Major spoilers for “Cobra Kai” season 5 follow.
Just in time for back-to-school season, the doors of the “Cobra Kai” dojo are open once again. Netflix’s teen karate sensation returns to the streaming giant with an epic season 5 that could easily serve as the show’s overall conclusion. After a devastating loss at the All-Valley Tournament, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) have shuttered their dojos and are prepared to leave karate behind. With John Kreese (Martin Kove) in jail for assault, Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) is now in charge of Cobra Kai, and he’s started to expand his empire throughout the San Fernando Valley.
Knowing first-hand how dangerous Terry can be, Daniel enlists an unlikely partner to protect his family from Silver. Chozen (Yuji Okumoto) travels all the way from Okinawa to come to Daniel’s aid, and the former enemies conspire to bring down the ponytailed monster and show the world just how dangerous the Cobra Kai philosophy really is. Miyagi-Do’s survival may be the overarching plot, and Silver is clearly this season’s big bad, but season 5 of “Cobra Kai” is bursting with all kinds of exciting characters and dynamic adventures. With an even bigger tournament on the horizon, let’s rank each of the season’s main characters from worst to best, based on how strong each of their arcs are in this powerful season.
The series’ newest sensei, Kim Da-Eun (Alicia Hannah-Kim), is the granddaughter of the karate master who once taught Silver and Kreese the way of the fist. She travels on Silver’s private jet from South Korea to California along with several of her best teachers, with plans to bolster Cobra Kai’s ranks with her own brand of warrior. Silver has promised Kim a share of the empire that he’s building, but what she truly desires is a legacy. Her grandfather’s deceptive style has long been relegated to the shadows, and Kim sees a chance to showcase her family’s traditions on the world’s stage.
Kim’s training methods are harsh, and her style meshes well with Silver’s own brutal manipulation. We don’t learn much about her past, however, although a flashback to her childhood in which she observes at her famous grandfather’s dojo hints at a tender connection with John Kreese. While it’s exciting to see the show’s first female sensei, Kim is essentially a cartoonish villain with little character development outside of her cruel smirk and long braid. Perhaps future seasons will allow more of her personality to rise to the surface, but as of now, she has little more depth than the stone dummy she uses to torture Tory Nichols (Peyton List).
One of the most memorable villains of the ’80s, John Kreese begins season 5 behind bars. Framed by his partner Terry Silver for assaulting Raymond, aka Stingray (Paul Walter Hauser), Kreese finds himself sidelined from the season’s main action.
While the original “Karate Kid” trilogy treats Kreese as a pure villain, “Cobra Kai” has taken pains to give him more humanity. When it comes to the aging sensei, it’s often difficult to tell where our sympathies should lie, and what we see in season 5 is more endearing than expected. Sensing a kindred spirit, Kreese mentors the troubled Tory, though his advice often encourages her to feed her anger rather than release it, and his request that she stay at Cobra Kai so that he can exact revenge on his former partner puts her in harm’s way.
Kreese is finally forced to confront the sins of his past during a prison therapy session where he comes face-to-face with a younger version of Johnny, the boy he once attacked in a parking lot following the All-Valley Tournament. It’s a powerful moment that invites the audience to forgive Kreese, even if Johnny is reluctant to give him another chance. Kreese takes several important steps down the road to redemption, but the season ends with a ridiculous prison escape that erases all of the goodwill that’s built up over the past few episodes, and feels specifically designed to set up future drama.
As a legacy series, one of the joys of watching “Cobra Kai” is seeing characters from the original films pop up in Johnny’s world. By now, the show has become known for its cameos, and season 5 delivers for fans of “The Karate Kid Part III.” Fed up with her husband’s karate obsession, Amanda LaRusso (Courtney Henggeler) takes the children to her mother’s house for a few days, where they’re greeted by none other than Jessica Andrews (Robyn Lively), the former pottery store employee who once befriended Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) and Daniel before the latter’s second bid for the All-Valley title.
