Reel Thoughts: ‘Cobra Kai’ delivers another season of intense fight scenes and over-the-top dramatics

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Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

Season five of “Cobra Kai” was released Sept. 9.

This article contains spoilers.

With a fake death turned prison escape, a katana-swinging sensei and more violence than ever before, the fifth season of “Cobra Kai” stays true to its origins, even in its darker moments. 

The Emmy-nominated series has found a rich niche in the melodramatic. In the world of “Cobra Kai,” karate in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles is the equivalent of football in Texas. The show takes off without looking back, blending comedy and drama like nothing else on television.

This season leans into its own ridiculousness by honing in on the fight scenes, conflict and shifting alliances that — while unrealistic at times — are what makes the show so fun to watch. 

With a karate-obsessed dynamic so intense characters are willing to do just about anything to belong to the Cobra Kai dojo, this series elevates its episodic tension with grounded pacing that escalates throughout the season and doesn’t falter. 

Season five of “Cobra Kai” sees Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffin) at the helm of Cobra Kai after framing mentor and friend John Kreese (Martin Kove) for assault and attempted murder. Kreese spends time in jail facing his own demons, revealing a vulnerability to Kove’s classic villain that frames an effective character study. The show uses this storyline to explore Kreese’s past relationships and the Vietnam war veteran-turned-sensei’s underlying motivations.

Meanwhile, Silver reprises his role as the series’ best calibrated yet consistently unpredictable antagonist, using his severe teaching methods to brainwash a legion of unsuspecting students into vicious Cobra Kais.

The rising conflict between dojos is familiar territory for the show, but an antagonist employing psychological warfare and planning to globally expand the problematic dojo is what makes season five of “Cobra Kai” different from its predecessors. 

The rising stakes are matched by increasingly intense fight scenes and a version of Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) that looks, for the first time, defeated. That is, until his family, students and friends join forces, leading to a mid-season reunion of the fan-favorite bromance between LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence (Billy Zabka).

The show has brought back a panoply of recurring characters, earning nostalgia points by tapping into intriguing villains and redemptive arcs from all three of the original Karate Kid films. The principal antagonists from each of the original three films, Lawrence, Chozen Toguchi (Yuji Okumoto), and Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan) team up with LaRusso to help take down Silver in the season finale.

One of the most refreshing aspects of this season is the return of Toguchi, whose mix of comedic timing and fighting expertise serve as a microcosm for everything that makes “Cobra Kai,” well, “Cobra Kai.”

Toguchi’s undying loyalty to LaRusso is a welcome change to the duo’s spear fighting duels from 30 years prior, with the former now willing to go so far as to break into Silver’s home, wielding a pair of sais and a not-so-sober state of mind.

This season also builds off season four’s arcs for Johnny and Robby (Tanner Buchanan) with more nuanced moments of love and forgiveness between the father and son. Soon-to-be Blue Beetle Xolo Maridueña delivers another heartfelt and mature performance as perhaps the series’ best actor in the role of Miguel Diaz. Peyton List’s Tory Nichols contemplates her own morality as the show’s writer’s room continues to develop her journey from a broken teenager on probation to someone willing to turn down the promise of fortune to fight for what’s right. 

Even with a few unfulfilled narratives, such as the resolution of Miguel’s decision to find his father in just two episodes, “Cobra Kai” continues to find new material to explore. After three ʼ80s films and five seasons on Netflix, this franchise still hasn’t missed a beat in terms of quality.

Creators Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg have crafted another installment of “Cobra Kai” that doesn’t just rely on its past success, but evokes a quiet sense of urgency for what’s to come.

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Twitter: @andresbuena01

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