it.
“Let’s just put it this way,” Schlossberg told us. “We spend time giving Terry Silver a backstory in season three. You get to see the past Terry Silver. We treat all these characters from those original movies like they’re really important in the universe. And we don’t want to say anything official yet about season four right now but Kreese looks at a photo of young Terry Silver and he dials a number and makes a phone call. And you could imagine who’s on the other end.”
Yes, we can. That means it’s time to revisit 1989's obviously inferior, but still wildly fun, The Karate Kid Part III. In that film, John Kreese (Martin Kove) remains despondent from Daniel beating Johnny in the All Valley Karate Tournament and Miyagi embarrassing him in the parking lot afterward. In the following months, Cobra Kai stops getting new students, so Kreese decides to close up the dojo. He visits his old war buddy Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith)—who lives in a huge mansion—to hand over the keys. Turns out, Silver was the one who funded Cobra Kai for Kreese. He refuses to believe the journey is over and sends Kreese on vacation while he concocts an elaborate plan to bring back Cobra Kai and get revenge on Daniel and Mr. Miyagi in the process.
“They made you suffer, so I’m going to make them suffer and suffer and suffer,” Silver tells Kreese. “And when I think they’ve suffered enough, then I start with the pain.”
Unless you’ve rewatched Karate Kid Part III recently, it’s easy to forget how evil Terry Silver is. For example, do you remember how he made all his money? No? Oh, by illegally disposing of toxic waste. So even if the ‘80s ponytail and slicked-back hair already tipped you off, just know that Silver is a true creep. Way, way worse than Kreese or Johnny. He literally turns this “revenge” against a teenager and his elderly teacher into his full-time job, letting his subordinates (of which he has many) know the toxic waste stuff can wait until he’s done.
It’s notable that Silver offers to do all this for Kreese willingly. During the movie, Silver reiterates how much he owes him due to their time in Vietnam (Kreese says he saved Silver more times than he can count; we see a few in Cobra Kai season three), but Kreese never asks for help. So, when Kreese reaches out to call him on Cobra Kai, it’s more meaningful than it may seem on the surface.
Silver’s plan to get back at Daniel and Miyagi is insanely elaborate and, when you break down the chain of events needed for it to work, also impossible because it relies on information he couldn’t possibly have. I’m going to ignore that. When you boil it down, it’s basically this: Buy a ton of new Cobra Kai dojos, hire someone to defeat Daniel at the next tournament proving Cobra Kai’s superiority, and make the brand a success again while publicly embarrassing Daniel and Miyagi.
First, he buys 20 new locations for dojos. Next, he hires “karate’s bad boy” Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan) to harass, intimidate, and eventually defeat Daniel. Finally, he sets in motion a scheme that involves psychologically manipulating Daniel to break off training with Miyagi and train with him, all under the guise that Kreese is dead. Again, there’s much more to it but the ins and outs aren’t as important as they are just hilarious. Eventually the plan works, and Daniel leaves Miyagi to train with Silver whose training methods are savage—they hurt Daniel and turn him against everyone he loves.
It’s here we take a break to mention: this shouldn’t be news to Cobra Kai fans. In season two, Daniel mentions to his daughter, Sam, that he was once a member of Cobra Kai—it’s these scenes, under the tutelage of Terry Silver, that he’s referring to. (io9 talked to Ralph Macchio about that here.)
Eventually, after a ton of physical and mental torment from Barnes and Silver, it’s revealed that Kreese is alive and everything that’s happened has been a set-up to get Daniel to fight in the tournament, or else. “Either you fight one fight on one day, or you fight every day for the rest of your life,” Silver says. That forces Miyagi to train Daniel for the tournament because, once again, it’s about more than winning.
During the final match, Daniel gets his ass kicked. However, Barnes’ methods are so vicious that when Daniel finally beats him, all the momentum Silver and Kreese had to open the new Cobra Kai dojos is gone. The crowds boo them and throw back their free t-shirts in disgust. Daniel defeats not just Barnes and Cobra Kai, but Kreese again and, most importantly, the rich and evil Silver. Later, in season one of Cobra Kai, we learn the All Valley Tournament banned the Cobra Kai dojo for life after those events.
Whatever happened to Terry Silver after Karate Kid Part III has never been told. The most likely assumption is he put this little revenge scheme behind him and went back to work as a toxic waste billionaire. He probably even invested well during the tech boom and made even more money. Suffice to say, when Kreese calls him in Cobra Kai, there’s a very, very good chance he’s not only richer and more powerful than he was when we last saw him, he’s held a grudge for almost 40 years.
One of the things that makes Cobra Kai so great is the ways it chooses to interpret and mold the original Karate Kid films. For many fans, Part III is a joke. But by setting up and, likely, bringing back Silver, the show makes that film a crucial part of the story. In reality, everything that happens in Karate Kid Part III made the show possible. If Silver had merely bought the dojos for Kreese and not been so hellbent on revenge, Cobra Kai would have returned right then and there. If Mike Barnes, who was far superior at karate than Daniel, had just beat him straight up without trying to cheat, Cobra Kai would have been victorious and left Daniel and Miyagi in obscurity. But those things didn’t happen.
Daniel and Miyagi became bigger heroes after defeating Cobra Kai again, and that led to the lives Daniel, Kreese, and Johnny live today. It was Silver’s pride and vanity that ruined Cobra Kai for everyone, not Kreese’s treatment of Johnny. It was Silver all along. And, if Cobra Kai season three isn’t lying to us, he’s about to come back into the world of the Karate Kid once again.
If for some reason you aren’t convinced that Terry Silver is coming back for Cobra Kai in season four, think about this: season three has those flashbacks to Kreese as a young man in Vietnam. At the start of those flashbacks, we notice one of the soldiers looks like Terry Silver—his face is familiar but he also has the exact same haircut. However, a few episodes later that guy we assumed was Silver is killed. This is the writers going against expectations because we were sure that was Silver, and of course he couldn’t be killed. Fast forward to the end of the season and another man, one who is in the photo with Kreese along with the fake-Silver, tells him he owes him. This, of course, is the real Terry Silver.
Why the fake out? Why cast someone who looks like Terry Silver and give him the same haircut, only to kill him and trick the audience, subverting their expectations? Maybe because it’s important to remember Terry Silver.
Update 5/27/21, 12 p.m. EST: What we speculated about in January is true. Terry Silver is back. And here’s the proof. As a result we’ve made small changes to the headline, image and text to reflect this.
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