Cobra Kai, the continuation of the Karate Kid movie series from the 1980s, keeps going from the end of Season 2, moving everything forward for our protagonists while including enough twists and turns to keep you glued to the screen for all 10 episodes, which you’ll want to binge-watch from start to finish before going back and watching the movies for the reference drops that this series does very well.

Title: Cobra Kai: Season 3
Production Company: Counterbalance Entertainment, Westbrook Studios, Sony Pictures Television Studios
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Television Studios
Produced by: Will Smith, James Lassiter, Caleeb Pinkett, Susan Ekins, Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg
Starring: Ralph Macchio, William Zabka, Courtney Henggeler, Xolo Maridueña, Tanner Buchanan, Mary Mouser, Jacob Bertrand, Gianni Decenzo, Martin Kove
Based on: The Karate Kid by Robert Mark Kamen
Release dates: January 1, 2021
Running time: 22–40 minutes per episode

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When we last saw Johnny Laurence at the end of Cobra Kai Season 2, he was drunk and angry with himself after losing the new Cobra Kai dojo to his old Sensai, John Kreese, after his students got into a fight with the students of Daniel LaRusso’s Miyagi-Do Karate dojo, which left Johnny’s star student, Miguel Diaz, paralyzed in the hospital due to the fight. In a last-second tease, after Johnny tossed his phone into the sand at the beach where he was drinking, we saw that the former love of both Johnny’s and Daniel’s life, Ali Mills, send Johnny a Facebook friend request as things faded to black.

Cobra Kai: Season 3 opens with nothing much changing from the ending of Season 2. Johnny is drunk, going through the grief of what happened to Miguel and the loss of his dojo to the one man who started him down the bad path in his life. As per the storytelling of the previous seasons, we are still seeing the very slow redemption of Johnny from the villain in the Karate Kid movies to a hero in the Cobra Kai series. A lot of the story here focuses on Johnny regaining not only the trust of Miguel but also discovering things about his own life, leading to a revelation that he is a Sensai to many of the types of kids he picked on during his high school days.

Other things for Johnny are also in a weird place, his relationship with his son Robby is still as strained as it ever was, but at least Johnny has been trying to make the connection. The ongoing feud with LaRusso and Miyagi-Do is still very on-again-off-again, with more bridge building going on between Johnny and Daniel, having yet another dinner night together where they begin to realize that they are more like than they past thought, not to mention that they even team up in order to find Robby, who took off and went into hiding after the high school fight in Season 2. Finally, there is Johnny’s love life, which has a very “when god closes a door, he opens a window” feeling as Johnny not only gets to close the book on his past with Ali, who returns briefly to remind him of the good guy he once was but also his developing relationship with Carmen, Miguel’s mother.

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Cobra Kai Season 3 really feels like it’s done what it needed to do with Johnny as a redemption for his character. This season leaves Johnny in a much better headspace and also a much better position in his personal life, fully accepting his role in the story as a mentor to a lot of the kids and finally putting his past behind him. If Cobra Kai wanted, it could have left the story here, and it would have ended on an excellent note, but as always, there is much more going on here than it seems.

Daniel’s story here is a lot different from his past stories in Cobra Kai. Sure, Daniel is still upset that Cobra Kai even exists and that Johnny is back in the same area of the world as himself. Still, he is more leaning into the protective father role than the aggressive former-victim that he was in the previous seasons. There was more focus on the other aspects of Daniel’s life in Season 3, with his relationship with his wife, which was a bit shaky in Season 2, suddenly get better as Amanda begins to see the damage that the John Kreese led Cobra Kai is doing to the children of The Valley, bringing her about to Daniel’s way of thinking.

A subplot about the Car Dealership losing face, and contracts, after the ramifications of the high school fight between the Sam LaRusso Miyagi-Do students and Tory-led Cobra Kai group brings in one of the best parts about Cobra Kai Season 3. Daniel has to go to Japan in order to deal with his contracts with the Doyona group, who has withdrawn their contracts from LaRusso Automotive again due to the negative publicity fallout that happened due to the fight. After his meeting with the Doyona group, Daniel attempts to revisit Okinawa, Mr. Miyagi’s hometown, only to find it to be very modernized, but still finding a familiar face in Kumiko, his former sweetheart from The Karate Kid Part 2, along with Chozen, his rival from the same movie, and Yuna, the little girl Daniel rescued during the Typhoon.

