By all accounts, Netflix’s Cobra Kai sounds like a pretty awesome, if also utterly bonkers show. The follow up to the Karate Kid franchise dropped its fourth season on New Years Eve, continuing the adventures of Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Maccio), Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), and their martial arts proteges. After the end of last season saw the return of John Kreese and the Cobra Kai dojo, Daniel and Johnny decided that the only way to bring the old villain down was to team up and train their students together.
As with all team ups, though, the road from enemies to allies can be pretty bumpy. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly for a spoiler-heavy talk on season four, Macchio and Zabka talked about the arc of their relationship during the season. Danny and Johnny both agree that Kreese and Cobra Kai have got to go, but the method of how is their biggest source of conflict. Both actors felt it was important for their characters to clash over their martial arts approaches: Danny’s defensive Miyago-Do style vs. Johnny’s aggression-based Eagle Fang style. Zabka in particular believed it would’ve been “dishonest” if there wasn’t a clash at the start: “They’re both coming with their baggage, so of course, there’s gonna be landmines.”
That baggage can partially be owed to their respective children. Danny learns that his son Anthony (Griffin Santopietro) is a bully, and his daughter Sam (Mary Mouser) has been learning Eagle Fang from Johnny. Both are bitter pills to swallow, but Sam accepting his rival’s teachings may be the biggest, according to Macchio. He considered Danny “a caring parent if not a perfect parent,” and to see Johnny effectively replace him as a father has brewed some resentment. But Johnny also harbors similar feelings about Danny, who teaches Miyagi-Do to Miguel (Xolo Maridueña), a student Johnny loves like a son now that his actual son, Robby (Tanner Buchanan), is being taught by Kreese. At this point, the former bully’s trying his best to not lose yet another son, which manifests itself in some not great ways. “He overcorrects,” Zabka acknowledged, “He cherishes Miguel and he’s afraid of losing that bond.”
Despite their issues, both men soon realize they need to swap styles and see where the other person’s coming from. While filming the sequence where Johnny sands the deck, Zabka realized “ just how cool this was as an evolution of the character...It was really important that Johnny opened his heart up and sees that there is something to learn here.” He found it just as important for himself, as he realized the scene showed how far Johnny’s come since Miyagi saved his life in Karate Kid II.
However, that peace between the two is short lived. In episode five, the two fighters face off to decide whose method will be taught to their students. Excited as the two were to read the script, they were surprised to see that the fight would conclude with a draw. Anticlimactic, maybe, but co-showrunner Josh Heald explained how the tie had to happen. Both Danny and Johnny are both so “passionate” about who has the better karate, but show’s philosophy is about ”exploring [how] it’s not better, it’s just different. It goes to that theme over and over again....after they’ve come so far with their exploration of each other’s karate, and with their own interpretation of their masters’ karate — it would have felt inauthentic.”
During the climactic All Valley Championship, it’s Danny who realizes that their students can become better fighters by learning more styles. With that, he makes the surprising move to apologize to Johnny, and even gives their partnership the new name of “Miyagi-Fang.” Macchio openly admitted that he needed to be sold on the scene and wanted it cut, but Heald made a strong case for keeping it in. Now sold, Macchio decided to be true to Danny and make it sound weird in the moment. “It’s almost like I have trouble saying [’Miyagi-Fang’] out loud,” he said, “and then I tag it with ‘just for today.’”
As for Zabka? He loved it, and found it “a moment of surrender and growth” for Johnny. “I think he’s come to accept that he’s a work in progress...To acknowledge that you’re wrong is probably one of the hardest things to do as a person, especially when you’re so set in your ways.” But how will things shake out for both men now that they’re finally friends? That will have to wait until season five.
Cobra Kai is out now on Netflix.
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