Premiering on Netflix for the first time last year, Season 3 of Cobra Kai was a huge if not anticipated hit for the streaming service. However, it's one of those shows where it used to have another home in broadcasting considering that this show used to be a YouTube Red exclusive which ran for 2 seasons there. Now, with a new home and the show's new alliance teased at the end of season 3, the question remains will it last and if so is it any better than the previous seasons? With the new season releasing on New Year's Day, Cobra Kai uses its key strength as to why this show was popular, to begin with, and at the same time gives us some fresh and familiar faces to throw things off for our leads who were once rivals turned allies. There's redemption, betrayal, change of alliance, and of course the 80's soundtrack this show cleverly integrates and is well known for. Time will tell if this is the best season now that Season 5 and 6 have been renewed, but for now, this will do. Spoilers ahead for Cobra Kai - Season 4 below...
Cobra Kai begins with the alliance of Daniel LaRusso's (played by Ralph Macchio) Miyagi-Do, and Johnny Lawrence's (played by William Zabka) newly created Eagle Fang, training together for the All-Valley tournament. This, however, has a new stake at hand, this alliance is formed due to their shared hatred of Cobra Kai, this time headed by Kreese and a familiar face, Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith). Now, with the alliance learning each of their fighting style and their ideologies, things might seem rosy until it isn't. Well, blame it on the senseis as they find themselves in a predicament where they couldn't bury their past grudge and their egos always get the best of them. Meanwhile, the students also have their personal issues to deal with themselves; Miguel is having a bit of a chaotic turn of events regarding his future endeavors, Tory is jumping from job to job due to Amanda LaRusso's insistence in helping her out, Sam getting fed up with Daniel's overprotective and stubborn ways of teaching, Robby, trying to be a better mentor figure to a young kid with whom he has a connection with, and of course, Hawk, who might have to face major repercussions regarding his previous attacks and betrayal of Cobra Kai when he switched sides during the LaRusso house fight in Season 3. But, we also see an uneasy alliance within Cobra Kai itself, with Terry Silver, seemingly a changed man from the last time we saw him, having disagreements with Kreese regarding the fighting style, approach, and mind games. But, something's amiss in Terry's actions in a way, he may have become something of a master manipulator scheming behind the scenes, something even Kreese might end up regret awakening.
This show has been celebrated for its character development and quite frankly, for a franchise based on The Karate Kid, which is arguably one of the beloved if not 80s pop-culture phenomenon is something of a masterstroke. For one, no character has a singular arc in terms of meeting their goals, they all are flawed in a way. The characters come across as humane, they're subjected to making mistakes or even never acknowledge them due to the hurt caused by it, and even allow characters to display unlikable tendencies, they almost go "full Sith" here. Here, Hawk was the main example in the previous seasons, and with this season as he redeemed, he realizes people may not forgive him that easily. So, when an incident happens that would change his identity, he reverts back to his old self Eli, where he was a weak, soft-spoken, and insecure guy unlike his Hawk persona who was brash, unforgiving, and even a sadistic bully. His arc reminded me of the biblical story of Samson, whose hair was chopped off, draining away all of his strength, and only at the end when it grows back, does he get stronger than ever before. But this time around, Kenny (played by Dallas Dupree Young) takes the mantle of the bullied kid who grows into a bully of his own thanks to Cobra Kai (and Robby). Amongst the new cast, he has the most fascinating arc where Anthony LaRusso happens to be his bully, but in the end, things seem to flip around for him as if karma is at work.
Also, not only the fight styles for Daniel and Johnny have changed, but even their ideologies seep into their lives even if they're unaware of each of their own's influences. Like Johnny's aggressive style of coaching reveals to Sam that he had a choice of being successful if he stayed with his parents, but he chose not to because he currently is doing what he loves and that is teaching karate; which makes Sam realize maybe she doesn't need to let Daniel dictate his ways to her. The same goes for Miguel, who uses Miyagi-Do training to be his own man, and has some clarity in facing his own fears unlike what Johnny or his father did when they abandoned their child. Robby, on the other hand, being one of the students of Miyagi-Do uses what he learned over there, and teaches those moves to Cobra Kai whilst handling his hatred by learning (or unlearning) the moves of Cobra Kai. He surprisingly doesn't go full "villain" here, as in the end, he acknowledges that he and Johnny were both misguided kids looking for a father figure who wasn't acknowledged, hence the trust has been broken. Meanwhile, Tory might get redeemed at the end as she not only brings a drastic shift in the Cobra Kai VS Miyagi-Do/Eagle Fang rivalry but also realizes her fight isn't what it seems and maybe it's okay to open up to people with whom you're not particularly fond of. Here, she gets help from Amanda LaRusso, who initially does this to prevent her daughter from getting hurt again but she feels kindred towards Tory as to why she's been lashing out and even acknowledges her dark past.
The build-up to the All-Valley tournament is well established but at the same time, one might feel you might not get the big fight showdown between some fan-favorite characters. Also, the victors of the tournament here are not only surprising but it also works terrifically in the long run of the show. With a huge betrayal at the end, a possible defection, and a change of gear for LaRusso to go offense; Cobra Kai never stops to be entertainingly binge-worthy. Cobra Kai never dies.