Shifting alliances is second only to “daddy issues” on the list of themes explored each season on Cobra Kai, Netflix’s nostalgia-fueled karate fest, a follow-up to the smash 1980s movie series.
In seasons one through three, alliances shifted with the speed of, well, a cobra on the attack. One minute Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) are getting along so well, they fight bad guys in a well-choreographed rhythm and joke about Tango & Cash. But the next, the things that set them apart—their differing levels of reliability, for instance—rear their heads, and they’re no longer dance partners.
Those themes form the core focus of Cobra Kai season 4, which debuts on Netflix Saturday. The much-anticipated fourth season sees Johnny and Daniel team up by running a dojo together, as the increasingly sinister John Kreese (Martin Kove) takes over Johnny’s old dojo, Cobra Kai.
Complicating matters, their students have split alliances once again. Some of Johnny’s prize pupils remain at Cobra Kai, including his son, Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan), a former mentee of Daniel’s. But the new dojo has former Cobra Kai stars Eli “Hawk” Moskowitz (Jacob Bertrand) and Miguel Diaz (Xolo Maridueña), the one person Johnny has proven able to prioritize and look out for in his life.
Can Johnny embrace the discipline so vital to Daniel’s success in karate and life? Can Kove, whose backstory explored his own bullying last season, find some of the light that was once inside him? Will Hawk ever redeem himself after brutally breaking the arm of his former best friend, Demetri (Gianni DeCenzo)?
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The answers will unfold throughout the 10-episode season.
“The show likes to explore how anyone any day can go off in any direction,” says Bertrand. “Miguel is an underdog who got good direction, and though he almost went off an edge in season one, he comes back. Robby starts off in a decent direction, with LaRusso steering him, of course. And I think for Hawk, he’s someone who’s had no power at all and been at the mercy of so many people around him. When he gets the power, he has too much and doesn’t know what to do with it.
“I liked getting to explore what that looks like and what that means, and everyone has had a similar arc. It’s knowing what to do with the discipline and knowledge of karate.”
Season four continues the tradition of reboots by bringing back a former cast member, something Cobra Kai has done to particularly good effect in its first three seasons. In addition to reintroducing Kove, it featured guest arcs by Karate Kid’s Ali (Elisabeth Shue) and Karate Kid II’s Chozen Toguchi (Yuji Okumoto).
In season four, Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) returns after playing a villain in Karate Kid III. He partners with Kreese again (something previewed in season three) to irk Daniel and make him question his training methods.
Of course, “questioning” is a key theme of each season of Cobra Kai. Daniel and Johnny question if they’ve done enough for their young charges. The women in their lives question the men’s methods and their motivation, often for good reason. And the rivals at Cobra Kai make Daniel and Johnny question their own motivations. Those themes will play out against a dramatic backdrop—big changes coming to the All Valley tournament, where Hawk plays a large role.
“For my character, this season is definitely the rebuilding of bridges. Hawk has burned quite a few, and he’s very appreciative of Demetri being his ride or die and forgiving him,” Bertrand says. “Hawk’s battling a lot of demons and very susceptible to influence around Kreese and Cobra Kai—and nothing good can come of that. He’s his best self when he’s around people who love and care for him.”
The same could be said for Daniel and Johnny; but then, the show wouldn’t be as interesting if they could actually do that.