See, Jessica happens to be Amanda’s cousin, and we learn here that she’s responsible for introducing Daniel to his future spouse. But Jessica plays a more important role in season 5 when she convinces Amanda to take Silver’s threats seriously. She was there during the peak of Silver’s harassment, and was threatened and attacked by his pupil, Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan), and his goons. If not for Jessica, Amanda might’ve found herself an unsuspecting pawn in Silver’s devious plans. Jessica’s appearance may be a pleasant surprise for fans, and she serves an important purpose in the larger plot, but she’s ultimately not around long enough to make much of an impact on the season as a whole.
Season 5’s most exciting return is the reemergence of the “bad boy of karate,” Mike Barnes. The secondary antagonist in “The Karate Kid Part III,” Mike was once hired by Silver to torment Daniel and bully him into defending his title in the All-Valley Tournament. Hoping to find any advantage they can against Silver, Daniel and Chozen reach out to Mike before Silver can get to him, and discover a rehabilitated man happily running a furniture store.
Unfortunately, once he reconnects with Daniel, Mike finds himself back in the ponytailed monster’s crosshairs. His furniture store mysteriously burns down, ruining both his credit and his livelihood. Still, Mike turns out to be a crucial ally in the final battle against Silver, and it’s reassuring to learn that the once violent and angry man has managed to find peace. Unfortunately, his appearance is brief, and his role in the story isn’t much more than a novelty.
Raymond “Stingray” Porter is a wannabe Cobra Kai fighter who has been hanging around the periphery of the dojo since season 2. Though he’s never made much of an impact on the story before, he proves to be crucial to season 5, falsely identifying Kreese as his attacker after waking up in the hospital from a brutal beating. In previous seasons, Stingray was an awkward bit of comic relief, and proved to be more of a distraction for Daniel and Johnny than anything else. However, this season he must reckon with the consequences of his actions, and ends up serving as a heartbreaking example of Silver’s cruelty.
While Stingray’s “loyalty” earns him an honorary membership in Cobra Kai — not to mention a luxurious apartment and a fancy car — he knows that he’s still a joke to the man he claims to admire. However, given that he almost died the last time he crossed Silver, Stingray is afraid to come forward. By the end of the season, though, Stingray becomes an unofficial member of Miyagi-Do, finally finding the strength to stand up to his bullies and refusing to remain a pawn in their cruel games.
The youngest LaRusso (Griffin Santopietro) has had quite the arc over the past five seasons, transitioning from a barely-there little brother to a lazy whiner who doesn’t want to do chores to a reluctant bully. However, in season 5, Anthony finally comes into his own. Now the target of his former victim, Kenny Payne (Dallas Dupree Young), who seeks revenge for the cruel tricks that Anthony and his friends played on him, Anthony finds himself in need of protection. He’ll never be the best fighter, but by joining Miyagi-Do and bonding with his older sister, Samantha (Mary Mouser), he manages to discover and cultivate his own strengths.
Anthony is a problem solver, as seen when he finds a solution to Chozen’s “Protect the Egg” challenge. Later, Anthony watches over the footage that ends up being key to Silver’s downfall, while the rest of the dojo offers its protection. Anthony might not be the most dynamic character on “Cobra Kai,” but his emotional growth is endearing, and he ends the season miles away from the mostly silent and forgotten character that he used to be.
Arguably the heart of Miyagi-Do, Demetri Alexopoulos (Gianni DeCenzo) returns in “Cobra Kai” season 5 as the overly analytical nerd (we’re not allowed to say “geek”) who just wants to support his friends. A constant ally, Demetri is confident in his steadily-growing karate skills, which he shows off when he finally gets a chance to battle his former bully, Kyler Park (Joe Seo). Demetri also flaunts his technological skills when he helps Johnny set up a cell phone that the sensei uses to find work as a ride-share driver. Finally, Demetri takes the lead when it comes to downloading incriminating footage of Silver from the Cobra Kai servers.
