Like many other people, I binged all of the new season of Cobra Kai on Netflix over the span of three or four days. Consider this my season review, though I’ll be writing it by ranking the journeys of the primary characters over the course of latest 10 episodes.
Just to make things clear, I’m not ranking these characters based on the actors’ performance. Frankly, I thought everyone was very solid this season. I’m ranking based on how interesting I felt their story was.
Spoiler Warning – I will be going into massive spoilers from season 4 of Cobra Kai, as well as from the previous seasons
15 – Carmen Diaz – Carmen, unfortunately, was not given much to do this season. This is not necessarily a new issue, as she’s always been a bit underserved, but it is what it is.
14 – Demetri Alexopoulos – Similarly to Carmen, Demetri didn’t have a lot offer other than some pop culture references, and getting a little better at karate. The reason why he’s ranked above Carmen is because he gave Eli the pep talk that would propel him to his ultimate position on these rankings.
13- Anthony LaRusso – Anthony was essentially a new character this season, as we never got to spend much time with him in the first three seasons. It was clever of the writers to use that when they brought his character more into the action. Every time we saw him in season 1 through 3 he was more-or-less brushed aside by his parents in favor of their more interesting child. The fact that interactions like this might have led him to becoming your classic rich kid bully archetype is an interesting angle to take. Still, not much of an arc here, but we’ll stay tuned.
12 – Amanda LaRusso – Much like with Carmen, Amanda spent much of her time as a sounding board for her children and significant other. However, her attempts to understand and reach out to Tory gave her arc a little more “oomf” than Carmen’s. Prior to this season there was not as much empathy between characters in conflict as you might expect to see on a show like this. But Amanda led the charge as she did was she could to help her daughter’s former tormentor (and current tormentee, as we’ll get to later) get her life on-track.
11 – John Kreese – Kreese gonna Kreese. He’s still an asshole to his students to make them (what he considers) stronger. He still kind of wants Johnny Lawrence to come back into the fold. And he still feels like one should try to win at all costs. Kreese has always been a bit one note, but his interactions with Terry Silver made things more interesting this season. His attempts to lure Terry back under his control using traumatic shared memories and emotional blackmail in his efforts to strengthen Cobra Kai made for some intriguing psychodrama.
10 – Miguel Diaz – Miguel is the steady moral compass of the show, and has been for its entire run, aside from his brief dalliance with jerkhood late in season 1 and early in season 2. But his big character arc happened in those first two seasons, and it was pretty fantastic.
His time in a wheelchair in season 3 showed that the writers were straining a bit to keep Miguel interesting. He’s still a great character, and I enjoy him whenever he’s on-screen, but being a moral compass does not generally lead to dynamic storytelling.
He did have two stand-out scenes this season, though. His heartbreaking interaction with drunk Johnny, and his subsequent refusal to continue competing in the All Valley Tournament due in large part to that interaction functioned as a strong springboard into whatever he gets up to next season.
9 – Johnny Lawrence – The Johnny-Daniel Rivalry was a huge part of what made Cobra Kai so compelling at first. But it’s become a bit tiresome. I’d hoped they had buried that old grudge at the end of season 3, but it was not to be. Johnny’s jealousy over Daniel – especially Daniel’s bonding period with Miguel – caused things to flare up yet again. He and Daniel seemed to reach the fairly obvious conclusion that “no one way is the right way for everyone” at the All Valley Tournament, as they worked together to help Samantha try win the Girls’ Championship. I hope that the peace holds this time, as there really are more interesting angles to take with Johnny and Daniel’s relationship.
8 – Devon Lee – She actually was a brand new character, and was introduced late in the season, but I got a kick out of her. Her fiery, pro-wrestling style debate tactics were fun. As was watching those traits translate to her karate training with Eagle Fang. Her immediate propulsion to Johnny’s 2nd favorite student was fun, and she generally gave a nice spark to the last couple episodes.
7 – Daniel LaRusso – I’ve got the same gripe with Daniel that I have with Johnny, namely stemming from their drawn-out grudge. But Daniel gets a little bump for his scenes with Anthony, showing us some of Daniel’s flaws that he was seemingly unware of. These interactions helped him come to the conclusion that the teachings of Cobra Kai/Eagle Fang might actually be beneficially to kids trying to find their way in the world. That he came to these conclusions before Johnny did is why he’s ranked higher.
6 – Tory Nichols – Introduced in season 2 as a romantic and physical rival to Samantha, and turned into a cartoonish villain in the season 3 home invasion finale, Tory was finally given a proper arc in season 4. The writers took the interesting family stuff from season 3, and used that as a means to kick off a redemption arc. Sure, she was given the threats of an over-the-top dysfunctional aunt as a catalyst, but it served its purpose.
After a few interactions with Amanda LaRusso, and instructions by Kreese and Silver, Tory actually laid off Samantha for the most part. This led to Samantha sliding more into the instigator role, at least in their relationship, which made things fresher for them both.
