Season three of Cobra Kai is the show’s most confident, nostalgic, and entertaining season yet. The hit Netflix show based in the world of The Karate Kid once again builds on the relationships and characters we know and love from the previous seasons, as well as the movies, but this year it’s much more focused, raising the stakes for everyone involved.
Season two of Cobra Kai ended in a bad place for our characters. Miguel Diaz (Xolo Maridueña) had been brutally injured in a brawl between his dojo, Cobra Kai, and their rivals at Miyagi-Do. His sensei Johnny Lawrence’s (William Zabka) son Robbie (Tanner Buchanan) was the one primarily responsible thanks in part to a love triangle between the boys and Sam (Mary Mouser), the daughter, and Robbie’s sensei Miyagi-Do leader, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio).
Season three picks up in the aftermath of that incident and stays there the whole way. From the first episode to the last and beyond, how the community reacts to Miguel’s injury and the in-school violence drives the story and that laser focus gives the show time to breathe. With less of a demand on chunks of plot, the characters are challenged more. Almost everyone, to varying degrees, is forced to come to terms with who they are, what they want, and how they can change.
Principal among that is the show’s stars, Johnny and Daniel, whom many members of the community blame for the entire incident. They think ifit wasn’t for Johnny and Daniel reigniting the popularity of karate into the area, all the kids would’ve been okay. Johnny’s guilt and turmoil takes him to the bottom of the bottle, as well as an uncomfortable but funny foray into social media. Daniel’s reaction puts his entire business at jeopardy, forcing him to reassess his life priorities, not to mention, the relationships with each of the men and their kids are not good, to say the least. Both Zabka and Macchio are up to the challenge of bringing these increasingly complex characters to life and make us see the good and bad in both of them.
The other spoke in the wheel that drives season three is John Kreese, played by Martin Kove. With Johnny abandoning Cobra Kai after Miguel’s injury, Kreese steps in and starts to bring the dojo back to the “No Mercy” glory of the ‘80s. As that happens, the show also explores more of his character through flashbacks to his time in Vietnam, which ends up being some of the most powerful and revealing content in the entire season.
While one of the strongest throughlines in the first two seasons of Cobra Kai was how the kids and adults shared equally important stories, here that changes. The adults dictate most of what happens and, in comparison, the kids wind up getting short-changed. Miguel, Sam, and Robbie are always part of the main action but are very rarely driving it, so they don’t evolve as much as their adult counterparts. As for their Cobra Kai and Miyagi-Do counterparts like Hawk (Jacob Bertrand) and Demetri (Gianni Decenzo), they and the rest of the kids spend most of the season in an almost unbelievable, escalating, dojo on dojo rivalry that gets so evil and violent it feels out of place in the usually grounded show. The mishandling of the supporting characters is the biggest knock against the season. Luckily, the young actors are all so charming, they are able to make the most of what they have.
That aside, Cobra Kai season three has some of the best references to the original movies we’ve seen from the series so far. The trailer already revealed that Daniel’s story takes him to Mr. Miyagi’s home country of Okinawa where he meets Karate Kid Part II characters Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita, aka Star Trek: Picard’s Commodore Oh) and Chozen (Yuji Okumoto). I won’t spoil how they play into the arc of the season, but it’s very special. There’s plenty more where that comes from too but to discuss it would ruin some of the best moments: Let’s just say fans will be cheering with joy.
It’s hard to review a full ten episodes of a show without giving much away but in the end, the takeaway is this: After two seasons of great television we expect Cobra Kai to be good. Being “good” isn’t enough. It has to get better and better and season three does that. Sure, there are a few stumbles this season—such as the adults hogging the spotlight—but the entirety of the story is so enriching and entertaining, it still works toward bettering the whole. It was smart to focus the season in a new way and as a result, by the end, there’s plenty of more story to be told.
Thankfully, season four is already in the works so we won’t have to wait almost two years again to see what’s in store for karate in the San Fernando Valley.
For more, make sure you’re following us on our Instagram @io9dotcom.