One day Cobra Kai is going to stop being so good that we’ll have to stop using the following joke. But that day is not today. Season five is now on Netflix and the Karate Kid sequel show remains the best...around! Nothing’s ever gonna keep it down!
Truly, Cobra Kai season five is like the culmination of everything Cobra Kai has been about. The young characters are finally coming into their own, while the older characters are dealing with the past in ways they never thought possible. Case in point, after teaming up with Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) last year, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) now must also recruit his old rival Chozen (Yuji Okumoto) to help bring down the ultimate bad guy, Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffin) who is so bad, he even framed his best friend, John Kreese (Martin Kove).
Yup, Cobra Kai season five is a lot and once you’ve finished the season, you are definitely going to want to read io9's interview with its creators and producers, Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald. We talked about the epic, unforgettable season five finale, how and why all the surprise cameos came to be, what some of the big teases might mean for season six, and, much much more (which, yes, includes that surprise Ferris Bueller spinoff). Check it out but, beware, massive spoilers abound.
Germain Lussier, io9: I love this season so much. It’s so great. Especially because I got to see Johnny, Chozen, and Mike fight together with Daniel. I was like, “Oh my God, this is everything a Karate Kid fan has ever dreamed of.” It’s Karate Kid: Endgame. Was bringing all those characters together the dream at the beginning? Or did you ever even think that could become a reality?
Jon Hurwitz: We are always hoping for these kinds of team-ups. The idea of having Daniel’s nemesis from Karate Kid one, Karate Kid two, and Karate Kid three, all sharing screen time together is something that we’ve been looking forward to. One of our favorite scenes of the season is the very beginning of the finale where you have all these guys and Daniel, who have all been wronged by Terry Silver, and all understand the stakes of what’s going on. They’re drunk and they’re not in their right headspace. And for Daniel to sort of still try to be the voice of reason, but these three villains of his past are not hearing it and they go off and leave them in the middle of nowhere and they’re ready to go take on Terry Silver in a really, you know, ill-advised kind of way, was something that we thought was wild and surprising and fun. And just throughout the season, as we had the various characters sharing screen time together, whether it’s Johnny and Chozen as a duo showing up at a dojo and picking a fight with a sensei, or the two of them sort of talking about Daniel without Daniel around and obviously Chozen and Barnes and all these different combinations, it was really like we got all of our toys, all of our action figures and were like, “We’re bringing them all out right now. Let’s just go have some fun and play.” And that’s what the season was in a nutshell.
io9: It was so great it really could have been a series finale. I mean, obviously, this season teases other places season six can go and we’ll get to that but if, six years ago, you said “It’s going to end with all those guys together,” I would’ve been like, “Oh, my God, perfect.” I know you’ve said you have an idea of where it’s going to end, but was this kind of ultimate showdown ever considered for a series finale?
Josh Heald: That [idea] was never, never considered to be the series finale. We certainly felt there were story things happening here that...will have series finale vibes about it, but we also know where we’re going and this is all a prelude to an eventual climax. But yeah, it’s hard not to be in those moments on set or in the script even, and, and feel, “Okay. This is Avengers. It’s reached that Endgame moment where you have all these people coming onto the battlefield to fight this singular villain.” But there’s another villain out there and, you know, and he did just escape from prison with nothing to lose and with vengeance on his mind. And that’s the fun. You have 95% of our characters living in this world where evil has been destroyed. But that one chess piece can come back and can easily decimate that whole board. So there’s lots of fun to come.
io9: Yeah. I want to go back to Mr. Kreese in a second here, but you mentioned bringing in new toys, so I have to ask about Sean Kanan and Robin Lively. Talk to me about the decisions to bring back their characters from Karate Kid III, Mike Barnes and Jessica Andrews, and how they each fit into this story?
Hayden Schlossberg: We just go where the story takes us. When we bring characters from the original movies, we try to give them purpose and not just be like, “Hey, remember this person” and that’s it. And that’s the magic of the show. You have these characters come in and they serve a function in this modern-day story. So it’s bringing back nostalgic vibes while engrossing you in a serialized story.
So, Mike Barnes, it just made sense to bring him in this season as soon as Terry Silver is now in charge of expanding and he’s going to be looking for senseis. Every fan of the original movies would be like, “Well, is he going to seek out Barnes? What’s happening here?” Barnes is going to be on the mind of the audience. And we figured it would be on the mind of Daniel, too. So it would make sense organically to bring him in. And then you go into like, “Well, where is he now?” And with all the characters on the show, we play with their relationship to the past and how they’ve adjusted from past incidents, and everybody does things in a different way. And we explore that through the different characters. And we like the idea that Mike, unlike some people, kind of found his path and kind of moved on in a way that the other characters hadn’t. But gets sucked into this story.