The quick reflexes that Demetri has learned from both Johnny and Daniel come in handy when he protects the computer screen from an errant kick during a large brawl. Demetri can also be counted on for comic relief and a well-timed pop-culture reference. He’s the member of the team who’s willing to speak to uncomfortable truths, like reminding Hawk that he and Robby both used to be jerks. However, while Demetri is one of the most beloved characters in “Cobra Kai,” his storylines almost always serve other characters. Aside from his baffling relationship with Yasmine, he doesn’t seem to have much of a life of his own.
Kenny, who was introduced in season 4, and his story harken back to the early days of “Cobra Kai.” Constantly bullied by Anthony and his friends, he finds protection at Cobra Kai, where he’s mentored by the dojo’s former golden boy, Robby Keene. It’s through this partnership that Robby finally begins to see the harm caused by Silver’s training methods, and tries to convince the angry young man to leave the dojo before it’s too late. However, Kenny doubles down instead, and becomes one of the Cobra Kai’s preeminent fighters. Terrified of showing weakness, he easily falls under the sway of Silver’s manipulations.
That said, there are hints that Kenny’s having a change of heart. He balks at Silver’s patented chest punch, which includes an intentionally dangerous hand formation that’s designed to knock the breath out of opponents. In addition, while Silver gives Kenny some valuable advice about following his own instincts, he also indulges the boy’s fantasies of revenge. At the end of the season, Kenny is still in turmoil. He may have rejected Cobra Kai, but he’s not quite ready to face the harm that his actions have caused.
Daniel’s perpetually troubled daughter begins season 5 in a dark place once again. After losing the All-Valley Tournament, she blames herself for Miyagi-Do’s closure, and toys with giving up karate for good. When her boyfriend, Miguel (Xolo Maridueña), ventures off to Mexico to track down his father, Sam decides that she’s over the whole thing. She breaks up with him and embarks on a mission to find herself.
While this is a noble goal, Sam never really gets a chance to see her quest through. She emerges from a dip in a sensory deprivation tank, during which she fights a dark version of herself, more confused than ever, and when her father is injured by Silver, Sam quickly returns to the dojo to fight. Tory’s revelation that she was robbed of the title seems to solve all of Sam’s problems — it’s a frustratingly pat answer to an entirely relatable teen identity crisis. Still, while Sam has always been a little self-absorbed, she matures a bit this season, finally letting go of her hatred for Tory when she realizes that her rival has problems that she can’t even begin to imagine.
The early episodes of “Cobra Kai” season 5 largely revolve around Miguel’s ill-advised trip to Mexico to track down his long-lost father. Alone in a new country, Miguel faces some brief ups and downs before stumbling upon the man by chance in a convenient bit of plot manipulation. Miguel saves his father’s young stepson from being run over in the street, and works his way into his father’s life without revealing his true identity. It takes a few days with the seemingly kind man before his true colors shine through.
Devastated, Miguel calls his mother and decides to come home moments before he reunites with Johnny. It’s meant to be touching, but the whole segment feels contrived, and the episodes in Mexico are easily the worst of the new season. The writers clearly hadn’t thought much about what sending Miguel to Mexico would mean, and seemingly tried to resolve this uncomfortable plot turn as quickly as possible. Miguel’s reconciliation with Robby and his breakup with Sam are much more compelling; were it not for those early installments, he would rank much higher on this list.
Mrs. LaRusso has never quite understood her husband’s fixation on karate, and can’t believe that it’s such a huge part of their lives. However, while she’s always been supportive, this season marks a turning point: Amanda finally understands Daniel’s need to expose Silver for the bully he is.
But this transition comes at a personal cost, and it doesn’t happen overnight. She blames Daniel for losing a coveted position on a charity board, not realizing that it’s really Silver’s fault. Fed up, she takes the kids and leaves, essentially giving her husband an ultimatum and warning him that, if he wants to stay in his children’s lives, he has to leave karate alone. It takes a visit with her cousin Jessica for Amanda to see Silver for the menace he is. Though her fighting skills — or lack thereof — stand out like a sore thumb, Amanda is always a welcome sight, and Henggeler’s comedic timing continues to be one of the show’s highlights.
