Cobra Kai Season 3 is a martial arts soap opera that originated in the genre of exploitation of teenagers in the 1980s and operates under these specific conditions. The series began with a love note in season one that was pure feel-good magic. The new season, which is the first to debut exclusively on Netflix, indulges in a new (old) series of tropes. In addition to adult decay, the incredibly refined lives of children, social caste opposites, and Romeo and Juliet themes, you also get a rocking cameo from hair metal artifact Dee Snider and the requisite trash in a mansion mom and Papa are gone. Cobra Kai Season 3 isn’t a prestige drama – and if it were, it would be a lot less fun.
[Ed. note: This review contains mild spoilers for Cobra Kai season 3.]
So let’s answer the better / worse questions: No, Season 3 isn’t as good as Season 1. Yes, it is quantity better than season 2. The nostalgia may not be as organic as it was that first year, but season 1 didn’t have the same weight as those 10 half-hour episodes to drag around and resolve.
And season 2 was nothing but an unresolved conflict – Cobra Kai versus Miyagi-do; Johnny versus his old sensei Kreese; a love square with Robbie, Samantha, Miguel and Tory. That and the cliffhanger – Miguel in a coma after a fight between the dojos – left a lot of broken glass on the floor. But for those who hope that this third act would be a finale that sums it all up, Cobra Kai
However, it is crucial all Main characters come across as better, more engaging, and more of who I wanted them to be all along. The best comeback players are Demitri (Gianni Dacenzo) and Hawk (Jacob Bertrand), whose rivalry now has real weight. It was a distraction in Season 2, undermined by Demitri’s egg-shaped, unappealing wailing. But Dacenzo has a lot more to do and a lot more that the viewer can fall back on for his character in the script, while Bertrand shines in an unexpectedly crucial role as a nerd berserker.
Xolo Mariduena also provides an excellent picture of Miguel emerging from his coma but remaining paralyzed below the waist. Stripped of the stark teen physicality that made his fight scenes such a delight, Mariduena delves deep into his emotions. He’s mad at Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and so authentically forgives him that both characters get better. Her chemistry and affection, which shone in Season 1 and went AWOL in Year 2, blossoms again, especially in the sequence where Miguel coaches Johnny on how to look good on social media.
Kreese (Martin Kove) drove the two apart when he recaptured the Cobra Kai Dojo from Johnny last year, despite scenes where he was more of a pathetic old man than a twisted sociopath who lived vicariously through teenagers. But good old, funny asshole Kreese is returning and even getting an origin story that suits a Batman villa in. That is, while Cobra Kai
Daniel-san (Ralph Macchio) doesn’t have many emotional journeys left, so lead authors Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg send him on a trip to Japan Cobra Kai a chance to let in some original Karate Kid actors who haven’t appeared yet. However, in the authors’ defense, Daniel has at least one plausible reason to fly over the Pacific while everything is falling apart in the San Fernando Valley. A side mission to Okinawa is a little too random, but while he’s there, he reconnects with Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita) and a still seething Chozen (a still avid Yuji Okumoto) who after 35 years after some sort of repayment seeks. Canonically speaking, nothing required a reunion with either character or that location, but the story commits itself to them and allows them to advance events in their own way.
Cobra Kai Season 3 is a fast-paced show overall, which means that some of the slower parts are dragging or lingering in comparison. In particular, the character arc for Robbie Keene (Tanner Buchanan) remains unfulfilled, even if the viewer gets the feeling that the story is now approaching him as the hero who deserves a righteous spin. This is in part because Robbie, like Miguel, is confined to juvenile detention for most of the season, despite being in juvenile detention because of his role in Season Two’s climatic fall. At least that means a good prison fight or two for Robbie, but with so much Cobra KaiWith the emotional budget on the characters not being spent behind bars, there is little left for him to do other than anger at all of the father figures who have let him down.
While the fight choreography is stronger than ever – including some cute team-up moves booking the season – the better conflicts are internal ones, especially with Mary Mouser’s Samantha LaRusso. The Arc of Sam’s own paralyzed trauma (Tory heaped some sort of claw on her in hand-to-hand combat) is a lesson from Miyagi-san taken from a deleted scene The karate kid. It also brings some weapons (Sam’s bo staff versus Tory’s nunchaku) to the show’s satisfying martial arts repertoire.
Drive Cobra Kai Season 3, I was concerned that the mayhem in season 2 prepared us for a usable mop and little more. I was particularly concerned about the teasing for Daniel’s visit to Japan because I thought we were getting more nostalgia than a narrative steak. But season 3 still has a lot of substance; I had to worry again about what happened and what will happen to these people instead of regretting the last 10 episodes as a story that didn’t need to be told. That’s a damn good comeback, but then we don’t expect anything less from The Karate Kid.
Cobra Kai Season 3 begins streaming on Netflix January 1.