With Robin Lively, that was something where, Amanda needed somebody to tell her what Daniel actually went through. And we’ve been talking for years about like, “How did Daniel and Amanda meet?” We didn’t really explain that on the show. And we loved the idea that Jessica and she are cousins. And it makes sense that she came out to L.A. and Jessica would be like, “Oh, there’s a guy you should meet him. He’s a good guy.” Because Jessica and Daniel were not boyfriend/girlfriend in that movie. So it just all kind of made sense. And when things happen organically like that and they’re giving you stuff and telling the story, that’s when we get really excited. And there’s more to come with that. It’s just everything has to be laid out in the right way.
io9: Oh wow, very interesting. Okay. Another surprising moment for a couple of reasons is when Kreese is going through therapy and we get the young CGI Johnny Lawrence, kind of like Luke Skywalker on The Mandalorian. It had to be expensive so I’m curious why the choice and what did Netflix have to say about it?
Hurwitz: I can’t tell you how expensive it was or not, but I will say that when we came up with that sequence, we wanted Kreese to face his past and his present. And the idea of him seeing a young Johnny, the Johnny that we knew from Karate Kid and to do a deepfake was something that excited us in the writer’s room. So we looked into it. I don’t think it broke our bank, but it was one of the things there was a lot of back and forth on like “How can we make it look better and better and better?” And there were a lot of drafts of that when it comes down to it. But we love the result and we think we have a few scenes this season - whether it was that scene or Samantha LaRusso fighting herself - scenes that were different types of filmmaking exploration that we haven’t had on the show in the past that we thought were fun additions for this year.
io9: Yes, absolutely. Now, Josh, you talked about Kreese a little bit. The assumption is he’s going to be a bad guy next year, and you kind of confirmed that, but I found it interesting that the moment he escapes prison is also the moment he’s exonerated. Terry Silver has been arrested. So will that be a factor moving ahead or is it just a coincidence?
Heald: Everything’s always a factor in this show. We rarely leave hanging chads. We haven’t really had our full Sopranos, Pine Barrens moment yet where [people say] “Why haven’t they done anything with that big hanging thing?” So, it’s not really an accident [but] Kreese clearly has committed multiple crimes by virtue of what he did to leave prison. So, even if there’s an exoneration, he’s still in big, big trouble and that makes him a dangerous, dangerous creature.
And, it’s a different Kreese. Every version of Kreese we’ve seen until now still held out some sort of love for Johnny. Some sort of hope that Johnny would come back into the fold. And Johnny really has delivered a message in no uncertain terms in season five where he and Kreese stand and that devastation is real. Everything that Kreese is doing to manipulate his escape, there is some truth behind it. When he’s tearfully talking about how he thinks of Johnny as a son and he feels thrown away and unloved and rejected, and that being the ultimate pain? That’s something he’s living with. And what does Kreese do with pain? Well, we’ve seen him deal with it before back in Vietnam. We’ve seen him deal with it for 40 years. So it’s going to be interesting to see where we go from here.
io9: If you don’t leave anything hanging, this season would be the perfect place to leave Terry Silver. Is this the end of Terry Silver or should we just wait and see?
Schlossberg: It’s left where his lawyers are going to be caught up with lots of legal trouble so we’ll see. I would say right now he’s a chess piece that’s been taken off the board in the karate wars. And yet, he does have the money for a good attorney. So we’ll see how things unfold in the future. But it’s unfortunate to me because I love Terry Silver and I’m rooting for his success. And in some ways, season five is a dream season because he gets to really be in charge and be on top of the mountain. And so he’s taken down at the end and it’s very entertaining, and I love it, but he’s still alive. He’s still rich. And who knows if he has more to say.
io9: Okay. Fair enough. Another thing you probably can’t speak to too much is this season, you spend a lot of time setting up this mega international karate tournament. Is it safe to assume that’s going to be a big part of season six and, if so, could this be the ultimate tournament ending where the show finally earns the right to use the song “You’re the Best (Around)?”
Hurwitz: Well, you’ve asked a lot there. All we can say is that we didn’t introduce the idea of this tournament for no reason. Johnny, Daniel and Chozen and their students have gained entry into this tournament and Cobra Kai has gained entry, whatever that means. So we know that the tournament is looming. I think just looking forward in general, like our kids are getting older. They’re going to be on the path of eventually graduating high school and going out into the world. So we’ll see how this tournament will impact that experience. And we’ll see where we go from there.
As for “You’re the Best (Around),” we’ll see if it shows up on the show at all. It’s a really important song in this universe. It’s something that we used on the legacy trailer when we moved the show to Netflix in a really cool way. And if we’re going to use it on the show, we want it to be impactful and meaningful and give all those goosebumps that you’d want.