After five seasons, Eli “Hawk” Moskowitz (Jacob Bertrand) has finally made peace with himself. The reigning All-Valley champion enters the season with a new lease on life and a maturity well past his years. He’s a supportive friend, and his relationship with Moon (Hannah Kepple) is on solid ground now that he’s no longer obsessed with his image. He’s ready and willing to defend his friends, but is also finally comfortable walking away from conflict. Hawk has internalized the teachings of both dojos, and now sees karate as a method of protection, not a way to intimidate and harass others.
Although Hawk shows some surprising maturity throughout the season, his most impressive growth can be seen when he loses a crucial fight against Kenny. After the novice fighter delivers an illegal punch straight to his heart, Hawk walks off the mat and watches Sam’s match from the sidelines. When she wins, he congratulates her without a hint of bitterness. When later asked about his loss, he says that it just didn’t work out for him. Later, at the dojo, Hawk expands on his newfound philosophy: Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. Either way, it’s simply a part of life. It’s an incredibly satisfying turn for one of the most feared bullies that “Cobra Kai” has ever produced.
Tory is another character whose anger supersedes her sense of reason. The bitter teenager is saddled with taking care of her both younger brother and her ailing mother while training, going to school, and trying to keep food on their table. As if that’s not enough, Tory also faces a crisis of confidence when she realizes that she only won last season’s All-Valley tournament because Silver cheated in her favor. Nevertheless, she stays with Cobra Kai, even breaking up with Robby to do so. It’s not till later that we realize that she’s been secretly working with Kreese to take Silver down.
As Cobra Kai leader, Tory takes on an informal mentoring role, and tries to help Devon (Oona O’Brien) channel her own anger and grief. As with Robby, it’s while teaching someone else the Cobra Kai philosophy that Tory finally sees its flaws. She eventually admits to losing the match against Sam, but she’s once again met with hatred and fury. When Sam finally gives her a chance to explain, Tory helps expose Silver’s deceptions and reunites with Robby. Hopefully, this newfound peace will be for keeps, and Tory will find a way to release her anger and frustration in a more positive way.
One of the most touching moments of “Cobra Kai” season 4 occurs in the final episode, when Robby finally lets go of his anger and connects with his estranged father, Johnny. Father and son begin season 5 on a road trip to Mexico, ostensibly in order to repair their relationship, but Johnny has an ulterior motive: He wants to search for Miguel, who’s on a mission to find his own dad. Robby, though, has no interest in making amends with his rival; it’s not until Johnny forces them to fight it out that Robby sincerely apologizes for the kick that sent Miguel over the balcony and paralyzed him for months.
While this reconciliation is touching, Robby’s best moments occur when he uses his natural leadership abilities to help those caught up in Cobra Kai’s web. He has no intention of ever going back to the dojo, and tries to convince Tory and Kenny to leave as well. They are not receptive at first, but Robby knows all too well how hard it can be to break free from Silver’s spell, and refuses to give up on his friends.
It’s not easy for a bad guy to stand out on a show with so many larger-than-life villains, but this silver-haired megalomaniac manages to rise above them all. Terry Silver is the wealthy psychopath who once tortured Daniel in “The Karate Kid Part III,” getting revenge for his old friend, John Kreese. In season 5, after framing his long-time ally for assault, Terry begins expanding Cobra Kai, and builds dojos throughout the Valley. On the surface, Tery is incredibly charming, and he has a particular knack for playing the victim while implicating everyone around him. His extravagant wealth also means that he’s able to stay one step ahead of everyone else, and he can usually sway circumstances in his favor with a well-placed donation or generous gift.
But Silver’s philanthropy hides a ruthless streak; as viewers, we know that Silver will do anything to get what he wants. He buys Stingray’s silence with a luxury apartment. He tries to intimidate Mike Barnes by burning down his furniture store. He’s much more dangerous than Kreese, because his charisma makes it impossible to see how far he’s gotten his claws into you until it’s too late. Although Tory exposes his corruption and Silver ends the season in handcuffs, people like him never stay down for long. It’s quite likely that we will see this suave villain resurface in the future.
