He's a Cold-Hearted Snake

Cobra Kai: Season 2

It's fair to say that the first season of Cobra Kai was a welcome surprise. I guess, coming at it after both seasons had been produced and aired, I shouldn't have been that surprised, but even still, it's a (streaming) TV show based on a three-plus decade old property after that film series petered out to yawns and indifference from audiences. What new was there to add to the universe of the Karate KidIt's the teen-friendly Rocky riff that defined a generation, with karate, montages, and a lot of power '80s rock, as Daniel LaRusso becomes the Karate Kid.. Well, as the first season proved, a lot, in fact.

What made the first season really work was that it focused not just on Daniel LaRusso (still played by Ralph Macchio) but, primarily, on Daniel's former (and now current) rival, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka). Johnny was on hard times and, after finding a kid to take under his wing, decided to reopen the Cobra Kai dojo. It allowed the show to take a knowing look at its own history as Johnny basically pulled a reverse-Miyagi while, really, growing in his own way and changing how Cobra Kai was run. It was a smart and funny and made the whole Karate Kid concept compelling again.

Now, for this second season, the show really broadens out its scope, adding in new characters, new settings, and a lot more karate action. Season two ended with the appearance of John Kreese (Martin Kove, once again), the former sensei of Cobra Kai. He wants back in but Johnny is resistant to let Kreese anywhere near Cobra Kai because, frankly, Kreese was an awful and abusive teacher. However, seeing that Kreese had fallen on his own hard times, and thinking that everyone deserved a second chance, Johnny let Kreese back in. This, naturally, led to Kreese teaching his more aggressive lessons to the students, and added friction to the dojo.

Meanwhile, after officially taking Johnny's son, Robby (Tanner Buchanan), under his wing, Daniel decides that now is the time to reopen the Miyagi-Do dojo so he can train a new crop of students in Miyagi's brand of karate. His class of students expands, first with his own daughter, Sam (Mary Mouser), and then additional students that flee the harsher lessons of Cobra Kai. The two dojos begin to go to war with each other (with some egging on from Kreese), leading to a number of larger fights and a lot of bad blood. The big question of the season is, how will all of this spill out when there's no karate tournament this time around to settle the score?

In reading about Cobra Kai, before deciding to dive into the series (or even re-watch the whole Karate Kid series as well), the one complaint I heard was that this season was vastly more dramatic, to the detriment of the series. From a certain angle I can see that; the first season had a lighter and more fizzy take on the material, basically knowingly prodding and poking at the stories of the original movies while still crafting it's own parallel take to the material. Some of that humor has been lost, largely because the story is shifting and growing and the characters are deepening.

I don't think the show taking on a slightly more dramatic tone is necessarily a bad thing. If the show had continued providing a knowing take on the material it's probable that it would have slipped too far into parody, losing its compelling angle on the material as it tried harder and harder to be funny. While this season might not be as light and fizzy as season one, it does provide plenty of opportunities for the characters to show real growth and depth. That's the kind of evolution I can appreciate.

Take Johnny. Over the course of the first season he dealt with his son, Robby, who wanted nothing to do with him and joined with Daniel specifically to spite his father. While Robby is still a factor on Johnny's life, the sensei realized that his first student, Miguel (Xolo Mariduena), has grown to be like a son. He has real affection for the kid, going out of his way to be there for Miguel in a way he never was for his own son. It's real character growth and added shading as you realize Johnny, in his own small ways, is slowly growing and becoming more of an adult.

Daniel, meanwhile, seems to be regressing as he's caught in a kind of mid-life crisis. He's taking the karate portion of his life more seriously, to the detriment of his marriage and his business. Where Johnny is pulling his life together, realizing that Cobra Kai is important but not as important as the people around him and the relationships he's forging, Daniel is getting lost in the war between dojos and is acting more and more like the hot-headed kid from the first movie. It's an interesting path for the character which hints at a real wakeup call for him come season three.

Daniel would, frankly, be the villain of the series were it not for Kreese, who steps in and starts his usual machinations all over again. The series hints, for a time, that the character had changed, that he was legitimately looking to be a better person, but as we see over the course of the season, that's all a ruse. While I can appreciate having someone easy to hate -- it certainly gives us an alternate version of Cobra Kai to compare against as we see what Johnny is trying to accomplish -- I do wish Kreese was treated with more depth. He doesn't have an arc here, simply continuing to be same character we saw in all three main Karate Kid films (Part I, Part II, and Part III).

A villain works better when we can related to them; we can relate to Daniel, but we just can't relate to Kreese, and that's because he has no depth, shows no growth, and is just an evil scumbag from day one (all the way back in Part I), never changing. It sucks. I want more from this character, but instead of seeing him grow or exhibit anything approaching human emotions, we just see the devastation he causes to the dojo, making the students more violent, more aggressive, and shifting Cobra Kai away from honor, like Johnny was teaching, back to winning at all costs. I just need more from him than that.

The protagonists of the show this time around really are the senseis, Johnny and Daniel, mostly because the students aren't as interesting this time around. Miguel and Sam get mired in a love quadrangle storyline with Robby and new Cobra Kai student Tory Nichols (Peyton List). Tory isn't really given any depth -- we don't see her back-story in any form, so she remains a cypher in the series -- thus she simple acts like eye candy for Miguel and a bad-girl in relation to Sam. She's a weak link, to be sure, just like Robby. He's a character with constantly shifting motivations, who seems evil sometimes and good other times, and its hard to get a lock on him. He shows growth and depth slowly of the season, but then he backslides and acts even worse than before. Like with Kreese, I need more from Robby, I need him to show real change and not just be a character than can be a villain when the show needs it.

That really leaves us with Miguel and Sam, the two with closest connections to their parents. Mired in this love story that doesn't seem to be going anywhere (but is certainly YA-friendly), neither of them get to do as much growing this season as I'd like. They're still great characters, performed well by their leads, but they need to be given more to do outside of a will they/won't they relationship. They had so much more going on in their lives in the previous season -- learning karate, dealing with bullies, learning to truly nature of their friends -- that this season's focus almost entirely on the love quadrangle feels rather hollow by comparison.

But while not all the characters have the growth I'd like to see, the action in the series is improved over last season. The karate was pretty good in season one, to be fair, but it's clear everyone involved in the series has been practicing and improving their karate skills. There's nothing of the embarrassingly bad karate of the early movies, or even a few of the early episodes, here in this second season. The fighting is tight, well plotting, and quite well filmed, giving you a real sense that the actors know what they're doing and, at least on screen, can handle themselves. That was a real plus this time around and kept me invested in the fight sequences.

I'd say this season is an improvement, really, on the previous one, despite my nitpicks. Yes, there were some things that bothered me looking back at it, but in the heat of it, binging through the series, I was hooked in and really enjoying the story as it played out. While not all the characters get the same level of growth and depth as in first season, there's more going on this time around and the show shifts its focus away from just mirroring the first movie towards something grander and bigger. It's compelling, to say the least, and I'm eager to see where the show goes through its third season (and beyond).

The quality of the show is still good enough that I'm really excited for third season, especially since we have a direct villain/hero plot line that develops at the end of the season that needs to be resolved. If the show can tighten up some of its sophomore issues and really give all the characters more time to shine, third season could be a real winner. Here's hoping NetflixOriginally started as a disc-by-mail service, Netflix has grown to be one of the largest media companies in the world (and one of the most valued internet companies as well). With a constant slate of new internet streaming-based programming that updates all the time, Netflix has redefined what it means to watch TV and films (as well as how to do it). treats the show right and let's it continue for some time to come.