Here they are, the 50 episodes of Cobra Kai — or 49, since I count the final two episodes of season 4 as a single double-length finale — all ranked most properly.
1. Miyagi-Do. Season 3, Episode 5. The crown jewel of the series is Daniel’s reckoning with Chozen. Not only do they have a ripper of a sparring session, their moment of reconciliation couldn’t feel more earned. Let’s face it, Karate Kid Part II was always better than its classic predecessor, and Miyagi-Do pays it off with perfect closure. The episode delivers in the American threads too, with some of the best fights of the season. Robby starts a brawl in juvenile detention, which is brilliantly choreographed. Sam arrives at the arcade to start her own brawl against Cobra Kais, but with the arrival of Tory is suddenly crippled by PTSD flashbacks, unable to do anything as Eli, shockingly, breaks Demetri’s arm. The Okinawan drama shows how melodramatic the American one is by comparison. For all their ugly history, Kumiko and Chozen have moved on and are at peace with each other; Chozen is also at peace with Daniel, and Daniel finds forgiveness within easy reach. If Daniel and Chozen can be this way after trying to kill each other, why can’t Daniel and Johnny put petty rivalries behind? There are two levels of surrealism here, the exotic Asian, and the absurdist American, and the former hangs as a commentary on the latter.
2. No Mercy. Season 2, Episode 10. By rights this should be #1. The school brawl is one of the most impressive choreographed martial arts sequences ever filmed. It runs for a full twelve minutes and is pure insane chaos, starting in a hall of lockers, then sprawling out everywhere in the building. Tory starts it, intent on smashing Sam to pieces for moving in on Miguel. Pretty soon every karate student is throwing fists and kicks, turning the first day of school into an all-out war between Cobra Kai and Miyagi-Do. The Cobra Kais were the tournament victors in season 1, but in the high-school halls their glory is not repeated. The Miyagi-Dos thrash them at every turn: Nathaniel beats Bert; Chris pounds Mitch; Sam crushes Tory (though barely, and not without bleeding for her efforts); even Demetri, miraculously, gets the better of Hawk. These victories are effectively nullified, however, when Robby betrays the Miyagi creed and kicks Miguel off the railing of the second floor landing. One wonders if it’s possible in the Cobra Kai universe to win without being merciless? Or is it simply that losers who show mercy are the real winners? That’s not how it worked in the Karate Kid trilogy, where Miyagi-driven karate guaranteed victory. Maybe Daniel is just an ineffectual sensei in the end: when Robby fights as instructed (season 1) he loses, and when he ignores Daniel’s benevolent teachings (season 2) he gets satisfaction.
3. Head of the Snake. Season 5, Episode 10. One critic has said this finale feels more like Game of Thrones than Cobra Kai, and I have to admit, I was fooled into thinking that Chozen and Kreese were killed off. And though they both live on, there’s no denying that more blood is spilled in this episode than in the previous four seasons combined. We haven’t had a high-stakes finale like this since season 2. Johnny gets the absolute shit kicked out of him by Silver’s men, while Chozen gets into a sword fight with Silver and sliced up good for his efforts. As for the Miyagi-Fang kids, they have just as much balls, breaking into Silver’s dojo to expose him for corruption, and getting attacked by hordes of Cobra Kais. It all builds to a dramatic showdown between Daniel and Silver, and Daniel annihilates the piece of shit by using Silver’s three rules against him — and tops it off with a crane kick we haven’t seen from him since the ’80s. This is a finale that fires your bloodlust and has you shouting and cheering at the screen. It’s a game changer in the Cobra Kai universe and leaves the sixth and final season a tough act to follow.
4. The Fall & The Rise. Season 4, Episodes 9 & 10. The double-bill finale is an adrenaline rush that ends up crowning two unexpected champions. I was banking on Sam taking the girls’ trophy against Tory, and Robby taking it for the guys against Miguel. Turns out Miguel doesn’t even make it to the finals, and Eli (most unexpectedly) smacks down Robby, while Tory defeats Sam. Tory’s victory is a cheat on the part of the referee, bribed by Terry Silver, but I was sort of happy she won anyway. In this season my sympathies were evenly split between Sam and Tory; during their fight I rooted for each simultaneously. In any case, I have to hand it to the show writers for writing a finale on this level of grandiosity, with some of the best choreographed fights scenes in the series, including the kata competitions with lethal weapons. Not to mention the unpredictable twists at the end, with Kreese getting hauled off to jail, Silver’s takeover of Cobra Kai (soon to become a franchise), and Daniel’s recruitment of Chozen. Season 5 is sure to be a snapper, with Daniel honor-bound to shutdown Miyagi-Do while Cobra Kai dojos begin multiplying across the Valley. Season 4 may be the weakest on whole, but it’s ending is absolutely triumphant. Given that the triumph is Terry Silver’s (talk about the worst of bad guys winning), that’s really saying something.
5. Mercy. Season 1, Episode 10. Everything in the first season builds to the tournament finale and a solid payoff. It’s better than the classic Karate Kid competition for a number of reasons, mostly because of the inversions which have made viewers unsure of their allegiances. The Cobra Kais fight dirty, but they are still sympathetic, and frankly they were the ones I was rooting for, even over Robby. When Daniel and Johnny faced off in the ’80s, it was cookie-cutter good vs. evil. With Miguel and Robby in the final round, there’s no such duality this time. Each is an asshole; each is likeable. And big kudos to the writers for having Miguel take the trophy, which I didn’t expect at all. By now, after four seasons, we’re used to reversals and twists, but in the first season I was expecting Daniel’s protege to win. But no: Miguel kicks the shit out of him, and in a very Cobra Kai fashion — by taking full advantage of Robby’s shoulder injury, hitting him in his wounds repeatedly with “no mercy”. A sleazy move, and yet somehow Miguel (unlike the ’80s Johnny) doesn’t come across as despicable for it. That’s damn good storytelling.
