** This review contains spoilers from Season 2 of Cobra Kai **
Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg and Josh Heald did it again. They have officially created another successful and pleasing chapter in The Karate Kid franchise, a task that still seems nearly impossible considering the Cobra Kai premise. Who would have thought that a continuation to a story told in the ’80s would have such a grip and an affect on our culture decades later? The Karate Kid means so many different things to so many different people, and when Season One premiered on YouTube Premium–or YouTube Red as it was known last year–many fans had low expectations. We’ve all seen the sequels to our beloved 1984 film, and although there are some high points of the franchise within those sequels, the overall quality of their existence fails in comparison to their predecessor.
In an interview I conducted with Ron Thomas (aka Bobby Brown) a few months back, I asked him what fans can expect from Season 2, and he was rather candid in his response. However, he did say, “What I do know is that these three guys Josh Heald, Hayden Schlossberg, and Jon Hurwitz are brillaint, young filmmakers, writers, and producers…They’re really good, and they’re really smart. [T]hey do not want to be the guys known to screw up the franchise. They are going to take this risk, and it’s a big risk.” Well, such high praise is warranted, and Season 2 justifies it.
Was this season as good as the first? Eh, maybe. It was different, and I think that is a good thing. The Karate Kid sequels were a bit stagnate because they tried to replicate the charm of the original, and such direction ultimately left much to be desired from certain characters on-screen. Cobra Kai Season 2 had its moments where it tried to grasp the magic of the first season, but it didn’t try to duplicate it. Our story simply continues, and the characters continue to grow in various ways. There were ups and downs, but it ultimately came together when it needed to do so.
Spoilers will be given beyond this point…No Mercy!
First, I want to address what the season did well, and there are plenty of examples. The obvious answer is the continual growth of Johnny Lawrence. William Zabka is absolutely amazing, and the growth and charm that he brings to his character is Emmy-worthy, honestly. Some of my favorite moments from this season involve his relationship with Miguel (Xolo Maridueña), which continued to grow despite some differences each shared. Sharing details about missing Robby’s birth and his fear of becoming a parent gave fans the impression that this topic is not something Johnny addresses often, or even at all. The fact that he shares this type of fear and vulnerability with Miguel shows that he views Miguel as a son to some extent. He also promised Miguel he will not make the same mistakes with him after Miguel believes Sensei Lawrence is keeping secrets from him and his Cobra Kai brethren. Ultimately, Miguel sees Johnny for who he truly is, and their relationship grows because of Johnny’s transparency. The father-son dynamic is a big part of Season 2 with scenes like Miguel asking Johnny for dating advice. Miguel even gives Johnny dating advice in a way that a son would try to help his dad get back on the market. Oh, and Miguel wants to borrow Johnny’s iconic red Cobra Kai jacket for a costume party. Yep, crane kick to the feels there.
Miguel’s growth is a bit slow at the beginning of Season 2. He has all the glory and admiration of being champion, but he doesn’t have the girl. This type of scenario is very similar to the one Johnny experienced in high school. Miguel obviously feels bad about the events leading up to his break up with Sam (Mary Mouser), but that Cobra Kai pride often gets the best of him when it comes to apologizing or making things right. However, when he begins to question the Cobra Kai mentality based on some disagreements with newly appointed advisor John Kreese (Martin Kove), Miguel begins to change. Miguel is impressionable, but he isn’t stupid. Unlike Johnny, Miguel does have a father figure to turn to instead of relying on a Kreese-type influence, so he doesn’t buy in to Kreese’s message or mentality, which is promising for future seasons.
The Kreese return at the end of Season 1 was epic, and his presence in Season 2 was equally fantastic. He has, and will always be, a thorn in Johnny’s side, but Johnny needed to fully understand that on his own. Johnny tries to forgive Kreese and see the good in a supposedly changed man, but he is blinded by his want to please others. Carmen (Vanessa Rubio) wants Johnny to move on and “rise above” the challenges of his past, and I think Johnny really wants to do this. He has been on the defense for so much of his life, he finally has the ability to “flip the script” himself with his recent success. I think this scene between these two characters will be so important for seasons to come, even after their dramatic falling out in the season finale. Regardless, Johnny runs right into the fire as he tries to test this newfound ideology on the man responsible for breaking him in the first place. It was obvious that Kreese was playing Johnny, and our favorite Cobra Kai alum even told their leader about Kreese’s tendency to have something up his sleeve; however, I think Kreese taking control of what Johnny rebuilt, along with Miguel’s injury, is what will make Johnny truly change.
Side note: That Cobra Kai reunion was fantastic, and I think Johnny was able to see just what kind of bond martial arts can bring to kids. He begins to see these men as his family for the first time, and such principle is very prevalent in what Daniel is currently teaching his students. Unfortunately, Johnny experiences Tommy’s expected death on their trip, and he realizes he really doesn’t have many people who care for him outside of Miguel. Therefore, he wants to do right by Miguel and his other students and bestow true martial arts principles to them (i.e. No Mercy does not mean No Honor).
