After season 4’s cliffhanger ending, Cobra Kai season 5 had to meet a lot of expectations. On paper, a spin-off TV series about The Karate Kid ‘80s movies shouldn’t work. Yet, Cobra Kai manages to not only blend nostalgia with compelling storytelling, but also continues to take material from the notoriously bad Karate Kid III and make something actually good.
Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) continues to be one of the most dangerous and unpredictable villains the Netflix series has ever had because while John Kreese (Martin Cove) was brooding and calculated, Silver is clearly a loose cannon who becomes all the more unhinged this season now that he’s able to run free. Fortunately, Kreese still makes a handful of appearances this season and is as scheming as ever, with Tory (Peyton List) continuing to be loyal to her surrogate grandfather by acting as a double agent for him from behind bars.
After realising at the end of season 4 that her All Valley victory was a fraud, we see Tory continue to grow as a character as she wrestles with her conscience all season: miles away from the angry girl we met in season 2.
Then, there’s Samantha LaRusso (Mary Mouser), who probably caused the viewers at home to do a collective cheer as she decided to stop focussing on boys for once. While Samantha was probably billed to be the young female lead at the start, Tory’s development and complexity this season have made her a breakout star, and I’m excited to see where she goes next in season 6.
However, seeing Tory’s development, it’s disappointing to see the writers limit Samantha’s storylines to her love life so much because even when she’s meant to be ‘focussing on herself,’ one way or another, that always seems to fall back into her and Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) staring forlornly at one another.
Perhaps the danger of repetitiveness in the drama series is why the wise choice was made this season to veer away slightly from teenage melodrama and give the adult cast more of an opportunity to shine. It makes sense because, at this point, Cobra Kai has infiltrated the Valley so much, that the adults have no choice but to get into the thick of the action (literally) with their fair share of fighting scenes.
After four seasons of Daniel (Ralph Macchio) being the voice of the reason, seeing him become more reckless and desperate as Terry Silver breaks him (both physically and mentally) was upsetting to watch but shows that the modern Daniel LaRusso is more complex and less clean-cut than we were perhaps led to believe in season 1. The unravelling of Daniel was only highlighted further as we see Johnny (William Zabka) finally get his life together, as his relationships with Robby (Tanner Buchanan), Miguel, and Carmen (Vanessa Rubio) continue to go from strength to strength.
Although he makes good on his vow to close down Eagle Fang, he ends up being a good friend and even a voice of reason (!) to Daniel at points this season, showing just how far he has come since season 1. That being said, we still get plenty of humour through his Mexico road trip and unsuccessful stint as an Uber driver.
As great as season 5 is, there are a handful of moments that let them down. Firstly, Miguel’s father (Luis Roberto Guzman) is an early highlight of the season. Guzman plays Hector with such charm that you can easily see how Carla was enchanted by him — and the terrifying, momentary switch to his darker side still manages to catch you off guard, even though deep down, we all expected it.
The only problem is that the story is very neatly tied up within a couple of episodes to get back to the karate drama — and while the karate drama makes for an entertaining watch, given the way Miguel’s father was built up over multiple seasons, you’d expect there to be a bit of a longer payoff or longer-lasting impact. That being said, Cobra Kai are known for bringing back characters from previous seasons for a round 2 when you least expect it, so hopefully, this won’t be the last we see of Miguel’s menacing father: otherwise, it feels like a lot of build-up for nothing.
There’s also the fact that we’re encouraged to feel bad for Anthony LaRusso (Griffin Santopietro) this season because Kenny (Dallas Dupree Young), who he relentlessly bullied last season, is now bullying him. It’s a testament to Santopietro’s acting over the last few years that he’s been able to create a character as loathsome as Anthony.
While Anthony definitely seems to have grown this season, becoming considerably more likeable over the past ten episodes than he has over the entire series, Kenny’s treatment of him still seems mild compared to the way he was bullied by Anthony the previous season. Sure, Kenny has been brainwashed by Cobra Kai, but he has more than a right to be angry at Anthony.
Finally, while I won’t spoil it here, there’s a cameo involving Amanda LaRusso, which feels incredibly contrived and shoehorned in for the sake of it. While the return of other characters like Mike Barnes makes sense within the context of the plot, this one feels a bit MCU in the worst possible way. Cobra Kai has proven it’s good enough to not have to throw in Karate Kid action figures just for the sake of it, so come on, guys — you’re better than that.
Speaking of cameos, the enhanced role of Chozen this season doesn’t fail to disappoint. When Daniel first brought Chozen in to ‘take down Cobra Kai’ at the end of season 4, I was afraid that the show would become contrived and competitive, but Yuji Okumoto not only delivered some of the best comedy moments this season but also proved himself to be as a formidable fighter and man of honour than he was at the start of his character journey in the ‘8os movie. He manages to infiltrate Cobra Kai as one of Silver’s new senseis, and despite Silver’s history with various other characters on the show, Chozen is probably the only one who proved to be a real match for him.
Meanwhile, although Sean Kanan’s cameo as Mike Barnes was fairly brief, it was impactful enough to deliver fight sequences that, with every season, seem to just get better and better. There’s more blood and brutality this season than ever before, which indicate the raised stakes and extent of Silver’s full villainy.
At least, with Kreese, there was that sense that deep, deep, down, there was a good person in there and more complex reasons about why he wanted to keep Cobra Kai going. But with Silver, as Chozen points out, he has no honour: and that lack of honour ultimately proves to be his downfall.
As the characters continue to develop and Cobra Kai continues to hurtle towards a downfall, the ending of the comedy series as a whole doesn’t feel too far away: but if season 5 is to be the penultimate chapter, then it’s a bloody good one.
Cobra Kai season 5 review
Old friends and foes help deliver the best season yet.