6. The Right Path. Season 3, Episode 4. In which Daniel flies to Okinawa, reunites with Kumiko, and Mr. Miyagi speaks from the grave: Daniel was like a son to him, reads Kumiko, in a very moving scene. It’s a surreal episode that sets the stage for Chozen in episode 5, and the stuff that happens on the western front is just as good. Johnny finally gets his shit together and starts instructing Miguel again — who falls on his face trying to move from his hospital bed. Sam shows her teeth at school, initiating an awful chain of events over the next two episodes. It begins in the cafeteria with Eli demolishing Demetri’s science project (that took the poor kid three weeks to build), and then Demetri and Sam, incredibly, the ones who are chastised for it. Eli, all innocence, protests to the school counselor about being triggered in his safe space, and warns Sam against any further micro and macro aggressions. (I adore Cobra Kai for not showing mercy in mocking political correctness.) When the counselor swallows Eli’s deferential bullshit, the Miyagi-Do “good guys” decide to take revenge in gym class, and the surrealism goes into overdrive when the punches, headbutts, and windmill kicks start flying — and the referee just stands on the sidelines exasperating and wringing her hands. A brilliant episode all around.
7. Pulpo. Season 2, Episode 9. Similar to “Different But Same” (see right below), and it’s hard to choose between them, but I give this one the slight edge. The party at Moon’s home isn’t as good as the beach party in season one (I mean, you can’t beat Miguel punching Sam in the face), but it does have its moments — especially Demetri’s public humiliation of Eli for his history of bed-wetting. It’s the double-date bonding between Daniel and Johnny that one-ups the previous season’s scene in the bar. All four actors play their parts to perfection as they dine on Mexican food and fancy drinks (except for Johnny who sticks to his Coors). The transition from petty slights and insults to goodwill is genuinely affecting, and it culminates on the dance floor with Carmen teaching Johnny a few moves. Naturally the spell is broken, the very next day, when Daniel wakes up to find Sam missing (she never came home) and then finds her wasted and hungover at Johnny’s — which undoes all the good will in a stroke, and causes Daniel to lose his shit — but while the precious moments last in this episode, they really count.
8. Different but Same. Season 1, Episode 9. The first-season penultimate alternates between the beach party, where Miguel does his damnedest to piss off Sam, and the test drive, in which Daniel and Johnny begin bonding. The latter is handled so splendidly, as Daniel learns for the first time about Johnny’s upbringing; his parents may have been rich, but his stepdad was an asshole. The bar scene is of the best moments in the series, as they ruminate over Ali Mills and Daniel shows Johnny how Facebook works. The good will doesn’t last long once they return to the LaRusso home and Johnny sees Robby there — Daniel has been training his own fucking son — and Daniel, just as horrified to learn that Robby is Johhny’s son, tells the kid to get out of his life. It’s hard to say which story arc is the better — the kids on the beach or the men in the bar — and while it surely must be the Daniel-Johnny stuff, I do love Miguel’s misfire, when he throws a punch at Robby and socks the be-Jesus out of Sam instead. That and the wedgie Aisha gives to Yasmin. I mean, priceless, on both counts.
9. Counterbalance. Season 1, Episode 5. The episode that turned me and made me a fan of the rebooted franchise. So much happens at this midpoint. Aisha joins Cobra Kai, and becomes one of the season’s best characters. Johnny at first refuses her, on the politically incorrect wisdom that “no girls are allowed at Cobra Kai”, until the girl proves her potential by slamming Miguel on his ass and almost breaking his ribs (mostly on the strength of her fat-ass weight for which she has been relentlessly teased). Daniel gets in his most supremely asshole move of the series, by manipulating a business associate into doubling the rent in the strip mall where Cobra Kai has opened — which shafts not only Johnny but all the other mall renters. (Amanda rightly slams him for it.) The best part is Miguel finally paying back Kyler for all his abuse, by unloading a karate ass-pounding on him in the school cafeteria. This wins Sam’s affection and plants the seeds of their relationship. And then an unexpected scene in the cemetery: Daniel by Mr. Miyagi’s grave, really missing the guy. I wish I could rank Counterbalance higher; it’s a flawless episode.
10. Extreme Measures. Season 5, Episode 5. This episode does two things. First it brings about a reconciliation between Miguel and Robby after a therapeutic fight — Johnny’s last-ditch idea after failing to bridge the two kids by more peaceful means. It’s the best fight between kids in season 5 (which focuses mostly on the adults) and the crippling specter of the season-2 finale hangs in the background. The second thread is more grim: Terry Silver’s declaration of war as he brutally kicks the shit out of Daniel in Stingray’s home. Never has Daniel been so low as in this episode — abandoned by Amanda, full of rage and self-pity, drinking in the morning, pissed that no one (except Chozen) sees the threat that Silver poses. Amanda and Johnny think all is well with Kreese behind bars and that Daniel is crazy. It’s quite amusing when it’s Johnny scolding Daniel for a change — “You show up out of the blue, raving like a lunatic, reeking of booze, and now you want to fight me because I don’t want to get pulled back into this rivalry?” In the end, Johnny and Amanda do finally wake up (after Silver leaves Daniel bruised and battered) and Johnny is officially on board to work with Daniel and Chozen. This is a great episode for how far it pulls Daniel down, while letting Miguel and Robby exhaust their hatred for each other — all around solid karate brawls.
