Cobra Kai: Season 5 (4/5)
Season 5, without a doubt, is the weakest Cobra Kai season. That's not to say it's bad (look at the rating), but it's markedly weaker than the seasons leading up to it. If I had to give the TL, DR version, it would be because it's trying to do too much over too short a time, with some major plot questions left hanging. As this isn't a TL, DR review however, I can give some more detailed thoughts. So on that note:
-There's a great disconnect between the "threat" of Cobra Kai, and what's actually on-screen. As in, Silver is franchising it, and his horrible plan is "to make Cobra Kai as synonymous with karate as Starbucks is with coffee." You could go down the angle of "capitalist corrupts karate" or somethng like that, but that doesn't een work for reasons I'll explain later. The thing is, nothing Cobra Kai (least its students) do in the season is really morally reprehenesible. Anthony is bullied a bit, but this is far less severe than what the kids were getting up to in seasons 2/3. The season tries to convey that the stakes have never been higher, but the stakes really aren't, when you think about it.
-On the subject of Silver himself, he's still an excellent villain - probably the best in the series up to this point. There's a maxim I'm sure most of you are familiar with, that "bad guys don't see themselves as bad guys," and that definitely applies. Silver does reprehensible stuff, but there's the sense that he honestly believes in what he's doing. He's concerned about his legacy, Kim's concerned about her family's legacy (more on that later), and he seems to genuinely want to improve his students (see his interactions with Kenny for instance). If Daniel just walked away, then what harm would actually come from Cobra Kai expanding? Very little, as far as I can tell. For instance, when he announces in front of Daniel that Cobra Kai will be free to low-income students, is that because he wants to rub it in Daniel's face, or that he genuinely wants to help kids? Honestly, it could be the latter.
-The Mexico stuff is a bit of a dud. I like the idea behind it, but the weird thing is that while it's obsensibly Miguel's story, I honestly feel that Robby and Johnny are the ones who get more character development. Again, nice stuff (such as when Miguel realizes what kind of man his father really is), but you could cut the Mexico material from the season, and hardly anything would change. If anything, it arguably harms the season since Miguel and Robby get on okay in Mexico, but then go back to hating each other before having to sort out their differences via fighting.
-I'll just say it, Chozen is the GOAT. He's probably the strongest fighter in the series, but he's also outright hilarious in this season
-Something the season never addresses is that the ending of season 4 meant that Miyagi Do and Eagle Fang would have to shut down since Cobra Kai won the tournament. But later, the dojos just restart, and challenge Cobra Kai, and no-one, not even Silver, brings it up. Did I miss something? Because if not, the writers did.
-Mike Barnes is really done dirty in this season. I don't have any particular link with him from the third film (which I only saw bits and pieces of), but him only appearing in two episodes feels like a short stick, not to mention how he's taken out of action quickly in the final fight. I've read various claims that the actor was injured, and/or had limited time he could commit to, but I don't know if that's true. Whatever the case, I think Barnes is handled well in what we see of him (how he's able to turn his life around, only for said life to be screwed over by Silver), but we really needed to see more of him.
-Johnny and the rideshare...no. Just no. This is season 5 Johnny, his antics in his Uber stuff really shouldn't be happening in earlier seasons, but here, it's just so out of place. Johnny's a doofus, and he's sometimes at his best when he's being one (such as his attempt to create an escape room for Miguel and Robby, which is done well), but this just goes into pure nonsense, such as him peeing into a can while driving, or stealing customers' food. There's being a doofus, and there's being an asshole. Which Johnny isn't most of the time to his credit, such as him helping Daniel recover in an inverse of earlier seasons (Daniel's at his lowest here, while Johnny's arguably at his high point), and the relationship between the two has solidified into what could probably be called genuine friendship, but, yeah. 90% of the time, Johnny's a good character, but the Uber stuff is just bleh.
-Also, Carmen. I could have mentioned this earlier but didn't, I don't think Carmen's as fleshed out as she should be, at least when compared to Amanda. Carmen's character is almost entirely defined by her relationship with other characters (Miguel and Johnny), and is less a character in of herself. I'm still not clear what she actually sees in Johnny at all. I mean, I like Johnny as a character, but he's hardly A-grade husband material (more like a C, at best).
-Tory's still a pretty neat character. It's kind of startling how I absolutely loathed her in season 2 and 3 (as in, a good villain, but a horrible human being), but how she's completely turned around in seasons 4 and 5. So good job there.
