The third season of Cobra Kai had some amazingly large gi's to fill. With the first two seasons establishing a world in a which Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) competed against each other for the hearts and minds of new karate students, the third season had to take a well crafted, tangled storyline, and continue to reinvigorate it. Well, lets just say that Season 3 of this series not only continues to drop Easter eggs like candy, but the storyline itself also gets bolstered for all the characters. Most notably that of Martin Kove who plays the damaged John Kreese. When he was first re-introduced to us in Season 1, he is a man without a dojo. By Season 2's end, not only does he have the Cobra Kai dojo back, but he's got it running like a finely oiled machine. If the late Mr. Miyagi's (Pat Morita) pearl of wisdom that there are "no bad students only bad teachers" ever had any truth, it's never more evident not only in Kreese's story but as a running theme throughout Cobra Kai as a whole. As a result, we get a show that manages to top itself in this best way in this third installment.
Cobra Kai Season 3 opens with all our main characters in recovery mode. Daniel is trying to pick up the pieces with his daughter Samantha (Mary Mouser) and his protege Robby (Tanner Buchanan) after a massive brawl at West Valley High School to close out Season 2. Johnny is mess over his frayed relationship with Robby, his son, as well as his guilt over Miguel (Xolo Mariduena) being nearly crippled in the West Valley brawl. In fact, both Daniel and Johnny have zero idea where Robby is as he's gone into hiding after being the person who nearly killed Miguel.
Meanwhile Kreese uses all of this disarray to solidify the Cobra Kai position. He strengthens bonds with Hawk (Jacob Bertrand) and Tory (Peyton List), as well as other members of the Cobra Kai dojo. In the process we see Kreese's backstory. We come to find out that he was in love with a woman who was with a real jerk of a guy. Kreese (who is much more reserved... almost wimpy) ultimately beats this guy up, goes into the Army, and it is is here that he starts being trained by an officer who will instill in him much of the later Cobra Kai philosophy. We also see Kreese form a bond with a man named Terry who was earlier played by Thomas Ian Griffin in The Karate Kid Part III. If you start connecting the dots (and you follow the movies and this story) you will see that Cobra Kai Season 3 is setting up something massive for Cobra Kai Season 4.
Daniel ends up forcing Robby to turn himself into the authorities. Johnny wants to be there for his son but at the same time he sees it as his duty to help Miguel (literally) get back on his feet. Meanwhile, the LaRusso car dealership is finding itself in some financial straits. Daniel travels to Okinawa (amidst an escalating turf war between the Cobra Kai and Miyagi Do dojo's) to try and strike a financial deal with a large Japanese car company. Sadly, that deal doesn't come to fruition.
However, it does give Daniel time to have a reunion of sorts with Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita) as well as his old nemesis Chozen (Yuji Okumoto). What starts off as a tense meeting of old enemies, soon evolves into something more. It's similar to the slow, evolving friendship between Daniel and Johnny. The kind of bond that can only be forged after experiencing much fire. Later, before Daniel leaves, he actually does get a deal with the Japanese car company but it happens via the most tangential Easter Egg in Easter Egg history. This however does nothing to take away from Cobra Kai Season 3 in terms of story and impact. In fact, it almost seems like a nod to the fans for following and loving this story so much.
Daniel returns just as Miguel is learning to walk again. Johnny has some odd methods for Miguel's recovery but it's precisely these moments that allow the two to deepen their bond. Johnny further deepens his ties to Miguel's Mom Carmen (Vanessa Rubio) all while having a Facebook relationship with Ali (Elisabeth Shue). Eventually, Johnny and Ali end up reconnecting and it literally becomes a Karate Kid Fan Service festival. We find out why they had the problems they did, what happened to Ali all these years, and when Daniel and his wife Amanda (Courtney Henggeler) join the mix (yup, a double-date happens AGAIN), even more Easter eggs are dropped. In fact, we finally find out that Ali DIDN'T just leave Daniel at the opening of The Karate Kid Part II!
As this reunion is happening there is a meeting at the LaRusso home between the Cobra Kai dojo and Johnny's newly formed Eagle Fang Karate dojo. Samantha and Miguel are trying to convince both dojo's that they are in fact stronger if they work together. That's when the Cobra Kai dojo appears and another battle ensues. It is a pitched back and forth war with Hawk and other members of the Cobra Kai dojo realizing that they'd rather join forces with their old friends. Also, Samantha finally battles Tory again (Samantha has literally been shell shocked the entire season over their confrontation at the end of Cobra Kai Season 2), and this time things go much differently. All of this culminates with Johnny and Daniel going to the Cobra Kai gym to confront Kreese who, through a series of events, is now training Robby! Yet another battle happens, this time with Kreese seemingly losing at the end. Cobra Kai Season 3 ends with Daniel and Johnny merging their dojo's at Daniel's place and Kreese, seemingly defeated, calling on an old friend (all signs point to it being Terry Silver) to once again repay the debt owed to Kreese for all the times he saved his life during the Vietnam war. And... there's going to be another tournament to decide which dojo gets to rule Reseda.