11. Match Point. Season 4, Episode 5. After four redundant and poorly paced episodes, the fourth season finally gets going and delivers the smack down we’ve long waited for: Daniel vs. Johnny. They engage in a tournament-style match to determine who will take over exclusive training of the Miyagi-Do’s and Eagle Fangs. Daniel is convinced that Terry Silver is a dangerous psychopath who can be countered only by Miyagi-style karate, and Johnny has simply had enough of Daniel’s overly defensive philosophy. Sam supports Johnny and tells her father off in a wonderful kitchen scene. This episode is also a dramatic turning point for Eli: the Cobra Kais ambush him and shave his head, completely demolishing his sense of self-worth. (He’s been “The Hawk” for three whole seasons, since episode 6 of season 1.) Johnny of course wants revenge on the Cobra Kais, while Daniel counsels the usual pacifism, and here it becomes clear that Sam is getting fed up with her father’s intolerance for any style of karate that isn’t pure as the driven Miyagi. With this episode, season 4 starts to play for keeps.
12. All In. Season 2, Episode 5. The mall brawl pays off the wheel technique — Sam and Robby’s training on the circle-raft that capsized them into the pond on so many occasions in episode 2. This comes when Eli and other Cobra Kais gang up on Demetri and chase him through the mall (to the delightful tune of “Shelter”), because he wrote a nasty review on social media about the Cobra Kai dojo. Moon commendably ditches Eli for bullying his best friend, while Daniel slowly begins to reach Demetri who seemed so goddamn hopeless as a karate student. On the romantic front Miguel begins his affair with Tory, while Robby and Sam start to feel drawn to each other. But it’s here that Kreese begins acting behind Johnny’s back and undermining him, by telling Eli to vandalize Miyagi-Do in retaliation for the mall brawl. Eli puts a team together and trashes Miyagi-Do outrageously, and the next morning Daniel storms into Cobra Kai to confront Johnny (who literally has no idea what the hell Daniel is talking about) in front of his own students. Some of those students are so disgusted with the mall brawl and the vandals that they leave Cobra Kai and defect to Miyagi-Do on the spot. A solid-A episode.
13. December 19. Season 3, Episode 10. No, it shouldn’t be higher. While season three is the best season on whole, it has the weakest finale. By that I mean it has problems you can’t ignore (unlike Mercy, No Mercy, The Fall & The Rise, and Head of the Snake, where the flaws are trivial). Misfire #1: the flashbacks to Kreese’s youth in Vietnam (where he and his squad are forced to fight each other to death over a pit of slithering snakes). Delving into Kreese’s backstory was a mistake throughout the season; it produced a clash in tone and did nothing to advance our understanding of Kreese in any meaningful way. Misfire #2: the country club party. While I enjoyed the return of Ali Mills, her drama becomes intrusive in the finale, which cuts back and forth between the club party and the karate war in the LaRusso home. In seasons 1, 2, 4, and 5 the finale battles were uninterrupted as they deserve to be. The season 3 finale divides our interest and puts our bloodlust on pause. Misfire #3: Eli’s repentant turnaround. It was a nice idea but poorly executed. I didn’t buy his sudden defect to the Miyagi-Do/Eagle Fang team right in the middle of the house war. It didn’t feel earned. Aside from those problems, December 19 is an admittedly socking finale, with Kreese’s assholeries finally pushing Daniel and Johnny together for common cause.
14. Survivors. Season 5, Episode 9. Seeing Daniel, Johnny, and Chozen drunk out of their minds and bellowing out Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” is alone worth the price of admission. It doesn’t have the quite the same payoff as the season 1 and 2 penultimates, where Daniel and Johnny letting their guards down and enjoying each others’ company trails a season of hostility between the two. In season 5 these three are all on the same team anyway. But there’s a juicy twist: as they roar drunken camaraderie in the back of the limo, they are actually being kidnapped by Mike Barnes, who is out for blood after having his business burned down back in episode 3. Violence is presaged on other fronts, most notably with Tory, who is forced by her sensei to smash a stone statue with her bare hand, leaving the hand a bloody pulp. It’s a shocking scene and difficult to watch, showing how sadistic Silver and Kim are. Finally, for RPG fans like myself, there is a D&D game being dungeon-mastered by Stingray, who is grilled by the Miyagi-Fang kids, but terrified of revealing the truth about how Kreese was framed by Silver. Going into the season-5 finale, you know the show writers are playing for keeps.
15. Obstáculos. Season 3, Episode 7. An underrated episode and turning point on many fronts. Miguel, having tossed his crutches and wheelchair, returns to school and breaks all contact with Cobra Kai when he finds out about the Golf N’ Stuff battle, where Eli broke Demetri’s arm. Johnny, for his part, creates a new dojo called “Eagle Fang”, and unable to afford the shittiest office space for it, decides to teach his students in a public park. Kreese gives Johnny one last chance to come back to the fold and Johnny tells him to go to hell. There’s some amusing attraction between Yasmin and Demetri (which oddly works), but the best part is Sam’s arc. She has sworn off karate, continually plagued by nightmares of Tory, and suffering panic attacks by the hour. So Daniel plays hooky with her and takes her out fishing, and their moments at the lake are their best scenes in the series. Mary Mouser does really well in season three, and in Obstáculos in particular. In the end, she and Daniel are back in the dojo, sparring with bo staffs; her return to karate feels earned.
