Cobra Kai at its heart is a show about family, love, and doing the right thing. It is hard to see this at times, because the true message is buried underneath 80’s tropes, cliche’ fandom callbacks, and musical montages. The reason it works so well, is because, unlike the endless seas of soulless nostalgic cash ins, Cobra Kai actually has something to say. Yes, it is a world that ignores the realities of public brawling and brutal violence. But the entire concept is steeped in the idea underneath that veneer of our childhood favorites, there are true lessons to be learned and kernels of wisdom that govern how we act as adults in the modern age. The latest season of Cobra Kai is a miracle. It is not only the strongest season thus far, it is a remarkable meditation of the meaning of vengeance, the power of friends and family, and the absolute undeniable importance of honor and respect.
Terry Silver and his reimagined legion of Cobra Kais dominate the valley. Is all truly lost as Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence hang up their six-kickers forever? This is the essence of the season. Legacy no longer matters. Old grudges are put (thankfully) to the side as the lines are drawn between the old regime of loveable misfits and the corporate monstrosity of Silver and his subordinates.
Thomas Ian Griffith does an outstanding job as Silver. His villain is almost justified in his crusade. While there is no empathy to be found, Griffith is perfectly restrained, coiled evil in motion. Leadership style and the notion of command and control has always been a staple of this show, but Griffith’s Silver is the antithesis of even Johnny on his worst day. The evil, absolutely appalling implications of his intent are echoed in our reality as villains continue to scramble for relevance and agency in American politics.
Yuji Okumoto steals the limelight as Chozen, Daniel’s former rival turned confidant. His scenes, particularly with the students are the heart’s blood of this season, as his warmness becomes infectious, tempered only by the absolute promise of violence should anyone transgress against his newfound family. He becomes the perfect triumvirate with Macchio and Zabka, and their Musketeers are righteous in their crusade to set the past right.
Beyond the central three, the rest of the cast brings the expected notes, with Martin Kove’s Kreese having one of the more predictable, but none the less enthralling side plotlines. Several other characters from the films return, melding with the principles in an organic way which has become the fabric of the show. The best part, however, is in how the past expectations are upended and the endgame begins to come into sight. How long can karate warriors battle for supremacy in the valley, a land where police are almost nonexistent and martial arts legends roam the strip malls and night clubs? There is a subtle nod to Tarantino with the introduction of new Sensei’s from the East, while the American born conflict mimics the fractured state of 2022.
The end result is an engrossing chapter in an already outstanding saga. Now streaming on Netflix, Cobra Kai season five is a wonderful journey, filled with heartbreak, love, and forgiveness. While the 80’s tropes are inescapable, they are not a crutch like other fandom returns, they are accoutrements that both pay respect to the past but also play second fiddle to the inescapable realities of the present, and the yield is an unforgettable journey.