Cobra Kai season 4 is a carefully constructed delight
No plot spoilers for season 4; some general themes and character appearances are revealed
Cobra Kai has gone from a novelty to a Netflix centerpiece in its four seasons. The latest batch of episodes hit the streaming platform on New Year’s day for the second year in a row, and many viewers – myself included – blew through the season in a day or two.
The season 3 finale saw Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) finally team up after 38 years, three movies, and 39 streaming episodes. After a confrontation with new/old Cobra Kai sensei John Kreese, played by the delightfully sinister Martin Kove, the three men set up the new season by staking their dojos on the outcome of the upcoming All Valley tournament.
Kreese, who got some long-overdue rounding out in season 3 in flashbacks to his time in Vietnam, makes a call to Army buddy and Karate Kid Part III villain Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) as Daniel and Johnny try to mesh their conflicting styles and manners.
Season 4 opens by revealing that Silver is now living the pampered life of a wealthy man, but Kreese goads him into rejoining Cobra Kai in their battle against LaRusso’s Miyagi-do and Lawrence’s Eagle Fang Karate dojo, and takes us through that high-stakes tournament and a tiny bit beyond.
In its 10 episodes, season 4 continues on well-visited themes and even more familiar storytelling. Good and evil are blurred as we are shown the best and worst of the show’s characters. Even the designated black hats have moments that inspire empathy, no matter how dark their intentions or malicious their actions seem.
We see several characters redeemed through introspection and discipline; one of many thematic tributes to the Rocky and Star Wars franchises. Johnny and son Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan) are a reversed Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, with the son trapped on the dark side and the father trying desperately to free him. And theirs is by no means the most complicated parent-child relationship in Cobra Kai – even an absent and invisible parent, the father of Miguel Diaz (Xolo Maridueña), becomes a factor.
The series re-introduces several characters from the movies and previous Cobra Kai seasons, and the musical selections are all drawn from the mid-80s and early 90s, making Cobra Kai an unapologetic nostalgia-fest.
But it has grown well beyond just that, thanks to the continued introduction of new characters and evolution of existing ones. Cobra Kai has gone from what seemed like a cheeky lark with a limited shelf life when it debuted on YouTube TV in 2018, to an intricately constructed tale of good versus evil, with multiple intertwining storylines and some truly amazing physical and emotional acting performances.
Cobra Kai is truly one of the masterpieces of the streaming era, and will return for a season 5 and more. And as long as the series continues its captivating chain of evil characters earning redemption only to be displaced by a greater dark force, we’ll be there for every face-kicking second.