16. Ouroboros. Season 5, Episode 6. As Daniel vows to put karate behind him (after his thrashing at the hands of Silver in episode 5), Johnny and Chozen march down to Silver’s dojo to take action. Who would have ever dreamed of seeing Daniel’s bullies from the past (from the Karate Kid films 1 and 2 respectively) bonding together and one-upping each other with instances of how they mistreated Daniel? This is one of my favorite scenes of the whole series — especially when Chozen says how much of a “pain in the ass” Daniel-San used to be. And it gets better: at the Cobra Kai dojo Johnny and Chozen learn that Silver has brought in new senseis under leadership of a South Korean, Kim Da-Eun — the granddaughter of a sensei promoting a particularly vicious style of karate. Where Chozen easily smacked down six senseis in episode 2, he and Johnny can barely take on one of these new senseis. The climax comes in Miyagi’s old dojo, which Daniel can hardly bring himself to enter, and it’s genuinely moving as Amanda encourages him to see that Terry Silver is a fight that he can’t walk away from. Only two episodes ago, Daniel was ready to fight tooth and nail, and it was Amanda ripping his face over karate. Now the roles are reversed, but in a very credible way: Daniel and Amanda have flipped in reaction to each other and trying to broaden their tunnel visions.
17. All Valley. Season 1, Episode 7. Loads of nostalgia in this episode. Daniel trains Robby as Mr. Miyagi once trained him, by giving him pointless tasks for muscle memory. He even gives the kid bonsai trees to trim. Miguel takes Sam to Golf N’ Stuff, as Daniel did for Ali back in ’84. Johnny sees the need to toughen up his students with a face-punching session (led by Miguel and Aisha) and then later shows heart when he pleads for Cobra Kai’s reinstatement in the All-Valley Karate Tournament. His speech before the committee — that Cobra Kai has changed and that his students deserve a chance to compete — is genuinely moving, and Daniel’s maneuvers are his usual petty and sanctimonious affairs in this season. Johnny and Miguel’s celebration (“Who’s the man?!”) after the former’s successful appeal and the latter’s first date cements these two characters as the soul of Cobra Kai.
18. Lull. Season 2, Episode 7. A showcase episode for opposite training styles. Against Johnny’s better judgment, he follows Kreese’s advice to take his students into the woods for a severe exercise. The Cobra Kais split into two teams and play a ruthless game of “capture the headband”. Johnny is alarmed at how merciless his students behave toward each other, and at the end of the day expels Kreese from Cobra Kai. Meanwhile, the Miyagi-Dos go through their own severe training, first in the 100-degree sun, and then inside Daniel’s walk-in freezer — and we finally see there may be hope for Demetri as a karate student. It’s in this episode that a rift begins to develop between Miguel and Eli, as the former realizes that the latter led the trashing of Miyagi-Do. Miguel seizes the medal of honor from Eli and returns it at the LaRusso house, where Robby and Sam are now romantically involved. He asks Robby to give it to Daniel and tell Sam that he apologizes, but Robby says nothing about Miguel to either Sam or Daniel, fearing that this would score points in Miguel’s favor. It was by this episode I was loving Daniel as much as I had hated him throughout the first season. Turns out he’s a damn good teacher; his students have brought out the best in him.
19. Party Time. Season 4, Episode 8. Here we get the critical return of Stingray (last seen in season 2), who seems like pure annoyance until the finale pays him off. The two threads that dominate the episode are the ass-kicking Johnny gets at the hands of Terry Silver, and of course the junior prom. I’m very fond of Robby and Tory’s dance and their sexual chemistry (which pisses off Sam to no end), and it was a given that the kicks would start flying back at the home party. There’s the very amusing scene in which Daniel and Amanda are lectured by their cousin Vanessa, a professional child psychologist, who tells them they are largely to blame for the way that Anthony has been bullying Kenny. Even more amusing is that when Daniel loses his shit with Anthony (yelling at him Johnny Lawrence-style, and smashing the kid’s tablet in two), it seems to have the appropriate effect that none of his Miyagi discipline ever did. The scene with Miguel and Johnny is genuinely upsetting; Miguel clearly loves Johnny as a father figure and hates seeing him torn up about Robby. And the final scene is a major shocker, as Silver beats the living shit out of Stingray for apparently no reason at all other than drunken rage, but is actually a shrewd move that will pay off in the finale.
20. The Good, the Bad, and the Badass. Season 3, Episode 8. From right to left in this photo: the “good” being LaRusso’s Miyagi-Do, the “bad” Kreese’s Cobra Kai, and the “badass” Lawrence’s Eagle Fang — his new karate school, a splinter from Cobra Kai, in which he intends to take the best of his parent training while rejecting the assholeries. All three senseis are befuddled by the announcement that the city has decided to cancel the All-Valley Tournament, and they each argue their case but in vain. It’s Sam and Miguel who give an impassioned joint-speech that finally convinces the panel to allow the tournament to proceed. This is also the episode where Robby is released from juvie, and tells both Johnny and Daniel to get lost and stay out of his life. (Johnny gets chewed out by Miguel too, for mollycoddling him and not wanting him to compete in a tournament, which segues into a moving scene between Johnny and Carmen.) Later Robby visits Sam and finds Miguel with her — the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Robby goes to the dark side, and Kreese welcomes him with open arms.
21. Taikai. Season 5, Episode 8. This episode feels like a finale prelude, as once again the Miyagi-Dos and Eagle Fangs get on the mat with the Cobra Kais. This time they’re fighting to make the Sekai Taikai, the hugest tournament in the world — and an event that could make the kids famous. Eli is beaten by Kenny (who has become a vicious little runt this season), and Sam beats Devon, which translates into both dojos qualifying for the Sekai Taikai. I have no idea if this will be the plot of season 6, with Terry Silver out of the game by the end of this season. It may that Kreese will capitalize on this opportunity in reclaiming Cobra Kai, though I can’t really see how, given that he’s a fugitive from justice.
