Updated: Jul 22, 2021
Spoilers do not exist in this dojo! Do they? No, sensei!
That’s right, this is a spoiler-free review for Season 3 of Cobra Kai, the Karate Kid reboot series, which dropped New Year’s Day on Netflix.
The 35-year-old rivalry between Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence rages on as the two karate frenemies try to lead their students down the right path while also grappling with the devastating consequences of Season 2’s frenzied finale. But will the third season finally see them unite against a common enemy?
What started as a YouTube Red original series and quickly grew in popularity before getting picked up by Netflix, Cobra Kai does a remarkable job of showing that 21st Century conflicts aren’t as black-and-white as they appeared in the 80s. Indeed, one of the show’s central themes seems to be that there are two sides to every story. And sometimes more!
One of the best things about Cobra Kai is that it has something for everyone – old fans, new fans, adults, teens, people who grew up with The Karate Kid. I fall into the latter category – the original Karate Kid movies are some of my favorite and most personal films. (Well, really just the first two – I like to pretend Part III never happened.) I’ve watched Cobra Kai since the very beginning when it first premiered on YouTube Red and was excited to learn that it had been acquired by Netflix in early 2020. Suffice it to say that I was hyped for the third season and, after a lengthy wait, I’m happy to say it did not disappoint.
Initially slated to release on January 8, Netflix seemingly followed the Cobra Kai mantra by – in a surprise attack – unexpectedly bumping the release date up by a week. Strike first, strike hard, no mercy! And indeed, Season 3 did not show mercy.
As wise Mr. Miyagi once said, life is all about balance – and Season 3 does an excellent job of balancing all of the humor, nostalgia, teen melodrama, and karate action we’ve come to expect from Cobra Kai. However, perhaps more than any previous season, it also packs some seriously heavy emotional punches. I’m talking straight to the gut.
One thing Cobra Kai has always been great about is honoring the legendary figure of Mr. Miyagi, played in the original films by Noriyuki “Pat” Morita. Miyagi has always been the heart and soul of The Karate Kid series, and his legacy undoubtedly lives on in Cobra Kai. Even though both Pat Morita and the character of Miyagi have sadly passed away, their presence is always felt.
In one of the season’s most emotional and cathartic scenes, Daniel-san comes to know his old friend and teacher in a truly powerful way which is sure to bring anyone with a heart to tears. It’s also pointed out, quite poetically, that Daniel is now the same age Miyagi was when they first met in 1984’s The Karate Kid. Daniel makes a salient point that, as a kid, he always thought Miyagi had all the answers, that he had life figured out. And now that Daniel is that same age, he feels lost, and as if he knows nothing. This feeling of inadequacy, I think, speaks to a universal truth – one that certainly resonated with me. And I’m sure many others can relate to this, too, particularly now, in these uncertain times. It’s okay not to have all the answers. Everyone is figuring out life, even those we look up to when we’re young. It was a poignant moment, beautifully written, and brilliantly acted by Ralph Macchio and his scene partner, whose identity I will not spoil for you!
William Zabka is excellent as ever, as the down-on-his-luck Johnny Lawrence, trying ever so hard to do the right thing, turn his life around, and reconnect with his estranged son, Robby. Zabka particularly shines in his scenes with Miguel (Xolo Maridueña), as he tries to help rehabilitate Miguel after his crippling accident at the end of Season 2. Whenever Zabka and Maridueña share the screen, their bond is palpable – the two actors bring something special out of one another, nicely mirroring the relationship between their characters.
I was lucky enough to meet both Ralph Macchio and William Zabka in 2019 at DragonCon (they happily signed my All-Valley Karate Championship poster) and I can tell you that both actors are as likable and charming in real life as they are on the show.
If I had to pick a couple of bones with the season, it would be with the pacing. It started off a little slow, and for the first couple of episodes, it felt like not much was happening to advance the plot. But around the fourth episode – particularly when Daniel takes a certain trip – things pick up, and they do not let up until the end! There was also a bit of rushed character development, specifically regarding the character of Hawk (aka Eli). He makes a rather momentous decision with very little build-up, and I thought they would have arrived at the moment a little more naturally. The moment just didn’t feel earned.
But those are relatively minor gripes in the grand scheme of the season. Overall, Season 3 was more than worth the wait and delivered on everything I wanted. (FYI – I’d suggest brushing up on your Karate Kid Part II before checking out the new season.) Cobra Kai is really an amazing balancing act of a show, mixing the modern with the nostalgic, the old school with the new school, and showing a much more nuanced, layered side to the story. Season 3 might just be my favorite season yet – it continues to explore these themes and ideas, and oh man, the way it ends… Let’s just say I can’t wait for Season 4!