It should surprise nobody that Danny and Johnny have finally teamed up. During my initial screening of Cobra Kai Season 3, I wondered if this show needed 3 seasons to get these longstanding rivals together. Then, upon further reflection, it's precisely their rivalry that made it take 3 seasons! Daniel and Johnny are literally two sides of the same coin. In Season 3, a lot comes to light about their feud and the events that led to them battling on the beach, in school, and just about everywhere else that they crossed paths in Reseda, Ca. Their merging schools opens up a lot of possibilities for Season 4. Ultimately however, it seems like the upcoming tournament in that season (which might try to follow the same, if not very similar, hands off, pre-tourney rules as the first film) will eventually see Samantha and Tory settle their beef in an organized setting. Something tells me that Terry Silver (who some internet theorists believe is Tory's dad), is going to have a large hand in the proceedings.
The backstory on John Kreese is not only highly effective but necessary. Again, when it initially started, my thought that he could have ever been a wimp that got pushed around was foremost in my mind. However, as the story deepens, and actually fills out a lot of Season 3, we are really shown Kreese as more than just a bad guy. In fact, Season 2 did a very good job of showing us where Kreese was now. Sure, he is full of bluster and macho energy BUT all of this is explained when we see how much he needs Cobra Kai and Johnny. To see how he became John Kreese is really enlightening. In fact, it's almost tragic in many ways because he joined the military with very noble intentions. He served nobly and put everything he had of himself into being a Green Beret. So it's shocking and sad to see him descend into evil, to become the very thing he joined the military to defeat. At a very young age, John Kreese has had a loss of innocence for which there doesn't seem to be any chance of redemption. At the same time, as bad as he is, as much of a disrupter as Kreese likes to be, he does seem to genuinely care about his students... at least when they are winning. All of this comes to light throughout Cobra Kai Season 3, and it very much makes this season a stand-out.
The biggest hole in this third season is the fact that Robby spends many episodes being absent. There is a nice build-up to his eventual battle with Shawn (Okea Eme-Akwari) during his stint in juvenile hall, but when Robby comes out he sort of just relives his heartbreak with Samantha. The biggest layer to be peeled back is how his now strained relationship with Johnny and Daniel leads him to the Cobra Kai dojo. Kreese, of course, plays the situation perfectly by making Robby's stay there seem voluntary. As street smart as Robby is, even he can't see the game behind such a deal. Also, it stands to reason that he and Tory are going to a thing in Season 4. It might not be a full blown romance, but the two of them are destined to be a power couple at the Cobra Kai dojo. Also, one has to wonder if Shawn is going to make an appearance somewhere. He and Robby, through a few words, essentially squashed their beef after their altercation was stopped. Given how Shawn fought even up (and even showed some karate skills) it stands to reason that he could fall in with Cobra Kai and by proxy Kreese. One also has to wonder if the deepening of the Terry Silver character, will also shed some light on the fan theory that Sato (the late Danny Kamekona from The Karate Kid Part II was somehow involved in the training of both Silver and Kreese. Then again, Cobra Kai really is its own thing so something tells me that it won't go too deeply down the rabbit hole of Karate Kid internet theories. You never know though...
Lastly, as you may or not know, Cobra Kai Season 3 has its share of Easter Eggs. I didn't list them all here and I'm only going to generally refer to them now. Chozen is back and he's a good guy. This is both good and bad. He was a terrific villain in The Karate Kid Part II, so to see him sort of "go soft" now is a bit of a letdown but it's not the end of the world. Ali is back (as we discussed before) and that is certainly good to help flesh out information from the previous films. Daniel's old flame from The Karate Kid Part II actually facilitates an Easter Egg which ultimately helps Daniel have a stronger business position in Reseda. Lastly, while it isn't 100%, it's pretty much understood that at the end of Cobra Kai Season 3, Kreese is bringing in Terry Silver, and possibly Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan) from The Karate Kid Part III. All of this makes one wonder if a Hilary Swank, from The Next Karate Kid, might also make an appearance somewhere. She recently did a Netflix show, Cobra Kai is on Netflix, you see where this is going...
When I was watching The Karate Kid and all of the other attendant films back in the 80s, how could I ever have known that a show called Cobra Kai would somehow tie everything together? In fact, after the first Karate Kid I wondered how they were going to make a sequel because Daniel had beaten Johnny so convincingly. Nearly 30 years after The Karate Kid Part III, the story of these characters is still being told and intermingled with the daily dealings of these character's children. It is both incredible, unbelievable, and hilarious. Cobra Kai Season 3 isn't great because it features a bunch of old characters we thought had left our celluloid lives years ago. It's not even great because it happens to tell a universal story in a unique way. It's great because it does both of those things and manages to create something that can stand on its own. Sure, one could watch Cobra Kai and not any of the Karate Kid films and still enjoy the series. Would it mean as much to you? Probably not. Would you get all the jokes and references? Of course not.
The point is that you would get a lot out of either experience. However, anybody who is any kind of fan of the Karate Kid universe knows that one cannot exist without the other. It's like what the late, great Mr. Miyagi was always stressing to Daniel... balance. That is something that Cobra Kai Season 3 (and all of the other seasons) have in ample supply. It's also why it is so great.