This particular part of the story really worked for me as a fan of The Karate Kid Part 2. It helped bring a lot of things from that movie to a nice close between Daniel and Kumiko, someone who a lot of long-term Karate Kid fans had wondered about what happened to her after the events of the movie since she was reduced to a throw-away explanation line in The Karate Kid Part 3. Also, the return of Chozen, who has kept the Miyagi-Do Karate style (and Mr. Miyagi’s personal effects in Japan) going after Yukiye passed away, helps Daniel discover not only was he not done learning everything that Miyagi-Do was able to teach him, but also gave Daniel the tools needed in order to combat someone as aggressive as John Kresse. The return of Chozen was something that needed to happen while in Japan, leading to Chozen teaching Daniel as a repayment for the changes that Daniel brought about in his father Sato, and also the revelations Chozen had in his own life after Daniel returned to America.

If there was anything I could fault Cobra Kai Season 3 with, it’s that this particular section of the story was too short. We get to see Daniel and Kumiko together again for about a small fraction of two episodes, and the training with Chozen speeds past in a single episode. I know that they packed a lot into 2 episodes of Daniel in Japan, but compared to the character development of other characters in this season, this feels very unfair and unbalanced to viewers like me who loved Karate Kid Part 2.

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Speaking of character development, Cobra Kai Season 3 did a LOT of storytelling when it came to the background and past of John Kreese. Sure, for most of the season, he is still the hardass jackass that he has been through the entire movie and TV series, but here we get more of a look into how he became that hardened, take no prisoners, win at all cost, psychopath that we see in both mediums. I think it was a total of 3 episodes that were dedicated to viewing the past of Kreese, going from his teenage years as a waiter in a Soda Shop who got pushed around by the high school jocks to a military man who got trained in Martial Arts during the Vietnam War.

It’s here that Mr. Miyagi’s words of “No Such Thing As Bad Student, Only Bad Teacher” echo true as we learn that Kreese’s ranking officer in the Army, Captain Turner, who taught Kresse Karate, had the exact same mindset that Kresse has today. We also get an idea of where Kreese got the Cobra Kai naming for the school as we see Kreese, Captain Turner, and a young Terry Silver get captured by the Vietcong and are forced to fight above a pit filled with various snakes. It’s here that we see Kreese take his Captain’s “win at all costs” attitude and turn it against the Captain, leading to Kreese becoming the man we see today.

That being said, in Season 3, we see more of that attitude come across with Kreese selecting a bunch of athletes from places like gyms, wrestling schools, and other combat-related sports, promising the aggressive youths to become “ultimate killing machines” if they sign up with Cobra Kai, leading to a few more of the less aggressive students to be forced out of the group, and rejoining Johnny under a new dojo, Eagle Fang Karate. While Kreese doesn’t have any direct involvement of his students and their many attacks on other dojo members during the events of season 3, you can feel that his mindset is poisoning and effecting people involved in Cobra Kai to the cult-like-levels that he had in the movies, making him a very dangerous man to The Valley and everyone in it.

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Lastly, there are the students themselves. Since the idea behind Cobra Kai was more about “the sins of the father shall pass to the child,” we have seen many of the kids go through a lot of different character and story developments during this season. Obviously, the first one everyone will focus on is Miguel, since he ended season 2 having his neck broken, leaving him in a coma state at the beginning of season 3. Luckily, there is a rapid progression for Miguel in this season, going from coma to full recovery in about 7 episodes, which felt like a good progression that didn’t hang too long on the recovery of one character. There was a good bit of storytelling here with Miguel fighting in a tournament while in a coma, showing that Miguel is a fighter in all things and that he has taken Johnny’s never give up ideals on board in a good way. Once he recovers from his coma, Miguel’s recovery physically is done with a bit of a superhero-style but also using different means than just going to rehab in a clinic as most shows do. We see Johnny take Miguel to a concert by rocker Dee Snider, which sees Miguel move his foot for the first time thanks to the beat of the music they are listening to. Miguel also works as an emotional revelation for Johnny, who took on a mentor role out of guilt, but Miguel turns it around and gets Johnny to realize that he is meant to be a teacher, an inspiration, a Sensai to other downtrodden kids like him.

