By all accounts, Netflix’s Cobra Kai sounds like a pretty awesome, but also totally insane show. The sequel to the Karate Kid Franchise dropped the fourth season on New Year’s Eve, continuing the adventures of Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Maccio), Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), and their martial arts protégés. After the end of last season saw the return of John Kreese and the Cobra Kai dojo, Daniel and Johnny decided that the only way to take down the old villain was to work together and train their students together.
However, as with all team-ups, the road from enemies to allies can be quite bumpy. Speak with Weekly entertainment for a spoiler-heavy conversation about season four, Macchio and Zabka talked about the arc of their relationship over the season. Danny and Johnny both agree that Kreese and Cobra Kai should go, but the way is their biggest source of conflict. It was important to both actors for their characters to clash over their martial arts approach: Danny’s defensive Miyago-Do style versus Johnny’s aggression-based Eagle Fang style. Zabka, in particular, believed it would have been “unfair” if there had been no clash at the start: “They both come with their luggage, so of course there will be landmines.”
That baggage may be due in part to their respective children. Danny learns that his son Anthony (Griffin Santopietro) is a bully, and his daughter Sam (Mary Mouser) learned Eagle Fang from Johnny. Both are bitter pills to swallow, but Sam accepting his rival’s teachings may be the greatest, according to Macchio. He viewed Danny as “a caring parent, if not a perfect parent”, and seeing Johnny effectively replace him as a father has brewed some resentment. But Johnny also harbors similar feelings about Danny, who Miyagi-Do teaches to Miguel (Xolo Maridueña), a student Johnny loves as a son now that his actual son, Robby (Tanner Buchanan), is being taught by Kreese. At this point, the former bully is doing his best not to lose another son, which manifests itself in some not-great ways. “He corrects too much,” Zabka acknowledged, “he cherishes Miguel and he’s afraid of losing that bond.”
Despite their problems, both men soon realize that they need to switch styles and see where the other is coming from. While filming the scene where Johnny scrubs the deck, Zabka realized “how cool this was as an evolution of the character… It was really important that Johnny opened his heart and saw that there was something to learn here.” He thought it was just as important to himself as he realized that the scene showed how far Johnny has come since Miyagi saved his life in Karate Kid II.
However, that peace between the two is short-lived. In episode five, the two fighters go head-to-head to decide whose method is taught to their students. Excited as the two were to read the script, they were surprised to see that the fight would end in a draw. Anticlimactic perhaps, but co-showrunner Josh Heald explained how the tie was supposed to happen. Both Danny and Johnny are both so “passionate” about who has the better karate, but the philosophy of the show is about “exploring [how] it’s not better, it’s just different. It goes to that theme again and again… after they’ve come this far with their exploration of each other’s karate and with their own interpretation of their masters’ karate, it would have felt inauthentic.”
During the climactic All Valley Championship, Danny realizes that his students can become better fighters by learning more styles. With that, he takes the surprising step of apologizing to Johnny, even renaming their partnership “Miyagi-Fang.” Macchio openly admitted to being sold on the spot and wanted it cut, but Heald strongly advocated keeping it inside. Now sold, Macchio decided to stay loyal to Danny and make it sound weird at the time. “It’s almost like I’m struggling to say” [’Miyagi-Fang’] out loud,” he said, “and then I tag it ‘just for today’.”
As for Zabka? He loved it and thought it was “a moment of surrender and growth” for Johnny. “I think he’s come to accept that he’s a work in progress… Recognizing you’re wrong is probably one of the hardest things to do as a person, especially when you’re so stuck in your life.” But what will it be like for both men now that they are finally friends? That will have to wait until season five.
Cobra Kai is now out on Netflix.
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