‘Cobra Kai’ Season 6 Should Be the Show’s Last
The following post contains minor spoilers for Cobra Kai Season 5.
There is no official word yet from Netflix on a sixth season of Cobra Kai, but nothing about the just-released Season 5 suggests it will be the show’s last. The season ends on yet another big cliffhanger, and in interviews series star Ralph Macchio has revealed that the production already shot footage intended for Season 6, if and when Netflix picks up Cobra Kai for more episodes.
I’m pretty confident we’ll see Cobra Kai Season 6. And if we do, I’ll watch it. But if it was up to me, I’d make that the show’s farewell. Cobra Kai hasn’t worn out its welcome — yet. Still, Season 5 was easily the weakest in the series’ run to date, and the one where its clever strategy of mining the old Karate Kid movies for story material finally began to run out of steam.
Cobra Kai has maybe the greatest legacyquel premise of all time: 30 years after the events of The Karate Kid, the roles between the film’s two leads have totally reversed as adults. Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), who was the BMOC in high school and the Cobra Kai dojo, grew up to become a total loser. After getting his face kicked in by his rival Daniel LaRusso (Macchio) at a karate tournament, Johnny spent much of the next few decades drinking and moping. In the meantime, Daniel grew into a successful businessman — and even sort of a cocky jerk. Meanwhile, a new kid named Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) needs guidance and help with his own high school bullies. Without a kind and wise Mr. Miyagi to mentor him, Miguel winds up under Johnny’s wing. He decides to restart the Cobra Kai dojo in order to help Miguel — much to Daniel’s chagrin.
That’s the ingenious, character-based place where the show started. The early years of the show forced viewers to rethink Johnny and Daniel and their relationship. We saw that Johnny’s childhood was just as painful as Daniel’s, and it learned the underlying psychological issues behind his bullying. Later, Cobra Kai showed just how brutal John Kreese’s life was before he started his “evil” dojo. After you saw what he went through in Vietnam, you understood why he might subscribe to a philosophy of striking out at one’s enemies before they can strike you. Cobra Kai threw a coat of gray over all of The Karate Kid’s black-and-white, good-versus-evil morality.
By Season 5, most of those elements are long gone, along with many of the character’s more complicated dimensions. Daniel, who was almost the villain of the early Cobra Kai episodes, has resumed his role as the franchise’s stalwart and indomitable hero, while Johnny, who was depicted as well-meaning but deeply misguided, has turned into a lovable oaf who gets along with everyone. The characters’ rough edges have been sanded off — except for the series’ main antagonist through its most recent two seasons, Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith).
First introduced in The Karate Kid Part III, Silver never quite fit into Cobra Kai’s concept of muddying up the simplistic Karate Kid movies. The Terry Silver of The Karate Kid Part III is a figure of cartoonish evil, a businessman who made a fortune dumping toxic waste and then decides to help out his old war buddy John Kreese by getting revenge on his behalf against the old man and the recent high school graduate who embarrassed him. In the film, Silver, a fully grown man, seemingly puts his entire life on hold to destroy Daniel, a broke teenager with few prospects. He hires goons to intimidate him, pretends to care about him, drives a wedge between him and Mr. Miyagi, and then trains him for a tournament with deliberately sadistic and painful techniques. All because Daniel beat one of his friend’s students in a karate tournament!
Griffith is effective as the brilliant Silver, but the character is so utterly devoid of redeeming characteristics, and so beyond any sort of audience sympathy, that he doesn’t fit the rest of Cobra Kai’s fictional universe, where everyone on both sides of the Cobra Kai vs. Miyagi-Do war possesses relatable motivations. Most of the people on Cobra Kai want to get their life in order, gain confidence, exorcise their tortured pasts, or find acceptance in a group of fellow outsiders. Terry Silver essentially wants to conquer the world through a karate dojo, while simultaneously exacting more revenge against Daniel LaRusso, who he has now harbored a 35-year grudge against. Terry Silver cannot be made into a complex creature with a tortured backstory — or if it’s theoretically possible, Cobra Kai’s creators never figured out how to do it.
Moving into its sixth season, the show has other problems as well. In the beginning, its cast of younger characters was one of its stronger assets. In addition to Miguel, there was also Sam (Mary Mouser), Daniel’s popular daughter, Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan), Johnny’s estranged and troubled son, and Hawk (Jacob Bertrand) another bullied kid whose fury at his mistreatment eventually pushes him to join Cobra Kai. They allowed Cobra Kai to see how those old high school stereotypes featured in The Karate Kid looked in a modern context, and to emphasize one of the show’s key themes: That abuse perpetuates abuse in a never-ending cycle of violence.
By Season 5, though, the “young” cast of Cobra Kai is starting to look as old as Ralph Macchio did in The Karate Kid Part III, when he was supposed to be playing an 18-year-old while he was actually 27 in real life. (Mouser is already 26. Looking like a fully-grown adult while you’re still in high school apparently runs in the LaRusso family.) Even more importantly, some of these kids’ storylines have basically resolved already. In Cobra Kai’s early years, for example, Robby drifted back and forth from Cobra Kai to Miyagi-Do, as he struggled to come to terms with Johnny and eventually wound up expelled from school after accidentally injuring Miguel in a brawl. In Season 5, Robby has reconciled with his dad and ditched his bad-boy past with Cobra Kai. Within the first few episodes, he even buries the hatchet with Miguel and the two become friends. He spends the rest of the season as total do-gooder waiting for a new subplot that never really arrives.
When Cobra Kai was at its best, it had an uncanny knack for turning facile concepts from The Karate Kid movies into genuinely thoughtful and compelling drama. The longer it goes on, the closer and closer it’s getting to becoming just as goofy and over-the-top as the original films. Just look at that cliffhanger that ends this season, which sounds like the premise of a very bad The Karate Kid Part IV, not what we’ve come to expect from the far smarter Cobra Kai. No one’s literally jumped over a shark on the show yet. But the way things seems to be headed, it wouldn’t feel that out of place if someone did.