22. Take a Right. Season 2, Episode 6. It begins with Johnny making his students exercise repeatedly until they reveal who trashed Miyagi-Do, until he has to suddenly leave, traveling to San Bernardino to see his dying friend Tommy. He leaves Kreese in charge — obviously a bad move, since it was Kreese who basically ordered the trashing of Miyagi-Do. Daniel, for his part, must diffuse hostilities between his students and the new defectors from Cobra Kai, and uses an amusing Game of Thrones analogy for the renegades: they are Wildlings being let behind the Wall (who did after all help Jon Snow win the Battle of the Bastards). Daniel also confesses to his students that he was once a Cobra Kai member himself — the first acknowledgement in the series of that atrocious Karate Kid III plot, which actually makes lemonade out of lemons. The heart of this episode is the death of Tommy, which is very well handled.
23. King Cobra. Season 3, Episode 6. In which Kreese takes asshole to the next level, inviting school bullies into Cobra Kai, and orders his students to keep hitting their opponents well after they tap the mat. He then kicks Mitch out of the dojo for losing to an inexperienced fighter, and relishes Eli beating the living shit out of Brucks, reducing the kid’s face to a pulp. This level of gratuitous violence is shocking even for Cobra Kai and marks the point of no return for the dojo, now thoroughly under Kreese’s sway. By collecting the strongest students at the school — jocks mostly — he ensures that Cobra Kai will lead by a pure “survival of the fittest” philosophy. His restraining order against Amanda LaRusso is absurd and galling, though just the sort of thing he’d do. On a lighter note, Miguel instructs Johnny in the ways of Facebook, helping him build a page and facilitate conversation with his Ali his ex. It’s nice bonding between these two, in a way we haven’t seen since season 1.
24. Nature vs. Nurture. Season 3, Episode 2. For an early episode in the season, this one is really good and has high rewatch value. Daniel and Johnny barely suspend their hatred for each other to team up and search for Robby, and the dynamic between them in the car is priceless. They drive around playing “Tango and Cash”, visiting Robby’s low-life friends — Johnny’s face looking like utter shit — until they finally end up in a garage full of stolen cars and mean thugs who move in on them. They unleash an ass-pounding on the thugs in a very gratifying sequence… and then immediately start kicking the shit out of each other when Daniel overreacts to Johnny’s excessive use of force. It’s absurdist in the way that only Cobra Kai can pull off, but it works so well — and far more compellingly than, for example, the alliance between Johnny and Daniel in the first four episodes of season 4.
25. Fire and Ice. Season 2, Episode 3. This tends to be an underrated episode. When Johnny sees Daniel promoting Miyagi-Do on the internet and dissing Cobra Kai in the process, he returns fire by launching his own internet commercial. (This episode also contains my favorite woke slam of the series: people on the internet accuse Daniel of “cultural appropriation”, calling him “Daniel LaRacist”, for co-opting Asian culture for his own gain, including cliched background music and bonsai trees.) This is when Miguel and Hawk learn that Robby is Johnny’s son, and they feel somewhat betrayed that Johnny made no mention of that during the season-1 tournament. Johnny ends up having a heart to heart with Miguel, explaining how he was a lousy father, and it’s a moving scene. The ending is a fantastic performance: When Aisha and Miguel learn that Miyagi-Do (which at this early point consists of Daniel, Sam, and Robby) is going to put on a kata performance at Valley Fest, Johnny uses the Cobra Kai students to rudely crash the party, and they outshine Miyagi-Do with ease, with ass-kicking exercises to the tune of Airbourne’s “Back in the Game”. Hell yeah.
26. Molting. Season 1, Episode 8. It begins with one of the best openers: the junkyard training in which Johnny sets vicious dogs on his poor students, to the tune of Twister Sisters’ “Were Not Going to Take It”. This is counterpointed later by Daniel’s training of Robby in gorgeous scenic areas. But the best part of the episode is Johnny’s revisionist history of The Karate Kid, as he explains to Miguel why Daniel was the real villain back in the day. The show writers were obviously inspired by this famous video which remains a classic example of how every villain is a hero in his own eyes. In this case however there’s actually plenty of truth in Johnny’s revisionism. (Daniel certainly did his share of “striking first” when he first met Johnny.) Johnny having dinner with Miguel’s mom and yaya is a particularly favorite scene of mine.
27. Back in Black. Season 2, Episode 2. Another very good early episode that places higher for me than most would probably rank it. It starts with a great montage of Johnny and Miguel waking up and starting their days out, while Johnny’s car gets a Cobra Kai makeover, to the tune of AC/DC’s “Back in Black”. The day becomes a dangerous one as Johnny forces his students into the mixer of a cement truck, which Kreese approves wholeheartedly. Meanwhile Robby moves in with the LaRussos, and the Miyagi-Do dojo kicks off. Daniel trains Robby and Sam (his only students at this point) on the wheel technique, and the contrast between this balancing act on the pond and the Cobra Kai kids’ struggle inside the cement mixer is quite effective.