“Cobra Kai” has always been structured around Johnny’s redemption, but it took until season 5 for the former bully to come full circle. After reconnecting with his son, Robby, Johnny tries to forge relationships with both his own kid as well as Miguel, the teen he’s started to see as a surrogate child. This is all before learning that he has a baby on the way with Miguel’s mother, Carmen (Vanessa Rubio); Johnny’s new commitment to parenting goes a long way towards redeeming the character.
Further, this season Johnny breaks a decades-long pattern and refuses to abandon the friendship he’s finally forged with Daniel. After four seasons of fighting, the one-time enemies have rid themselves of the deep-seated anger and resentment they’ve been harboring since high school.
What Johnny will never let go of, though, is his devotion to ’80s culture and all things “badass.” With his fixation on alpha-male nostalgia, Johnny is responsible for some of the season’s funniest moments. His attempts to join the gig economy are both hilarious and relatable, while an attempt to create a “Young Guns II”-themed escape room ends with Johnny locking himself in his own apartment. However, after five seasons, it seems that Johnny has finally found someone who loves “Rocky” as much as he does. A prospective tournament judge approves of the sensei’s unconventional training methods, even though he winds up covered in bits of exploded watermelon.
While season 6 of “Cobra Kai” seems like a given — to say nothing about the rumors regarding an entire “Cobra Kai” extended universe — the ending of season 5 could easily serve as a conclusion to the show as a whole. As the latest batch of episodes wrap up, the original “Karate Kid” hero, Daniel LaRusso, finally takes down the dojo that’s been torturing him for decades. In many ways, it’s the end of the arc that began way back in the 1984 film; if this actually does end up being the last we see of Daniel, it’ll be a fitting send-off.
A devotee of Mr. Miyagi’s peaceful philosophy, Daniel’s major challenge in season 5 is deciding when fighting back is necessary to protect those he loves. With Cobra Kai dojos spreading across the San Fernando Valley, Daniel worries not only for his own children, but for all the other teens desperately looking for guidance. If they fall into Silver’s hands, Daniel realizes, they will wind up repeating the toxic cycle that he’s tried so hard to break.
Daniel is understandably weary of constantly defending his beliefs, and it’s not until his friends and family rally around him that he finds the strength to keep going. This culminates in an epic showdown between LaRusso and Silver; in the end, Daniel not only exposes Silver for the cheater he is, but uses his own strategies against him. After five seasons and four decades’ worth of fighting the good fight, Daniel can finally rest, confident that the world knows the truth about Cobra Kai’s toxicity.
When Chozen Toguchi first made a cameo in “Cobra Kai” season 3, it was a touching return for fans of the underrated “The Karate Kid Part II.” As a young man obsessed with honor, he was once willing to fight Daniel to the death to preserve his reputation in his small Okinawan village. When he reappeared in “Cobra Kai,” it was nice to see that his life had moved in a positive direction, but it’s not until Chozen comes to California that we see his redemption play out in earnest.
Determined to help Daniel defeat Silver, Chozen forges a close relationship with the man he once threatened to kill. He is an intense warrior who not only powers some of the season’s best fight sequences, but some of its biggest laughs as well. He insists on maintaining his over-the-top vigilance at all times, carrying his twin sai everywhere he goes, and skinny dipping in the LaRusso’s pool every morning (for training purposes, of course).
Chozen’s earnest pleas of resilience to the cast of “90 Day Fiancé” are both hilarious and endearing, but his best moments occur when he bonds with Johnny over their similar histories with Daniel. Though the show is built around Daniel’s first nemesis, Chozen is a wonderful example of how it’s always possible to rebuild your life, no matter how far you believe you’ve fallen.
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The post Every Main Character in Cobra Kai Season 5 Ranked Worst to Best appeared first on /Film.