Cobra Kai Season 5 is the best series of the Karate Kid spinoff yet, with the stakes higher than ever, the fights better than ever, and the battle between good and evil concerning not just kids in the valley, but the hearts and minds of karate students all over the world.
For some context of where we are and how we got here, you can check out our review of Episode 1. But right now, we’re diving head-first into all 10 episodes of the season, so COBRA KAI SPOILERS AHEAD...
Cobra Kai is at its best when focusing on the adults, and Season 5 of Cobra Kai realizes that, with pint-sized bullying and teenage love triangles kept to a minimum so the O.G. characters can take center stage.
And Season 5 delivers pretty much everything you could want from this belated Karate Kid sequel, with friends and enemies returning, characters crossing and double-crossing each other, and even a change of scenery, as Cobra Kai leaves the valley for a mission to Mexico.
Johnny’s Mexican adventure
At the start of the series, Johnny heads to Mexico for some father-son bonding, though when the truth emerges – that he’s really there to rescue Miguel from his dangerous Dad – said trip becomes more about father-son fighting.
But their violent vacation gets the season off to an action-packed start, with the Lawrences fighting Mexican locals, foreign thieves, and even MMA fighters to prove the family that slays together, stays together.
But Mexico is Miguel’s story, and the drama with his Dad means he returns to the valley a changed man, with new-found respect for what his Mom has been through, and a new appreciation for Johnny thanks to the rescue mission. He still hates Robby, mind.
Old friends – and enemies – return
Cobra Kai is an exercise in nostalgia, with callbacks and flashbacks to the original trilogy part of the show’s DNA. But with this season harking back to Karate Kid III – the very worst film in that trilogy – the show had a problem on its hands.
As ever however, Cobra Kai gets it right, with cameos dropped in but never outstaying their welcome. And somehow making KK3 better with some context a bit of hindsight.
Daniel’s former girlfriend Jessica (Robin Lively) appears early in proceedings, as turns out the former potter is Amanda LaRusso’s cousin. Who knew? Jessica shows up for an episode and a bar-fight – and never shares a scene with Daniel himself – but gives his wife some insight into the pain Daniel experienced back in the day.
Daniel’s former enemy Mike Barnes – the bad-boy of karate – also appears, and is once again set up as the villain of the piece. But the show then does a nice switcheroo, with Mike now a nice bloke who has seen the error of his ways, and makes a living selling furniture. Meaning redemption for yet another of the karate kids.
Karate Kid II villain Chozen has already had that redemption, and here he’s fully in Daniel’s corner, even going undercover at Cobra Kai on behalf of his friend.
He isn’t the only mole in the series, as covert antics happen throughout Season 5. Early on, Miguel infiltrates his biological father’s new family under false pretenses, only to discover that Dad is a dangerous man. While as the ending approaches, we learn that Mitch/Penis-Breath was double-crossing our heroes. Though that twist feels doesn’t feel earned.
Much better is the revelation that Tory has stayed with Cobra Kai because she’s working on behalf of incarcerated Kreese. As ever, her plot is the most interesting of the young storylines, with Tory trying her best to do the right thing, but instead being used and abused by all the adults around her. And as ever, Peyton List is excellent in the role, selling Tory’s pain as her situation becomes ever-worse.
Cobra Kai’s big plan
Kreese aside, the man most guilty of hurting Tory is Terry Silver, as he’ll do anything to get what he wants. And turns out, his master plan – like a true supervillain – is for Cobra Kai to achieve world domination.
Silver starts out by opening a flagship dojo in Encino, a place to usher in a new era for his style of karate, which like Terry himself, is entirely based on deception.
As in The Karate Kid III, he wants to destroy Daniel, but this time, he endeavors to destroy his family too. But that’s just fun for Terry Silver. As the real mission is taking Cobra Kai global, giving kids all over the world an opportunity to learn and grow through his teachings. And for much of the season, it looks like he will succeed.
Thomas Ian Griffith absolutely dominates in the role. Where he never fully convinced in the movie – dialling it up to 11 at every available opportunity – here he’s genuinely terrifying; an insidious presence who doesn’t just want to defeat his opponents, but rather destroy them, and everything they love.
Terry DOMINATES Daniel
Terry therefore wants LaRusso to go down, and that happens time and time again across Season 5. The series starts with Daniel closing Miyagi-do to protect his students from Silver. Amanda then leaves him due to his newly violent tendencies, precipitated by Terry’s tactics. Then Silver then beats him, and beats him hard, in one of the most shocking fights in Cobra Kai history.
So Daniel is at an all-time low; an arc that affords Ralph Macchio the opportunity to flex his own acting muscles. And he does a great job, breaking Daniel down, then making him truly vulnerable for the first time.
The only thing that can fix him is friends and family, all of whom flock to his side in one of the show’s most emotional scenes, which plays out at Mr. Miyagi’s old house. It’s a moving sequence that very nearly tips into over-sentimentality, but just about remains on the right side of that line.
Friendship is at the core of Cobra Kai, however, and at that moment, Johnny is there for Daniel, with their blossoming friendship the beating heart of the series. So beyond the arguments and the fights, the best bits of Season 5 are seeing Johnny pull Daniel back from the precipice, and inspiring him to live – and fight – another day.
The Verdict – is Cobra Kai Season 5 good?
A TV show where the villain from Karate Kid teams up with the villain from Karate Kid II to fight the villain from Karate Kid III sounds silly. But as ever, Cobra Kai turns the ridiculous into the sublime, with Season 5 the best series thus far.
Indeed the way in which Daniel uses 1989’s “Quicksilver Method” to defeat Terry at the death makes it feel like the showrunners have been working to a 33-year-plan. Which we very much know they have not.
But ultimately, a show like this is only as good as its villain. And with Kreese sidelined for much of this series, that could’ve been a problem. But Thomas Ian Griffith – and Thomas Ian Griffith’s ponytail – stands tall throughout these 10 episodes. Transforming Terry Silver from pantomime villain into something genuinely terrifying; a man who adds no honor to no mercy, and hits his opponents where it hurts, verbally, physically, and psychologically.
The result is a season that feels more dangerous than what’s gone before. It all ends with the traditional battle royale, and while this one might not be as spectacular as previous mega-brawls, it has real consequences, while at the same time giving everyone in the ensemble a moment to shine.
Making this the best Cobra Kai yet, one that ends Terry Silver’s journey – for now. But thanks to that final, Silence of the Lambs-style twist, brings Kreese back to do what he does best in Season 6, which is revenge. Bring It On!
Cobra Kai Season 5 is now streaming on Netflix, while if you want to know how Silence of the Lambs influenced the finale, head here.