28. Bad Eggs. Season 5, Episode 7. This episode could be titled “Back in Black” Part 2 (see above), as we flip back and forth between the training at Miyagi-Do (which is back in business after Daniel’s “re-awakening” at the end of episode 6) and at Cobra Kai. There is new leadership in each dojo, with Chozen punishing the Miyagi-Dos with hard exercises, and Silver’s new senseis setting students against each other to make them ruthless. Meanwhile, Daniel and Johnny visit Kreese in prison to ask him what Silver’s master plan is, and Daniel promises him a good attorney in return for telling them. I was worried that Daniel was feeling genuine compassionate towards Kreese, and I’m glad I was wrong: the moment Kreese opens the paper to read the lawyer’s phone number, and instead sees Daniel’s writing in all caps — “NO MERCY, MOTHERFUCKER!” — is priceless.
29. Quiver. Season 1, Episode 6. Johnny finds himself flooded with business, thanks to Miguel wiping the cafeteria floor with Kyler and his bullies. This is the pivotal episode in which Johnny degrades and humiliates Eli for his malformed lip, which destroys the poor kid until he decides to flip the script and come back reborn as “The Hawk”. Meanwhile, Sam is being slut-shamed on social media and she starts to bond with Miguel, and Robby is made to look like a fool by Daniel’s cousin Louie at LaRusso Autos. Daniel, having resumed his own Miyagi-style karate training (feeling bad about his supreme asshole maneuvers against Johnny in episode 5), invites Robby to do some kata exercises with him — another pivotal development that will spell consequences throughout the series, as Robby latches onto Daniel as a father-figure in seasons 1 and 2, and then Kreese in seasons 3 and 4, anyone but Johnny who was never there for him.
30. Playing With Fire. Season 5, Episode 3. This one is way underrated. Here we get a fine reintroduction of Mike Barnes, who turns out to be not the supreme asshole from Karate Kid Part 3. He’s moved on and matured and done well for himself (unlike Johnny on all fronts). But Daniel severely misjudges him and Chozen does even worse, resulting in a round of ass-kicking that has everyone feeling bashful afterwards. Barnes tries helping Daniel against Silver, which turns out a big mistake: Silver gets wind of it and burns down Barnes’ business, ruining him in a stroke. My favorite parts of this episode are actually Sam’s. There’s a very heartbreaking moment when she breaks up with Miguel, and Miguel walks away in tears, dropping the octopus necklace he just bought for her. Coming right off the heartbreak from his asshole father in Mexico (in episode 2), Miguel is a broken kid this season. The best scene of all is Sam’s nightmare in the “self-actualization pod” — AKA a sensory deprivation tank — which is a fun nod to Stranger Things. Her confrontation in the “Void” with the dark version of herself is freaky as hell.
31. Aftermath. Season 3, Episode 1. The best of the season premieres is as its title implies — a bleak aftermath showing the consequences of the school brawl. Miguel is in a coma, Sam is having panic attacks, Robby is on the run from the law, and everyone else involved has been suspended for two weeks. The All Valley Community Board overreacts by putting in place draconian rules that forbid students from even touching each other. The scenes of Miguel coma-dreaming of himself fighting desperately in a tournament are very effective, and set the tone for what will be a very dark season 3, and the best of the series so far. They foreshadow a tightening of the sensei-student bond between Johnny and Miguel that made season 1 so special.
32. Ace Degenerate. Season 1, Episode 1. A close second to Aftermath, the series premiere is Johnny Lawrence all the way, and the guaranteed hook that ensured viewers would continue watching Cobra Kai. By making Johnny the inverted underdog, and a surprisingly likeable one, the series brought the Karate Kid franchise into a post Game of Thrones era. And by making Daniel LaRusso the bigger asshole — a Miyagi wannabe undermined by hypocrisy and self-righteousness — they took the original hero in a most unexpected direction. Part of it is the social class reversal. Daniel grew up dirt poor but has done well for himself as a wealthy car dealer who can treat his family to country club outings. Johnny, for his part, has fallen out with his rich stepfather and lives hand to mouth in the shitty neighborhood of Reseda where Daniel used to live. This reversal alone pays dividends, and even if the episode itself isn’t one of the best, it establishes enough to keep viewers interested.
33. Feel the Night. Season 3, Episode 9. Ali’s return is handled well enough, but I’m not quite on board with all the fan enthusiasm. After Kumiko in episodes 4 and 5 of this season, Ali only does so much for me. But don’t get me wrong: her reunion with Johnny is touching and a very fun throwback to memories of the first film. My favorite part of the episode is actually the rekindling between Sam and Miguel, and even better the bonding between Daniel and Miguel, who starts to see that Bad-Dad Larusso is pretty cool after all. Then there is Robby, who ingratiates himself with Cobra Kai after he abducts a snake to give to their sensei.
34. Kicks Get Chicks. Season 4, Episode 6. When the All Valley committee announces its revolutionary changes — a kata skills competition, and a girls’ division separate from the boys’ trophy — it starts to look bad for both Johnny and Daniel (who have gone their separate ways again after throwing down in the previous episode), as the former has no promising female student and the latter no promising male student. Johnny does some desperate girl-recruiting which turns hilarious when he tries speaking in woke terms, and Daniel makes his own desperate move in trying to bring Robby back to Miyagi-Do. Sam gets in some good scenes as she visits Aisha (a pleasant surprise after her season-three absence) who reinforces a positive image of Johnny, and then also as she unloads rage on her parents when her mother invites Tory inside the house and sympathetically agrees to sign off on allowing the girl back into school. Meanwhile, Eli leaves Eagle Fang — forsaking karate after getting beaten and shaved in episode 5 — but then joins Miyagi-Do at Demetri’s urging.
