Cobra Kai season 3 review: a comeback worthy of the Karate Kid
Cobra Kai season 3 is a martial arts daytime drama born of the 1980s teenage exploitation category, and deals with those particular terms. The series began with a love-note very first season that was pure feel-good magic. The brand-new season, the very first to debut specifically on Netflix, savor a brand-new (old) set of tropes. Along with the grownups’ dereliction, the kids’ impossibly advanced lives, the social caste antagonisms, and Romeo-and-Juliet styles, you likewise get a rockin’ cameo from hair-metal artifact Dee Snider, and the requisite trashing of an estate while mother and father are away. Cobra Kai season 3 is no status drama — and if it were, it’d be a lot less enjoyable.
So, let’s proceed and attend to the is-it-better/worse concerns: No, Season 3 is not as great as Season 1. Yes, it is a lot much better than Season 2. The fond memories might not be as natural as that very first year, however Season 1 wasn’t taking on the very same sort of story weight that these 10 half-hour episodes need to carry around and deal with.
And Season 2 was absolutely nothing however unsolved dispute — Cobra Kai vs. Miyagi-do; Johnny vs. his old sensei, Kreese; a love quadrangle including Robbie, Samantha, Miguel, and Tory. That plus the cliffhanger — Miguel comatose after an all-hands brawl in between the dojos — left a great deal of damaged glass on the flooring. Yet for those hoping this 3rd act would be an ending sweeping all of it up, Cobra Kai once again ends with a pledge for more (and Netflix bought a 4th season back in October, so it’ll really take place).
Crucially, though, all major characters come across better, more engaging, and more of who I wanted them to be all along. The best of the comeback players are Demitri (Gianni Dacenzo) and Hawk (Jacob Bertrand), whose rivalry now has some real heft. It was a distraction in season 2, undermined by Demitri’s egg-headed, unsympathetic whining. But Dacenzo gets a lot more to work with, and a lot more for the viewer to root for in the writing for his character, while Bertrand shines in an unexpectedly pivotal role as the nerd berserker.
Xolo Mariduena also delivers a superb picture of Miguel, who awakens from his coma but remains paralyzed below the waist. Deprived of the gawky teen physicality that made his fight scenes such a joy, Mariduena goes deep with his emotion, angry at and forgiving of Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) in such an authentic way it makes both characters better. Their chemistry and affection, which shone in season 1 and went AWOL in year 2, blooms once again, especially in the sequence where Miguel coaches Johnny on how to look good on social media.
Kreese (Martin Kove) drove the two apart in retaking the Cobra Kai dojo from Johnny last year, despite scenes in which he was more a pathetic old man than a twisted sociopath living vicariously through teenagers. But good old, fun, asshole Kreese returns and even gets an origin story befitting a Batman villain. That said, while Cobra Kai operates as comic book entertainment, Kreese leaving a slithering calling card in one of Daniel’s showroom automobiles might have been a bit much.
Daniel-san (Ralph Macchio) doesn’t have many emotional journeys left to make, so head writers Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg send him on a trip to Japan, giving Cobra Kai a chance to lasso a few original Karate Kid actors who have yet to appear. In the writers’ defense, though, Daniel at least has a plausible reason to jet across the Pacific while everything is falling apart in the San Fernando Valley. A side mission to Okinawa is a little too serendipitous, but while there he reconnects with Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita) and a still-seething Chozen (a still-buff Yuji Okumoto), who is looking for a specific kind of payback after 35 years. Nothing, canonically, demanded a reunion with either character, or this location, but the story commits to them and allows them to drive events forward, in their own way.
Cobra Kai season 3 is overall a fast-paced show, which means some of its slower portions seem to drag or linger by comparison. In particular, the character arc for Robbie Keene (Tanner Buchanan) is left unfulfilled, even as the viewer gets the sense the story is now funneling toward him as the hero who has earned a righteous heel turn. This is partially because, like Miguel, Robbie is confined for most of the season, albeit to juvenile detention for his role in season 2’s climactic throwdown. At least that means a good prison fight or two for Robbie, but with so much of Cobra Kai’s emotional budget spent on the characters not behind bars, little is left for him to do except rage at all the father figures who have failed him.
While the fight choreography is as strong as ever — including a couple of sweet team-up moves bookending the season — the better conflicts are the ones inside, particularly with Mary Mouser’s Samantha LaRusso. The arc of Sam’s own paralytic trauma (Tory gaffed her with some kind of claw in the school melee) sets up a lesson from Mr. Miyagi, drawn from what looks like a deleted scene from The Karate Kid. It also brings some weapons (Sam’s bo staff vs. Tory’s nunchaku) into the show’s satisfying martial arts repertoire.
Heading into Cobra Kai season 3, I worried that the mess made in season 2 was setting us up for a serviceable mop up, and little more. I was especially troubled by the teases for Daniel’s Japan visit, thinking we would be getting more nostalgia sizzle than narrative steak. But season 3 still has plenty of substance; it got me to care again, about what has happened and what will take place to these people, rather than regret the previous 10 episodes as a tale that didn’t need telling. That’s a hell of a good resurgence, however then, we anticipate no less of The Karate Kid.
Cobra Kai season 3 starts streaming on Netflix on Jan. 1.
Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.