Watching Cobra Kai requires a unique type of suspended disbelief. The karate being performed is technically possible ( unlike Marvel or The Matrix, no one has superpowers here). but the idea that scrawny high school students are the ones doing the flying kicks and throwing each other through windows feels unlikely at best.
Put another way: Cobra Kai is the most realistic superhero story on TV today, blending high-concept action with a multi-generational story of revenge. And in its fourth season, the Netflix series expands its mythos even further while telling possibly its most grounded story yet.
Cobra Kai Season 3 saw Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (Billy Zabka) end their rivalry to take on a common enemy: John Kreese (Martin Kove). The three karate senseis agree to settle their feud at the upcoming All Valley Karate Tournament — the same place where the original Karate Kid reached its climax.
Throwing more ass-kicking fuel on that fire is Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith), Kreese’s evil benefactor in Karate Kid III who returns to bail his friend out again in Cobra Kai Season 4. With new teams established (and the cast of kids falling in line behind their various senseis), the story focuses on the lead-up to the big tournament, which makes up most of the season’s two-part finale.
Focusing the plot around the All Valley tournament comes with pros and cons of its own. On the plus side, it’s genuinely exciting to watch the event. Not just because of the in-universe stakes (whichever team loses has agreed to disband their dojo forever), but because the karate still packs a punch even after four seasons. This many episodes in, we’re familiar with the fighting styles of various characters to the point where when Daniel LaRusso explains the advantages of his Miyagi-Do Karate over Cobra Kai’s methods, it actually makes sense.
The only problem is that because the action in Cobra Kai Season 4 is limited to a tournament, we get a lot less fighting throughout the rest of the season. That makes for more filler than usual in the middle, but it also means the final showdown this time around feels a lot more realistic than the all-out brawls that capped off Seasons 2 and 3.
The tensions in Cobra Kai Season 4 aren’t limited to Miyagi-Do vs. Cobra Kai, either. Despite teaming up at the end of Season 3, Johnny and Lawrence still struggle to get along. It’s fun to watch them butt heads, but this rivalry ultimately amounts to nothing and feels like a waste of time — despite a few entertaining moments along the way.
But the best addition to the Netflix show is Terry Silver, a fan-favorite from the original movies who becomes a much more fleshed-out character here. In Karate Kid III, Silver was pure evil and more than a little unhinged. In Cobra Kai, he’s a much more balanced character who initially resists returning to the world of high school karate before diving in fist-first and revealing himself to be eviler than ever.
With Cobra Kai Season 5 already done filming, we’ll definitely be seeing more of Silver (along with the rest of the cast) before too long. But in the meantime, Cobra Kai Season 4 is here to give 2021 the flying kick it deserves as this never-ending year finally comes to an end.
Cobra Kai Season 4 premieres December 31 on Netflix.