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Cobra Kai Season 3 Review: Shit Just Got Real

Whenever we think about the conflict between good and evil, the first thought comes of Star Wars. The story in Cobra Kai Season 3, which ended at a very unexpected turn in the previous season, reaches many more impressive heights this time and reminds you of the Star Wars franchise. Akin to the fierce battle of right and wrong between Anakin and Luke Skywalker, this season sees a fantastic contest between Daniel LaRusso, Johnny Lawrence and John Kreese. The way writers have juggled nearly two dozen characters in this ten-episode long season, is sheer praiseworthy.

The storylines of the three key characters – Johnny Lawrence (the terrific William Zabka), Daniel Larusso (the rousing Ralph Macchio), and John Kreese (brilliant Martin Kove) – blend beautifully that binds you to the end, as the thrill increases episode by episode.

The story begins two weeks after the shocking school fight at the end of last season. Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) is in a coma and Johnny and Samantha (Mary Mouser) are saddened by the consequences. Daniel and Amanda (Courtney Henggeler) are having problems running their business. The reason for this is Robby (Tanner Buchanan) hurting Miguel. Since Robbie was a member of Daniel’s Miyagi-Do Karate, no one wants to do business with Daniel because of his stained reputation.

On the other hand, John Kreese has wholly seized the Cobra Kai Dojo. Every member of the Cobra Kai follows Kreese’s principles and never hesitates to beat his opponents ruthlessly. Eli, aka Hawk (Jacob Bertrand), is now anxious to be the best in the group, especially for Kreese. But Kreese makes some dramatic changes to the Cobra Kai Dojo that endangers every member’s spot while making it a nightmare for the rest of the Valley School students to confront them.

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The way the story ended last time, it was quite clear that Johnny Lawrence and Daniel Larusso could join hands instead of fighting each other. And it happens in this season (very soon) – but it does not go well with the flow. The first four episodes test your patience several times and make you wonder about the direction the story is taking. It is largely reminiscent of Stranger Things Season 3, which had a similar setup. But it became exciting as it went on, and its precisely what happens in this season of Cobra Kai.

In the first four episodes, the character of Daniel Larusso has received considerable attention. A good amount of time is given to the subplot regarding his business failure. Many recognizable faces appear from the Karate Kid movies during this segment, which will delight the fans. Even those who haven’t seen the films can easily understand their equation with Daniel. And the takeaway of this subplot makes a strong impact in the season’s finale.

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This season kicks into gear from the fifth episode, which sees critical transitions in the story. The mellowness quickly fades away, as two of the primary characters take both physical and emotional beating, raising the stakes like never before. By the time you reach the last episode, which is by far the most entertaining of all Cobra Kai seasons combined, you feel impatient for the rest of the story.

Credit goes to the excellent writing of the two characters, John Kreese and Robby Lawrence. Understanding how well developed and morally powerful Daniel and Johnny’s characters are, the writers have made John Kreese a great, understandable bad guy. He is given a terrific backstory, which unfolds in bits and pieces throughout the season. And during the brutal, climactic confrontation, the revelation of his past pulsates the thrill to a whole new level.

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Martin Kove has once again amazed as John Kreese. He looks really frightening. But who impresses more is Barrett Carnahan, appearing as Young John Kreese (praise to the casting director). Barrett has seldom been a part of popular shows or films like Cobra Kai, and his strong acting makes the character a formidable villain. 

Tanner Buchanan’s Robby Lawrence appears relatively lesser this time, but his character makes excellent progression. One of the season’s vital life lessons is rendered through his and Kreese’s evolution on how bad education leads to absolute wrongfulness.

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Jacob Bertrand’s Hawk is another scene-stealer. His character goes through a moral dilemma, which is very similar to that of Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. The show’s classic commentary on bullying is well served with his character as he finds hard to determine what kind of person he wants to be. 

His excellent performance is rivalled by Gianni Dicenzo’s Demetri, who gets a surprisingly extensive role. His involvement becomes critical to the plot, and you care for him as much as you do for Miguel or Samantha.

Speaking of the two, Xolo Maridueña and Mary Mouser’s performances are quite inconsistent throughout the season. While both have undoubtedly outdone themselves in the fight scenes, they have a lot to work on their facial expressions. Each of them gets one intense emotional scene, and their performance feels notably amateurish. Xolo, in particular, needs to be more expressive during dramatic moments.

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While this season juggles so many characters exceptionally well, providing a more significant focus on developing the supporting characters, it ignores Robby and Tory’s storylines after a certain point. Peyton List is relatively good at acting and during the beginning, she gets a strong solo scene to shine in. But the promise shown during that scene, of getting to know her character more profoundly, gets disregarded from the halfway point as she gets sidelined to being a one-note, aggressive character.

Same happens to Tanner Buchanan’s Robby. He gets his own subplot at the beginning and its very engaging. But as soon it reaches a resolution, he doesn’t appear until a couple of episodes later. And even then, he is saved only for the final few minutes. 

The tone of this season is also, at times, inconsistent. Cobra Kai has always been a campy show, just like the Karate Kid movies were (superior to the films nonetheless!). But this time, shit gets real. There are times when things get nasty, to the point you assume a character might get killed. But considering the nature of the show, you don’t entirely believe it will happen. And within seconds, the heightened intensity drops to usual drama. 

Such transitions are bothersome. You fathom the writers cannot make the story 100% serious, as it will lose the fun and campiness. And considering Cobra Kai is now meant to go on for at least 3-4 more seasons (thanks to the shift from YouTube to Netflix), it is not logical. Hence, you wish the writers and directors handled the seriousness in certain scenes more delicately, and the transitions weren’t this abrupt.

Those hoping to find originality in this season’s narrative will also be disappointed by how identical the writing is in the culminating episodes to Season 2. There is a similar pattern to specific events, save for the production, which has gotten substantially more prominent.

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The combat scenes are thoroughly fantastic and engaging if you overlook one disappointing (and unnecessary) clash in a car garage in episode 2. There is also an excellent one-take combat that goes on for two minutes. The choreography in the said scene is impressive, and it supersedes the awesomeness of the school fight. 

Ultimately, Cobra Kai Season 3 is a sizeable improvement over its previous two seasons. It qualifies as the best, irrespective of its flaws which are heavily overpowered by the good. It is thrice more engaging, exciting, and rousing, raising the bar and making you eager for more. 

Rating: 4 / 5

You can stream Cobra Kai Season 3 on Netflix, while the first two seasons are available on YouTube Premium.

Mayank Nailwal
Passionate about films & filmmaking since 2002.
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