On the flip side, we see a lot of the fallout of the high school fight fall upon the shoulders of Sam LaRusso and Tory, with the school adopting a non-physical, no contact style of social interaction between all students, and The Valley City Council trying to cancel the All-Valley Karate Tournament altogether, something that reflects that current state of Martial Arts and other physical combat sports in an era where older generations believe that the current generations should be completely non-violent, but ultimately backfires when regulated and organized outlets are available but not used correctly. Personally, the two still are feuding about Sam kissing Miguel at a party, with Tory playing the role of the aggressor, and Sam getting a form of PTSD from her previous encounter with Tory in the high school fight, which left her with scars on his arm from a bladed bracelet Tory used as a weapon. Together with the sight of seeing Miguel fall and break his neck/spine has left Sam in a position where she cannot fight, not even to save her friends and fellow Miyagi-Do teammates during another brawl in an abandoned laser-tag arena. Sam’s recovery is very much like Daniel’s encounter with Mike Barnes in Karate Kid Part 3, complete with Daniel passing down the line “OK to lose to opponent. Not OK to lose to FEAR!!” that he learned from Mr. Miyagi in the same movie.

Then there is Robby… Man, was this kid pushed aside through a majority of Cobra Kai Season 3. After kicking Miguel, sending him into the fall that paralyzed him, Robby just took off with one of the LaRusso Automotive Group trade-in vehicles and kept running. Eventually, he gets “caught” when his own mother gets him to visit her in rehab on behalf of Daniel, who turns Robby into the Police in order to face justice as a “best case” scenario. In prison, Robby gets beaten up by one of the inmates repeatedly, which neither Johnny nor Daniel come to visit him during this time. This turns Robby bitter against both of them. Robby does fight back against the inmate, with no ramifications as the next time we see Robby, it’s when he is being released. Johnny and Daniel appear at this time, claiming to be the person that’s best to help him now that he’s served his time. Of course, Robby has none of this and ends up visiting Kreese, the only one to visit him during his prison time, and joining up with Cobra Kai to spite his father and Daniel at the same time.

Everything in Cobra Kai comes to a close with the All-Valley Under 18 Karate Tournament being announced, thanks to an impassioned speech from both Miguel and Sam, who have gotten back together at this point (Also containing another scene where Daniel tell his side of things to Miguel, leading Miguel to notice the similar natures between Johnny and Daniel). After yet another fight between Cobra Kai and a combined Miyagi-Do/Eagle Fang Karate group, it’s decided that all three groups will face off in the tournament, with the stakes being if Cobra Kai loses, Kreese will close up shop and leave forever, but if he wins, it’s open season forever.

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We end things with some interesting teams: Kreese has Robby and Cobra Kai, Johnny has Miguel and Eagle Fang Karate, and Daniel has Sam with Miyagi-Do. However, the twist here is that Johnny and Daniel are putting aside their pasts in order to train the groups together to prepare for the tournament, while Kreese reaches out to someone from his past for a favor. This brings things to a high point that will have you screaming that we can’t see Season 4 now instead of whenever it is going to be released.

One of the best things about Cobra Kai, in general, has been its storytelling. When you watch the Karate Kid movie series, you are seeing everything from the perspective of Daniel LaRusso, playing a victim role and growing to be the hero who overcomes the odds at all times. With Cobra Kai, you are seeing the other side of the story, as you are seeing things from the perspective of Johnny Laurance and other characters in the series, which makes you wonder about the story of the Karate Kid series and question if Daniel was really the innocent, but an unlucky kid that the movies made him out to be. The end result has you thinking about what would have been possible if these two had put aside their differences and worked together or just talked things out. Luckily, Cobra Kai does just that and brings the two together in the final moments in order to take down the bigger foe: John Kreese.

