If there are two constants every season of Cobra Kai provides, it’s these: karate and drama. Not necessarily in that order, but you can depend on the mega-popular, 80s-throwback Netflix series to offer the above in spades. It’s a testament to the show’s creators — Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg — who deliver what audiences look for without muss or fuss.
While there’s karate aplenty to look forward to in Season Four, you should prepare yourself to see a bit less of it in the beginning. Cobra Kai uses it sparingly, whipping out the big guns for the All-Valley tournament, which showcases some of the series’ best fight choreography.
William Zabka delivers standout work this season on the acting front, but I’ve always said, from the get-go, that he churns out consistently solid performances. It’s no secret that Cobra Kai sports heightened, often corny dialogue. As an actor, it’s easy to succumb to the high drama and “soapy” nature of a script and overact.
Notably, we see examples of this with the show’s teenagers. But Zabka remains grounded, giving us a nuanced, messy and natural portrayal of Johnny Lawrence.
In Season Four, Johnny’s evolution is evident, as is Hawk’s (Jacob Bertrand) path to redemption and Johnny and Daniel’s (Ralph Macchio) complicated relationship. Cobra Kai masterfully cultivates these relationships and character arcs, carrying them into the fourth season.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of this outing is the return of Thomas Ian Griffith as Terry Silver, who the insidious John Kreese (Martin Kove) lures back into the dojo. Even more surprising is that Griffith reprised his role after retiring 14 years ago from acting. Griffith imbues Silver with complexities and layers, presenting a fully-formed human bearing the weight of a hard life on his shoulders post-Karate Kid Part III.
Like Kreese, Cobra Kai gracefully touches on Silver’s PTSD and naturally weaves his story from there.
Season Four artfully moves the needle concerning Johnny and Daniel’s inability to adapt. The crux of this series is “change,” yielding to modernity and making way for a new generation to carry the mantle. Both senseis struggle with this from the start, but we begin to see growth and forward movement as they learn that not everything is black and white. There are nuances in the dabs of gray in between.
Cobra Kai finds these two men firmly enmeshed in their 1980s glory days and forces them to absorb different viewpoints. Sure, this series plays on our penchant for nostalgia, but I believe Season Four, more than other seasons, reminds us we must boldly forge ahead into the future.
I’ll always assert that the show’s adults are more interesting than the teens. For my taste, Season Four leans too heavily on the teeny-bopper drama, but not enough to completely shift Johnny and Daniel out of focus. The exploration of Daniel’s son could be more nuanced, but it does make way for drama.
Cobra Kai‘s cheesiness and corniness are part of its charm — it continues to embrace its 80s roots in every aspect, from the show’s highly dramatized dialogue and training montages to the head-banging rock score and pop culture references. However, in my opinion, the show occasionally crosses that line this season.
We still get fantastic outlier characters like Amanda (Courtney Henggeler), who provide realistic commentary, showing us that Cobra Kai doesn’t take itself too seriously. Yes, it realizes karate shouldn’t be this dramatic. That self-awareness allows it to flourish, in a way.
Xolo Maridueña‘s Miguel undergoes an evolution of his own, and the dynamic between him and Johnny continues to be a bright spot. Miguel is the primary catalyst for Johnny’s growth, and Season Four presents new challenges for the surrogate father/son duo.
Even Tory (Peyton List) peels away bits of her tough exterior, allowing List to showcase her versatility. Besides the seamlessly badass fight choreography, the characters are the most exciting facet of this series, so it’s comforting to watch the writers find new ways of dissecting them.
True to form, this season further explores toxic masculinity through a generational lens. For example, Johnny actively tries to undo that toxicity deeply embedded in his psyche. Whenever Johnny makes a potentially incendiary remark, Miguel’s right there with commentary, acting as the show’s mouthpiece regarding toxic masculinity. Cobra Kai‘s stance couldn’t be more evident.
Along with the attempt to push Johnny and Daniel toward embracing change, we see the series delve into the “grays” of its characters and the ambiguity of morality. Despite the desire to loathe Cobra Kai, Kreese, Tory, etc., we discover not everyone’s inherently evil. Much like life, it’s the choices we make that define us. Everybody, including Kreese, believes they’re in the right.
Season Four provides us with brilliant Johnny/Daniel scenes, breathtaking training sequences and stunning stunts while holding fast to what we love most about it: karate and dojo drama. It walks the tightrope of sating our appetite for 1980s nostalgia while firmly pointing its foot toward the future. It overcomes a few shaky moments to deliver a thrilling, fast-paced, white-knuckled finale with devastating consequences. I’m excited for what Season Five holds in store for us.
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Season Four of Cobra Kai will be available to stream on Friday, December 31, only on Netflix.