Speaking of Miguel’s injury, let’s talk about that really quick. I see this creative decision going one of two ways: Miguel can never practice karate again, or he will come back stronger than ever. Being that Migeul is one of the most popular characters– aside from Johnny and Daniel–amongst fans, I really don’t see the writers removing him from the action. Miguel was struggling to find balance in his life throughout the season, and that finale fight scene showed us that he finally achieved it. He showed mercy. He is the only Cobra Kai to actually show mercy, and such action is a direct result of Johnny’s change. Ideally, word of Miguel’s decision to spare Robby will get back to Johnny, and such action will give him hope for his future as a sensei. Miguel and Johnny have a special relationship, and despite Carmen’s disapproval, I really don’t see Johnny making the same mistake with his “son” twice and leaving Miguel’s side after the accident. Sure, he feels as though it is his fault, but everyone’s emotions are running too high for such decisions to be logically understood. Johnny made a promise to always be on Miguel’s side, and Miguel will need him in order to win the biggest fight of/for his life.
Addressing the elephant in the dojo, Miguel wouldn’t be in this predicament if Robby (Tanner Buchanan) would have ACTUALLY used Miyagi-Do karate! Robby was, by far, the most frustrating part of this season. Simply put, he didn’t grow. All of Daniel’s teachings were ignored in a split second. Anger got the best of him. He lacked honor and integrity, but he did so with a lack of compassion. Unlike Miguel’s struggle to find balance, Robby gave others the impression that he found his balance. He left his crime-ridden past behind, or at least he led Daniel and Sam to believe so. However, when the time came for him to demonstrate his newfound ideology, he failed. Forgiveness was a major theme in Season 2, and both Robby and Kreese seem to be in the same undeserving boat. Now, Robby is a loose canon with little grasp on who is truly is, so there is still time for him to change. However, such change will have to be beckoned by Miguel’s forgiveness because I don’t see how Daniel or Johnny could look past Robby’s careless action and aggression.
To continue with some frustrating points of Season 2, let’s dive into those love triangles. Honestly, the romantic connections between the characters were a bit predictable this season. I don’t think anyone will be surprised to find out that Sam still has feelings for Miguel and that Miguel still has feelings for Sam despite his currently fling with Tory (Peyton List). Speaking of Tory, I really liked her character. She is the female embodiment to Cobra Kai with the mentality that the world shows no mercy, so why should she? She isn’t perfect for Miguel, but Miguel needs to learn that on his own. In his defense, he tried to ask Johnny about such predicament, but Robby had to put a pause on that. The Sam/Robby relationship was tired, and it was somewhat similar to the forbidden romance of Ali and Daniel. When Daniel was talking with Sam about his failed relationships, I got the impression that Sam didn’t want to experience the same regret as her father. Daniel appears to have found his true love, but the path to get there was trying and emotional. There were some inconsistencies with love and relationships throughout the season, and some of those relationships distracted me from the Johnny/Daniel rivalry that made Season 1 so captivating.
Lastly, there were some secondary storylines that both pulled me in and pushed me away. The Hawk (Jacob Bertrand) and Demetri (Gianni Decenzo) feud was a nice subplot, but it really damaged Hawk’s credibility to be the bully Kreese’s Cobra Kai needs. When Demetri took Hawk out, I felt like it lacked plausibility. I definitely expect Hawk to use this defeat to push himself further into the darkness, but evil intentions are only half the requirements for being a feared Cobra Kai. A subplot that I really didn’t get behind was Daniel’s marital problems. Amanda (Courtney Henggeler) maximized her screen-time this season, and her role was definitely necessary to Daniel’s quest to fulfill Mr. Miyagi’s manifesto; however, Daniel’s lack of balance in his own life really dampened my view of him. Amanda was supportive of Daniel’s ambitions, but Daniel really didn’t abide by his own Miyagi-inspired principles. It took a heart-to-heart with his mother to realize this fault, but there has to be a time when Daniel is confident in his own thoughts and goals if he wants to truly embody Mr. Miyagi’s role in his students’ lives. He has to put his jealousy and hatred for Johnny aside, and it doesn’t appear as though he is ready to do that based on his confrontation with Amanda in the finale.
Overall, Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg and Josh Heald have a plan, and Season 2 was created with future seasons in mind. These guys are not coming up with this stuff on the fly, and I firmly believe fans will look back on Season 2 with that same “Ah ha”-type of mentality associated with other iconic films and shows. It isn’t over yet. This season left a lot open for future seasons, but one key concept is displayed amidst all the chaos and uncertainty: Johnny and Daniel need one another. Sure, they may hate each other and blame one another for various hardships they’ve endured, but both men are not balanced. It will take a common enemy to make them realize this need, and John Kreese fits this mold. Johnny is not a true Cobra Kai, and Daniel is not true Miyagi-Do. However, both men exemplify the crucial traits to make such karate ideologies successful and impactful. Now, let’s just hope they can see such reality before it’s too late.
One last thing, would it be too much to ask for a Mike Barnes role in Season 3? A Johnny Lawrence rescuing Daniel LaRusso from a ruthless Mike Barnes beating is something we all NEED to see.