35. Esqueleto. Season 1, Episode 3. Even if Daniel will be proven right about Kyler, he’s an absolute jerk about it and has no real evidence that Kyler is a sleaze. He’s a father ruled by his insecurities, going so far as to sneak into his daughter’s room and read her instant messages — seeing that Kyler has “something BIG” to show her at the Halloween school dance. He then volunteers to chaperone the dance in order to keep an eye on Sam, and acts in a way that utterly humiliates her. It’s good LaRusso drama. On the Miguel side of the story, he attends the dance dressed in a skeleton (“esqueleto”) costume identical to those worn by Johnny and his Cobra Kai friends in 1984. (Chaperone Daniel isn’t amused.) In the bathroom he runs afoul Kyler who unloads an ass-pounding on him, and makes us crave for Miguel to get better at the karate Johnny is teaching him.
36. Moment of Truth. Season 2, Episode 4. This is Tory’s debut as she joins Cobra Kai and wastes not time taking down Johnny’s prize student Miguel. This is also Demetri’s exit (from Cobra Kai) as he gets thrashed by Kreese in an even more ruthless fashion. It’s a moment for Aisha, when she decides that she is fed up with Sam, when Sam wrongly accuses Tory of theft. The greatest moment however is Daniel’s thrashing of Robby’s old friends on the beach. It’s the first time in the Cobra Kai series that Daniel fights (he didn’t fight at all in season 1), and we won’t get to see him fight again until seasons 3 (three times) and 4 (twice). It’s also a rather odd moment for Kreese, when he and Johnny have a heart to heart and we see how broken Kreese is. But it’s hard to know how much sympathy he really deserves.
37. Minefields. Season 4, Episode 7. It was nice to see Anthony LaRusso developed more in the fourth season, and Minefields sees him bullshitting his father until Daniel realizes that it’s Anthony who has been bullying a (lightweight) Cobra Kai student, not the other way around. Kenny has good scenes in this episode, including one in which he manages to win against Robby when Kreese and Silver have them fight in the dojo. This is also the episode where Johnny and Carmen tell Miguel they’re shagging each other, which in itself doesn’t bother Miguel, though he is put off by the way Johnny starts to act differently around him, and handle him with kid gloves in front of the other Eagle Fang students.
38. Long, Long Way From Home. Season 5, Episode 1. Season five announces a focus on the adults of the series — Daniel, Johnny, Chozen, and Terry — as Daniel shuts down Miyagi-Do in order to keep the kids out of harm’s way. Amanda believes that with Kreese in jail, things are brightening up, but Daniel (rightfully) fears far worse with Terry Silver in control, so much that he has recruited from Okinawa the guy who once tried to kill him. Chozen is at once ready to kill Terry Silver, brandishing sai blades in the LaRusso home (to Daniel’s horror) — this is after skinny dipping in the LaRusso’s pool (to Amanda’s horror) — and he is easily my favorite character of season five. In this episode we also get the field trip to Mexico, which allows Johnny and Robby some bonding time, and Miguel to search for his real father, as he feels conflicted over his relationship with Johnny.
39. Mole. Season 5, Episode 2. The mole being Chozen, of course, who infiltrates Cobra Kai on the pretense of wanting to become Terry Silver’s right hand man. He gives himself away by toasting “karii” (Okinawan) instead of “kanpai” (Japanese, which Chozen is pretending to be), and the episode ends greatly on Chozen taking on six of Silver’s prospective senseis and clobbering the shit out of them. There are other strong scenes here, notably Tory’s confronting Silver about him paying off the referee to let her win the tournament. Silver is the master manipulator, using an analogy about a starving guy stealing food (“did he cheat?”), which Tory understands having lived in poverty. This episode is also the sequel to Long, Long Way From Home (right above), as Miguel finds his father, and what an asshole he is. A very heartbreaking scene.
40. Mercy, Part 2. Season 2, Episode 1. As the title implies, we get answers to questions set up by the season-1 finale Mercy. Will Miguel and Sam reunite? Will Kreese (“back from the dead”) join forces with Johnny? Will Miguel become a Kreese-like bully? How will Johnny reconcile his “No Mercy” rule with his turning point in the tournament? The answer to that last is that Johnny revises the Cobra Kai teaching into something like, “We still have to be badass, but sometimes we show mercy after all, and fighting dirty is a pussy move”. And while Daniel initially opens Miyagi-Do to get even with Cobra Kai, by the end of the episode he has given up on revenge, explaining to Robby that he’s providing Miyagi-Do karate not in order to fight Cobra Kai, but as an enlightened alternative.
41. Downward Spiral. Season 5, Episode 4. There are three threads here showing everyone’s downward spiral. First is the charity auction, at which Daniel gets pushed over the edge by Silver’s manipulations of Amanda, ending in Amanda leaving for Ohio (and taking Sam and Anthony with her). Daniel is (rightfully) undaunted, and this is one of the many episodes that lets me hate on Amanda with a clean conscience. Second is the Johnny-reforms-himself-for-fatherhood thread, in which he cleans up his apartment, makes vows he’ll doubtfully keep, and gets a food delivery/taxi job, pissing off his customers, and drinking while driving on the job. Finally there is the swimming pool incident, where the Tory and Eli have a slide match, and the kids have a general pissing match all around.
42. Cobra Kai Never Dies. Season 1, Episode 4. Though it does almost die in its crib. Johnny returns a horribly beaten Miguel to his distressed mother, who demands that Johnny stay away from her son. Johnny takes refuge in booze and self pity and wandering streets at night, and when he sees a LaRusso billboard, he gets spray-paint ideas. The next morning as Daniel drives to work, he is furious to see that his face on the billboard has a giant dick in its mouth. He discusses the matter with his wife who tries to calm him down, but they ultimately agree to paint over it. It doesn’t help that business rival Tom Cole rubs salt in his wounds by sending LaRusso Auto 100 sausages as a joke. Daniel of course believes that Cole is behind the obscene vandalism, and so confronts him at his dealership by spin-kicking a boba tea out of Cole’s hand. It’s all very juvenile on the part of everyone involved (Johnny, Daniel, Tom Cole), but quite often in Cobra Kai the characters are at their most entertaining when they act like they’re on the playground.