Another high point in the series so far has been the use of references from the Karate Kid movies themselves, especially this season introducing a lot of themes and characters from The Karate Kid Part 2. The return of Yuji Okumoto as Chozen Toguchi, Tamlyn Tomita as Kumiko, and Traci Toguchi as Yuna really were amazing moments to see as I am a huge fan of The Karate Kid Part 2, with the reunion moments between Daniel, Kumiko & Yuna making me tear up when they happened. (Daniel should’ve ended up with Kumiko damn it!) Seeing not only these actors return to the roles, but the characters reunite shows that the writers have huge respect for the movies and want to get as many people involved in the series as possible to help not only continue the stories in Cobra Kai but also bring closure to stories from The Karate Kid series too. Cobra Kai Season 3 also showed moments from the underwhelming The Karate Kid Part 3 when referencing Sam’s PTSD and facing her fear of Tory, relating it to Daniel’s fear of fighting Mike Barnes from that movie. Speaking of The Karate Kid Part 3, it looked like Kreese is calling in someone to help train Cobra Kai in the upcoming tournament. Could it be Terry Silver? Or maybe Mike Barnes will make a return? Guess we’ll see when Season 4 releases.

Unfortunately, Cobra Kai season 3 isn’t perfect. As I mentioned above, the section where Daniel went to Japan felt really short compared to some of the other characters who got a lot more focus this season, especially since there was a lot of build-up and promotion was done for that particular section of the season. Another piece that was built up as a huge piece of the story was the return of Ali Mills, which turned out only to be a single episode thing before she walked out of the story again. While her time on the show was well used, it just didn’t live up to the hype and promotion that it was given leading into before the debut of season 3. Another character that lost a lot of focus was Hawk, who has been building a lot during the whole show, but now he was reduced to second, then third, string goon as more aggressive new characters joined Cobra Kai. Lastly, I felt that Robby got pushed aside a lot in order to focus on Miguel and Kreese’s characters during this season as Robby spends almost 90% of the season locked up in prison before getting released, and suddenly heel turns to become Kreese’s new weapon.

I think there was something about the writing this season that was more about turning things on their head and, to use a wrestling term, swerve the audience to create new tension with established characters changing alliances all over the place when you already had characters building in previous seasons that could have fit those roles already. This created a very disjointed and weird feeling as a viewer that I’m watching something from the Russo-Era of World Championship Wrestling (circa 2000-2001, look it up or watch Wrestling Bios, Wrestling With Wregret on YouTube, or the WWE Network) than a well-produced TV series. In the long-term, I do understand why these character changes and focus changes were made, and it makes for a great story, but it’s just something that niggles at the back of my mind that I cannot shake off, leading to a great but slightly confusing feeling of enjoyment.

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Overall, Cobra Kai Season 3 is an amazing season that sets things up for an explosive final season. Seeing everything come together with some amazing sides being drawn really gets you pumped for more of the show, and seeing how this multi-generational feud, or feuds, comes to an end. As someone who is a huge fan of the Karate Kid movie series, Cobra Kai has been an eye-opening and enjoyable continuation of the series that makes me want to go back and marathon everything over and over again. A highly recommended TV series for any fan of good storytelling or action junkie… Now hopefully, they don’t continue with The Next Karate Kid or that horrible remake or even reference them.

Be sure to check out our speculation piece regarding an appearance of an old character from Karate Kid 3 in Cobra Kai Season 4.

Review Disclosure Statement: Cobra Kai: Season 3 was provided to us by Netflix for review purposes. For more information on how we conduct and handle reviews here, please visit our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.

Summary

Cobra Kai Season 3, and Cobra Kai in general, is the benchmark for how you take something and revive it for fans of all ages and generations to enjoy. The exceptional storytelling and character development combined with references to the source material creates a show that keeps things fresh while preserving the classic status of what came before it. With Season 3, Cobra Kai has flipped everything that you thought would happen on its head and built things up so that the final season is going to be something we will be talking about for years to come.

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Pros

  • Excellent storytelling
  • References galore
  • Perfect set up for the final season

Cons

  • Robby gets sidelined for most of the season
  • The much-hyped reunion with Ali was a bust
  • Not enough time with the Japanese trip


About The Author

Karl Smart
Senior Editor / Reviewer

The main "Australian arm" of The Outerhaven. Karl primarily spends time playing and reviewing video games while taking time to occasionally review the latest movie or piece of gaming technology.

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