-I have little to say about Kim - she's barely a character, and what character she does have is pretty stock. I bring her up because she's emblematic of two of the problems this season has. First, she's only introduced in the second half, so there's barely enough time for her to develop (compare this to Terry Silver, who was introduced at the start of season 4, and remained throughout said season). Second, there's Cobra Kai's supposed villany - Kim's motivation is to pass on her grandfather's fighting style (Cobra Kai's/the Way of the Fist) to the world. Okay, and? How is that a bad thing? The show's already shown, correctly IMO, that aggressive fighting styles aren't inherently a bad thing. It's a key plot point that Miyagi-Do's style is merged with Eagle Fang's in the season 4 finale, and a key plot point here. And if Kim wants to pass on her grandfather's legacy, again, I'm not seeing the issue here, especially since while Silver is an outright criminal, and Kim a harsh teacher, Cobra Kai, the group, isn't really doing anything wrong at this point. The idea of legacy is returned to at the very end, and I'll address that later, but the season seems confused as to what it's trying to say.
-Speaking of rushed characters, there's Kenny and Devon. I'm lumping them together, because their issues both come from the season being stretched too thin. First, Kenny. In less than 2 seasons, he's gone from nerdy, wimpy kid, to Cobra Kai's best male fighter. Which would be questionable in of itself (but not out of bounds - look at Miguel and Robby in season 1), but his plot arc only really seems to go in spurts. His "dark side turn" in season 4 was pretty quick, but at least understandable, here, he starts psycho, remains psycho, only gets a bit of character development towards the end, and not much else. It's like they had a plan for Kenny, but couldn't spread it out far enough, or alternatively, have the time needed to fully flesh him out.
On the other hand, there's Devon. Honestly, I think the writers just didn't know what to do with her, or alternatively, they wanted to do "something," but weren't sure what that something was. Because if Kenny is meant to be "bullied kid that becomes bully and becomes psycho," Devon is "girl who end up joining Cobra Kai, and sort of becomes aggressive, but not really." I get the sense that we're meant to feel sorry for Devon after her new dojo is taken over by Cobra Kai, and is humiliated by Tory in the 'stick fight' under Kim's instruction, where she looks ready to cry, but then she sort of just stumbles through the season. She's taken under Kim's wing, but nothing really comes of it. If Kenny has the problem of his character arc moving too quickly, Devon has the problem of her character arc moving too slowly (or alernatively, too vaguely).
-So the new karate tournament, the Senkai Taichi (sp.?) Honestly, I'm not fond of this development. As bonkers as Cobra Kai can get, it's always stayed reasonably grounded in the sense of being confined to the San Fernando Valley, but this global tournament thing, plus the idea of the future of karate resting on its outcome via Cobra Kai? Eh, seems a bit much. Also, again, Silver never points out that Johnny and Daniel shouldn't be able to compete due to the bet they made in season 4.
-So with the ending...well, I'm going to point out the obvious. While Silver is an obvious crook, he's got solid ground to arrest Daniel and co. as well. They're the ones who break into his mansion, and their students break into the Cobra kai dojo, not to mention that in the former, a sensei's finger gets chopped off. I mean, justice is meant to be blind, Johnny and co. are pretty much felons at this point. Also, don't know why he had his senseis on hand that evening...what, do they just lurk in the basement, waiting to come out? Also, mentioned it before, I'll mention it again, Barnes gets done dirty. But while I'm here, Chozen is still the GOAT, and Johnny...okay, sure, you get your arse handed to you, but the power of love gives you the ability to win the fight in mere minutes? Okay.
-With the end fight with Silver, again, mixed. On one hand, it being aired that Silver bribed the ref in season 4 doesn't really to sync with what season 5 has tried to say, or at least...well, I'll put it this way. if Cobra Kai makes you evil and stuff, why do literally all of his students abandon him when his dirty dealings are revealed? People like Kyler didn't mind being thugs up till now, so, what, THIS is a bridge too far? I can certainly understand some students turning tail, even Kenny, but all of them?
On the other hand, Daniel's fight against Silver is well done. There's the idea of legacy, but also that Daniel is able to beat Silver at all, and do so effortlessly. Like I've said, I've barely seen the third film, but since flashbacks feature reguarly in Cobra Kai, I imagine that Daniel got catharsis by beating the man who tormented him. It's almost certainly no coincidence that his finishing move is the crane kick.
So, yeah. Like I said, season is good overall, but easily the weakest, and frankly, I think it would have worked best if it ended here. Because bar Kreese escaping prison (more on that later), where else can you go? There's the tournament thing, but it just feels rote at this point. You could cut out the tournament, cut out Kreese's escape, and things could have ended soundly here.
But there's going to be a season 6, if only for the reason that Kreese escapes prison to do...something. Yeah, I don't think this works. We can debate who's the better character, but IMO, Silver is easily the better villain, so with Silver arrested, Kreese just seems like a step down. It arguably even goes against his character arc, since he mellowed out over season 4, but the implication here is that he's back to being a full antagonist. I've seen all kinds of theories, ranging from the idea that Silver is dying (a theory I actually suspect is right), to Kreese working with Dugan from Next Karate Kid (which I doubt - I'd be very surprised if Julie Pierce appears at this point, and if she does, she'll probably get similar treatment as Barnes), but, well, yeah. Hate to end this in a downer, but, well, again, good season, just the weakest so far.