That she won the Girls’ Championship over Sam in their first “official” fight was icing on the cake. That she won due to Terry Silver bribing an official to not dock her a point for an illegal back-elbow shot turned that icing sour, and put her in a really interesting starting point for season 5.
5 – Terry Silver – The last time I saw Karate Kid Part 3 was a very long time ago, and all I remember about it was included in Terry’s joke with Kreese that he was “So coked out that he spent weeks tormenting a teenager.” So color me surprised at how interesting I found Terry this season.
He has more layers that Kreese, and his teaching are more devious as well. Using his wealth to ingratiate himself to Robby, and the rest of his Cobra Kai students, by loaning out his fancy car, and pimping out the dojo with state-of-the-art equipment and apparel was a great way to show how his methods were different from Kreese’s.
In fact, the expansion of Cobra Kai and cashing in on its licensing was a nice little bit of meta-commentary when you think about how many Cobra Kai, Miyagi-Do, and Eagle Fang shirts you’ve seen out there since the show premiered.
He was briefly put back in his place by Kreese hanging their experience in Vietnam over his head. But then, with the help of physically and emotionally devastated Stingray, Terry got Kreese locked up and booted out of his way.
Terry’s franchised version of Cobra Kai expanding across the Valley has made them a greater threat than they ever were before, and I am totally here for it.
4 – Kenny Payne – In a lot of ways, his arc in season 4 mirrored Miguel’s in season 1. New kid in town, ruthlessly bullied, decided to learn karate, begins to lean toward his worse instincts. But, since Miguel’s Sensei was Johnny Lawrence, he was able to make his way back to being a good guy. Kenny’s been taking lessons from John Kreese and Terry Silver, neither of whom have any interest at all in bettering themselves or their students. Robby’s mentorship could have been a guiding light, but it too was doomed due to Robby’s blindness to his own shortcomings as a mentor. With Kreese out of the way, and Robby removing himself as an influence, that leave Kenny with Terry as his Sensei, and that’s something we have not really seen yet. It should lead to an interesting ride next season.
3- Robby Keene – I always felt Robby was a bit of a weak spot in the show, often used as more of a plot device than a character. But he came into his own in season 4. Actively learning from Daniel, Kreese, and Terry and using those teaching to turn himself into the most well-rounded fighter in the Valley was a cool culmination of things.
But his story turned a bit more tragic when he took Kenny under his wing, and tried to give him the sort of mentor that he wished he’d had as a kid. Robby, however, was too poisoned with anger to teach Kenny to be anything other than just as angry as him. His fight with Kenny in the tournament served as a microcosm of that, as it started off friendly and with best intentions, but ended with Robby embarrassing Kenny and taking him down way harder than he had to. Robby realized this during his epic Boys’ Championship match with Eli, and it ended up costing him the trophy as the revelation shattered his focus.
Losing his second championship match in as many years, along with his remorse over teaching Kenny all the wrong lessons, sent him to his father for probably the first time in his life. I’ll be interested in seeing where Robby stands with Cobra Kai and with Johnny next season.
2 – Samantha LaRusso – Much like Robby, Sam was never a character who I had much interest in. But season 4 changes that, mainly in how they change her dynamic with Tory. She also openly rebels against her dad’s teachings, and picks up some useful karate techniques from Johnny. But her gradual transformation from victim to instigator was what made her arc so interesting.
She even went so far as to mentally and emotionally attack Tory at her job which – as with her brother Anthony – slides her into the classic rich-kid-bully role. And, to cap it off, she lost the championship match to Tory even though she felt that she had done everything right – including taking the “be true to yourself” lesson to heart. This, of course, is offset by the fact that she racks up a ton of bad karma by making Tory’s life miserable in the weeks leading up to the tournament. In a lot of ways, her current situation most closely reflects Johnny’s at the end of the first Karate Kid movie.
1 – Eli “Hawk” Moskowitz – This is kind of a cheat, since Eli’s current arc really began at the end of season 3 when he decided to turn on his Cobra Kai allies in the heat of battle. But even that wasn’t enough to make up for the shit he’d already put the Miyagi-Do students through while he was under Kreese’s influence. This led to him being a pariah to one dojo, and a traitor to the other. Robby, and Cobra Kai, jumped Eli and shaved off his signature mohawk.
This left Eli seemingly without any friends or allies. But a visit from his old pal Demetri got him back at Miyagi-Do and, eventually, his fellow students forgave him. This all led to his big moment in the All Valley Tournament. Miguel went out during their fight with an injury, which put Eli in the Championship Match with Robby.
I was 100% sure that Robby would win but their match goes to Sudden Death and they both go into full Jean Claude Van Damme “Whipping Off My Shirt For This” mode. After the best choreographed, and most epic, fight in the show’s history Eli wins the final Match Point and is crowned champion.
I love an underdog story and, coupled with the fact that Eli went through the same Cobra Kai/Miyagi-Do cross-training process as Robby without all the fanfare, made this a really cool surprise in the finale.