The Problem with Cobra Kai Season 5

Cobra Kai is being binge-watched across the world, and Tom Jolliffe has a bone to pick with the show’s fifth season. SPOILERS FOLLOW…

Cobra Kai Season 5 has burst onto the scene. Season 4 ended brilliantly, leaving me salivating for what was to come. I hate that season-to-season wait, but oddly the gap between seasons 4 and 5 has felt short. Maybe it has been, or maybe time is really flying. Seriously though, what on Earth has happened to 2022? It’s shooting by. 

As usual, the expectation among fans has been high. The trailers made no secret of a return for Chozen (Yuji Okumoto). We were also preemptively warned about a return for former nemesis Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan). By the fifth season, we kind of know the formula. There will be about turns, twists and plenty of allegiance switches, whilst rival Karate squads continually fight. If my social media feeds are anything to go by, season 5 has been greeted with the usual adoration. Is it deserved this time?

Yes. Absolutely. Cobra Kai never strays from what it does well. It’s a hearty dose of occasionally predictable, carefully controlled melodrama, all cooked up with a hearty dose of nostalgia and seasoned generously with sincerity. There may be shows with more refined plotlines and more honed acting, even more carefully choreographed action, but dagnabbit if, much like the flawed Rocky sequels of the 80s, this doesn’t get you cheering from the rafters and gripped with every episode and season-ending cliffhanger. The sum of its parts ends up being greater than shows which may appear technically more proficient all around.

Still, very few shows really get the blood pumping like Cobra Kai and the sincerity levels are high. Five seasons in and they continue to nail the landings. Major strengths this season have been Tory’s (Peyton List) arc, Chozen, and in particular Terry Silver who one-ups Kreese (Martin Kove) as the show’s best antagonist. An added level of intensity. A darker streak, even than that of Kreese, gave this season added stakes. Thomas Ian Griffith was superb and here’s hoping it won’t be the last we see of him. 

The latest season hasn’t been without its issues though. Miguel (Xolo Marideuna) has felt a little redundant. It felt like the Mexico subplot, with Miguel searching for his father was a better idea when conceived a year ago, but come actually writing season 5, perhaps ended up feeling like it might prove difficult. The result? A brief and ultimately needless diversion. So too Robbie (Tanner Buchanan) and the reconciliation with Johnny (William Zabka) and the ending of his long-running feud with Miguel felt a little glossed. In truth, despite Johnny about to become a father again, it’s arguably been his least interesting arc this season, particularly being the character who initially made this show what it is.

Weirdly Daniel LaRusso continues to be something of an also-ran, but this has been the case most seasons. That said, Ralph Macchio gets some standout moments at the right times. Still. This is Cobra Kai and it always outleaps its flaws, particularly when we come down to the nitty-gritty of the good guys trying to win the day over the likes of Silver. The finale is rip-roaring brilliance. 

Those niggles aside I also have a few more issues. This really needs Cynthia Rothrock somewhere. Come on now. It also needs a Best of the Best crossover, with Eric Roberts and Philip Rhee bringing their characters Alex and Tommy over. Here’s the biggest issue I had with the latest series though, and if you’ve read this far, here’s a final spoiler warning…

This show, much as I want more, cannot go on forever. With Silver so willing to cross lines even Kreese wouldn’t go near, the show could have really upped the dramatic stakes. The final episode saw a trio of Barnes, Chozen and Johnny drunkenly ambushing Silver at his home, whilst the Miyagi students infiltrated the Cobra Kai dojo to find some incriminating evidence on Silver. At one point it looks like Johnny might get beaten to death. He’s Johnny F. Lawrence, so of course, he’s not gonna bite the bullet, but he makes it out standing. They could have left us wondering into season six.

Then there’s Chozen. He had a leaning toward being comic relief but also had some humility that made him someone to root for. He’s been popular but the arc he was needed for effectively ended with the series finale. Chozen is left slashed by Silver’s sword after the most all-or-nothing fight of the entire show’s run. Silver is then outed as a liar and cheat, shipped off to jail and all is right in the world and all his damage is undone.

Chozen is fine, insisting it’s just a flesh wound, but it feels a little like a cop-out. As much as I love Chozen in this series, he needed to die. Silver needed to leave a more lasting mark. Miyagido won the day but the kind of war Silver was waging would have had more impact if it had taken a casualty.  The action ended big. The finale ended in as rousing and satisfying a way as possible, but a little bit of a bittersweet denouement would have pushed this up a level.

Cobra Kai is sort of fluff. Great fluff, fluff at its best, but a real crushing moment, a big death, could have tipped it into something more dramatic, something deeper, with real-world stakes and mortality coming into it. I point for example to the surprise moments of Squid Game’s infamous Marble episode. That ended with some real sucker punches to leave you stunned and here, Cobra Kai showrunners, Jon Hurwitz, Josh Heald and Hayden Schlossberg just missed that boat.

This is a broadly reaching show full of F-bombs and a little violence (though nothing extreme). We don’t need to tone down the causality and consequences as if it’s a kids’ show.  Someone gotta die folks. These battles between warring Karate houses get more extreme each season. 

So where can they go next? Kreese is out, but as a fugitive can’t just go and open Cobra Kai again. As an antagonist, his arc in prison, to becoming somewhat comically villainous and effectively closing the book on his inner conflicts and shreds of humility, means it’s difficult to make him as threatening as he was before. Further, how do you follow Silver? They’ve pretty much run the gamut of original series villains unless they pull a total about turn and introduce Hilary Swank’s character from her spinoff movie, repackaged as a world-weary villain. The alternative is to now dive into more original characters and find a newer, bigger threat.

If Cobra Kai is infused with nostalgia, particularly from the 80’s, then the 80’s sequel rule of thumb is to perpetually up the ante until you jump the shark. The true skill of course is to end just before that shark jump. Therein lies another option they could have taken. That season 5 finale without the pantomime ending for Kreese, would have been a great time to close the book on Cobra Kai, ending on a great note. Even as much as I want more, there’s a danger that season 6 is the one where all roads lead to a nuked fridge, but time will tell. I’m already itching for the next one though and if it goes down like the Titanic, I’ll be in an Eagle Fang shirt playing the violin until the water takes me.

What are your thoughts on Cobra Kai Season 5? Let us know on our social channels @flickeringmyth.

Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2022, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Nick Moran, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…

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