Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Cobra Kai Season 3 feels like a breath of fresh air. While the two prior seasons focused on finding redemption through empathy and forgiveness, this go-around takes the next step by demonstrating the way to rebuild fractured relationships. It’s a perfect message to kick off 2021 as we rejoin our characters laid low after the cataclysmic school fight concluding Season 2.
After a rough year, to say the least, we are all in need of healing, and this new entry in The Karate Kid franchise shows that it’s possible to move forward through authentic connection with others. That central theme comes across in Mr. Miyagi’s guiding letter: “In life we always lose our way, but it is people, not the signs that guide us back to the right path.”
Though Season 3 begins in a dark place, the show’s characters find healing and strength by connecting with each other. Below, we’ve assembled a breakdown of the paths taken by our favorite heroes and villains in Season 3. Consider it a post-binge guide that allows you to meditate on all of the action that went down across 10 sprawling episodes.
Miguel and Johnny
Season 2 last saw Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) in a coma with his ability to walk again in question. We rejoin the story as he tries to find the will within himself to wake up. He does and it’s through his relationship with Johnny that he is able to find the strength to heal.
Throughout his recovery, Johnny (William Zabka) tries increasingly ridiculous methods to get Miguel literally back on his feet, but it’s in his honest moments of anger and frustration that Miguel makes his most significant progress. These are important moments for both characters as they learn that their bond is strong enough to withstand harsh words and disappointment.
Eventually, Johnny carries this lesson to his strained relationship with Robby (Tanner Buchanan) as he tries to support his son even though his attempts are met with anger and resentment.
Johnny and Ali
Perhaps the show’s most visible connection is the return of Ali with an “i” (Elisabeth Shue). It’s a literal connection to the original film, but also serves as an important bridge between the past and future. After becoming friends on Facebook, Johnny struggles to paint his life in shades of perfection while reckoning with the fact that the reality is anything but. It’s when he finally articulates his relationship with Miguel and his students in a message to Ali that he’s able to put words to the new purpose in his life. This stabilizing moment propels him forward with a clear eyed focus that feels like true growth.
Johnny and Daniel
Ali’s return also serves as a pivotal moment in Johnny’s relationship with Daniel (Ralph Macchio). The two have flirted with reconciliation in previous seasons, even working together for brief moments in time, but their stubbornness always gets in the way. It’s not till the trio reunites at the country club Christmas party (a fun nod to the original) that the two men are finally able to put the past behind them.
Ali brokers this peace by pointing out that they have more in common than they want to admit, and they are finally able to stop the constant one-upmanship that has long defined their relationship. Through honest and healing conversations, each lets go of his own regret over losing Ali removing one of the major wedges at the heart of this decades long grudge.
Daniel has always seen himself as the good guy, but after the school fight in which his student, Robby, severely injures Miguel, he’s questioning his actions and has shuttered Miyagi-Do. In the season’s other major callback, he travels back to Okinawa, ostensibly to save his struggling dealership, but it’s clear that he’s searching for guidance. He finds it in a chance meeting with former love interest Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita), and, by proxy, Mr. Miyagi and his love letters to Kumiko’s aunt Yukie.
Written shortly before his death, one letter describes the way mentoring Daniel guided the sensei back to his own path. As always, Mr. Miyagi’s wisdom is the guiding light of the series, but here we realize that Daniel was also a light for Mr. Miyagi, helping him recover from the loss of his family and giving him purpose in the same way the students have guided Daniel and Johnny.
In Okinawa, Daniel also reconnects with Chozen (Yuji Okumoto) years after the two nearly fought to the death. Though tense at first, they bond over the fact that they both practice the same form of karate, and Chozen teaches Daniel a new technique, the ability to incapacitate an opponent hellbent on destruction.
Chozen stresses the importance of releasing regret when telling Daniel that he wished to die after losing their long ago fight. It was his uncle Sato who helped him rehabilitate and become the teacher he is now. This advice guides Daniel’s path when he returns home and opens the dojo again, moving past the pain of the devastating fight.
Though coincidental, Daniel’s reconnection with the girl he saved from the typhoon, who is now in a key position to save his business, is a nice reminder that the goodness we put out into the world will come back to us when we least expect it. This also serves as a key counterpoint to the hate Kreese spreads.
Through flashbacks, we learn more about Kreese’s (Martin Kove) background, giving context to his nihilistic worldview. We see his time in Vietnam, learn about the tragic deaths of his mother and girlfriend, and watch him reject his own humanity to avoid feeling the crushing pain of loss and trauma. Betrayed by his own “sensei” it’s now clear that part of Kreese never left that bridge in Vietnam and he’s been fighting ever since.
In the dojo, he returns to form, valuing strength over everything else and rejecting students at the slightest sign of weakness. Hawk (Jacob Bertrand) begins to see that Kreese’s concern is only in service of his insatiable need for vengeance, but Tory (Peyton List) and Robby, both suffering from intense pain themselves, are prime targets for Kreese’s manipulation. He teaches them to channel their hate in the guise of strength, but this will only lead to more suffering.
Ironically, it’s the shared love and concern for Robby that provides the strongest connection for Johnny and Daniel. Though he’s Johnny’s biological son, both men see themselves as father figures and mentors to the troubled boy and both struggle to connect with him. After a lifetime of abandonment and disappointment by every significant adult in his life, it’s understandable that he prefers to be alone. Unfortunately this leaves him vulnerable to Kreese’s lies.
Cobra Kai spent two seasons allowing its characters to learn from their respective pasts, and here they begin to finally move forward. The final scene is a powerful statement of hope as each character is joined by his or her counterpart in Miyagi-Do.
Though these reconciliations began as fear of the enemy, the season’s climactic fight reveals that they are stronger together, now well aware that Kreese’s toxic hate has always been the real enemy. With that notion, Johnny and Daniel have finally put the past behind them and formed the connection that will propel them forward in the fight for the soul of the valley.
I can’t think of a better way to kick off a new year.