43. Strike First. Season 1, Episode 2. The best moments here are between Miguel and Johnny, as the potential for a strong sensei-student relationship starts to show. The lamer parts involve melodrama at the LaRusso home, with Daniel throwing Sam’s friends out of the swimming pool. The confrontation between Daniel and Johnny at the end (an iconic scene foreshadowed in trailers) is an intense one — not least because it’s been decades since we’ve seen them facing each other on the mat — with Daniel (wrongly) accusing Johnny of beating up kids for no good reason, to which Johnny (correctly) retorts that Daniel doesn’t know much about his own kids (as Sam was involved in the hit and run on Johnny’s car). A decent enough episode promising greater conflict ahead.
44. Now You’re Gonna Pay. Season 3, Episode 3. As Miguel’s hospital bills climb, Johnny seeks every avenue for help — his rich stepfather (who refuses him), and his pastor friend Bobby (who being a pastor has hardly enough pennies of his own). Meanwhile Daniel learns that Tom Cole is planning a hostile takeover of LaRusso Autos and stands a damn good chance of succeeding; Cole has persuaded his company’s Japanese ally to break off their relationship because of the school karate fight. Robby however is paying worst of all: he lands in juvie and spends most of his time getting beaten up by other kids, despite his karate training. It’s not a bad episode by any means, but it’s the weakest in the overall excellent season 3.
45. Let’s Begin. Season 4, Episode 1. Now we come to the weak episodes: the first four of season 4. They revolve around Daniel and Johnny’s clashing of styles, which at this point in the series is getting quite old. The most interesting part of the premiere is the reintroduction of Terry Silver, whom we haven’t seen since his cartoonish performance in The Karate Kid 3. The show writers are wise in embracing this head-on: Silver himself doesn’t like who he was. As he says to Kreese: “I was so hopped up on cocaine, revenge. I spent months terrorizing a teenager over a high school karate tournament. It sounds insane just talking about it.” Silver is still filthy rich, and Kreese manages to lure him out of his new age lifestyle, to get the cash assistance he needs to make Cobra Kai thrive, and to take Silver on as his co-sensei — adding a whole other layer of nastiness to the teachings that will come out of Cobra Kai. Silver’s performance is quite good in Cobra Kai, not over the top like in the ’80s.
46. First Learn Stand. Season 4, Episode 2. Here we get Daniel and Johnny suffering through each other’s training methods. Johnny waxes on and off while Daniel pushes and pulls himself up and walks barefoot over hot coals. Later they both chill out at a hockey game, where Daniel is triggered into letting out his aggression at a bunch of the players when they badmouth his wife. (Naturally this is precipitated by Johnny who antagonizes the players first.) It’s refreshing to watch Daniel give in to his baser ass-kicking nature, though the scene feels a bit forced. The episode also introduces Kenny, the young kid who is tormented by Anthony LaRusso and will end up joining Cobra to defend himself against bullies.
47. Then Learn Fly. Season 4, Episode 3. The premise driving this episode is fair enough. Daniel takes Johnny’s students while Johnny takes his, making each team well-rounded and having more techniques to draw on. Daniel instructs the Eagle Fang kids to catch fish from his pond with their bare hands, while Johnny takes the Miyagi kids up to a rooftop where he teaches them how to “fly” by jumping between rooftops. I would have loved the idea, except that it’s preposterous by even Cobra Kai standards: the gap between the buildings is far too wide, and the few mattresses placed on the ground aren’t enough to break the kids’ fall. But it’s nice to see Sam rebel against her father whose self-righteousness has gone into a bit of overdrive, to a degree that we haven’t seen since season 1.
48. Bicephaly. Season 4, Episode 4. By now the first four episodes of season 4 have become redundant and too drawn out. The alliance between Daniel and Johnny should have ended two episodes ago. In Bicephaly I really dislike the contrivance of Sam and Amanda just happening on Tory at her new place of work (as an entertainer for kids), and Sam (really out of line) antagonizing Tory while she’s trying to work. The whole sequence rings false somehow. Nor am I wild about the stand-off at the dive-through cinema. Instead of fighting the Cobra Kais, the Miyagi-Dos and Eagle Fangs tell the bullies to meet them at a baseball diamond, where they use sprinklers to douse the Cobra Kais with water.
49. Glory of Love. Season 2, Episode 8. This is the only Cobra Kai episode that I actively dislike. Even by the series’ standards, the comedy moments are so absurdist to be offensive (in particular Johnny shopping for dates on social media which are played ludicrously). But the worst part, ironically, is Daniel apologizing to Amanda for ignoring her and his job. In the real world it would be the right thing for him to do; he has indeed behaved irresponsibly. But in the alternate world of Cobra Kai — where karate is the most important fucking thing in life, like the Force in Star Wars — I wholeheartedly endorse all the time Daniel has invested in reopening Miyagi-Do and working so well with his students. And I just didn’t like Amanda in this season anyway. As for the love triangle on the skating rink between Robby/Sam and Miguel/Tory, it didn’t play right. Oddly enough, when the same sort of thing was repeated two seasons later (in Party Time) at the prom, the Robby/Tory and Miguel/Sam conflicts were used to great effect.