Schlossberg: It could just be that the characters go [to the tournament] and just watch it, and it’s a fun thing. So who knows if it’ll pay off. We’ll see.
io9: You guys are very good at making unconventional, good choices but I don’t think that would qualify. [All laughs] Okay, by the end of season 5, most of the characters are on the same page. Cobra Kai, we’re a little up in the air about what they’re doing, but it feels like most of the adults and the kids are kind of on the same team at the end. So which characters do you feel still have the most learning to do as the show moves ahead?
Heald: That’s a great question. I think we’ve left our characters in a place where they still all have plenty of learning to do. I mean, they’ve had kind of one episode where so many of them have either come together or had their eyes open for the first time. But there is plenty of aftermath to explore. A character like Kenny, for example, has been through so much in the past two seasons in terms of moving to town and starting a new school and getting bullied and then finding strength and then becoming a bully and going all in. And now seeing that his emperor has no clothes and realizing, “Oh, my God, I’ve been following this false prophet” and what’s real and what’s not. And I don’t think it’s a light switch and I think we allude to that at the end of season five when Robby tries to talk with him and he’s not ready yet.
So I think that’s one example of one relationship that has a lot of meat on the bone in terms of what happens after something that has generally worked for you is revealed to be bad and you look yourself in the eye and see, “Wait a minute. Am I the bad guy?” And it’s similar to what Johnny went through at the end of season one when he’s looking at the first-place trophy that Miguel won and thinking, “Why don’t I feel great about this?” And I think we love that kind of conflict, whether it’s a love triangle, whether it’s two karate styles trying to find common ground, whether it’s fighting in an international tournament and trying to defeat your final demons, whether it’s dealing with a madman on the loose. I think there are so many branches of this tree that are left to climb on and we want to climb them all.
io9: One branch I’m glad you didn’t chop off, but I thought you were going to is, I thought Chozen was dead. I thought Terry was going to kill him. I’m glad he’s didn’t but was that ever a thought? Like, “Oh, should we really raise the stakes here and kill a main character like that?”
Schlossberg: We just knew that we were going to have this sword-on-sword fight and that we would earn it by episode 50 and it would be crazy and it’d be really fun. And when you bring swords into a fight, they have to connect. Otherwise, it’s not a good fight. So you do think about the consequences of it. And you want to have your cake and eat it too, sometimes. I’m a huge Terry fan and I want Terry to win. But I also am a huge Miyagi fan and Chozen represents Miyagi. So you want them both to win in a certain way. And that’s what I feel like coming out of it. Chozen was taken down, like cut up, and then finally was able to up end Terry and get him into a place where he kind of won the fight, but he gets distracted and Terry’s able to take advantage of that in classic Cobra Kai way and wins in his own way. And so you get both vibes. Then it’s like “Did Chozen die?” and you have the choice there of doing that. And I think we just have more story to tell with these characters.
In some ways, just in terms of storytelling, the threat of death is the visceral feeling that you really want to get in these scenes. When a character dies, it’s kind of sad afterwards. You’re like, “Am I never going to see that character again? “So we want the audience to feel all the emotions and go through a roller coaster and at the end, still get to play with our action figures.
io9: Right, exactly. Wrapping things up, now that you’ve brought back so many characters - we even got Young Sato this season which was awesome - minus the obvious one that everyone asks you about, Hilary Swank, do you guys still have surprises left in store for fans who are like super obsessed with Karate Kid minutia like me?
Hurwitz: I’d say absolutely. I’d say that we think about all the characters that are in this world and we enjoy all of the characters in the world. As we think about it, it always starts from a place of the present-day story of what’s going on. And while we haven’t written a sixth season yet, we’ve certainly had some discussions as to the kinds of things we want to do there and the kinds of characters that may make sense to show up in a logical way. So, can’t make any specific promises but our thought is that as we move forward, there may be, you know, some other familiar faces from the past that pop-up.
io9: Awesome. And real quick, last thing, this Ferris Bueller spinoff. It kind of came out of nowhere and the news went everywhere. It sounds a little like Cobra Kai where you take something very popular and give it a nice new spin. Can you tell me a little bit about where the idea came from and what people can expect?
Heald: I can say this idea will not try to challenge anybody’s opinion or feeling about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. We love Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which is why we’re stepping into this world. But we are also obsessed with side characters and journeys that happen off-screen. And the second that you scratch the itch of “What did those guys do with the car?” It leads to a whole other bunch of questions. Who are they? What’s important in their lives? What’s their day like? Where do they go? Was it a different part of Chicago that we didn’t explore? And it’s such a special day, in terms of what that beautiful day was in Chicago. The overlap of that world alone is enough to get our creative juices going. And we’re super thrilled to be collaborating with Bill Posley on it, who’s one of our Cobra Kai writers, and he has such a great take on it that we don’t want to spoil and we’re going to let him do his thing in the script phase for now. But that’s one that we’re super excited to go make.
Cobra Kai season 5 is now on Netflix.
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