We need to talk about how John Kreese is making money running the Cobra Kai dojo. We learn from his landlord, the greasy Armand, that he always pays the rent on time and apparently the two of them have a lease, but where is this money coming from? How, exactly, is he getting students to train at Cobra Kai when he treats it more like a “team” or an elite fighting squad than an academy?
He goes around the Valley looking for the toughest kids in wrestling, basketball, and weightlifting, a montage that coincides with young John Kreese being recruited into an elite training squad in Vietnam back in 1968. “You need strength, you need determination, you need brutality,” Kreese was told back then, and now tells others. “All you have to do is say yes and I will mold you into the ultimate weapon.” When these new recruits show up at the dojo they have to fight against the current students to see if they’re worthy of being Cobra Kais.
Okay, let me get this business model straight: He goes up to kids, tells them that he’s going to turn them into killing machines, but they have to pay for it, and then when they show up, he tells them that he only wants their money if they’re good enough? That’s like joining Curves but the first time you get there they tell you that they’ll only take your money if you can bench press your body weight.
He then has the wrestler fight with “Ass Face,” who loses his match. Kreese then kicks him out of the dojo. Okay, okay, okay. Hold on. So, after making potential students prove themselves, he then gets rid of paying customers if they’re not good enough for him? How does this guy make any money to pay that rent? Is it because he is also living there and never changes his clothes so his expenses are low?
Hawk hates the new recruits because they’re the guys who bullied him (though, in classic Cobra Kai fashion, none of these people are given actual names). Kreese has Hawk battle the weight lifter who I’ll call Pepperoni Combos. You can tell that Hawk is serious because he takes off his shirt to reveal not only his gnarly Affleck-esque back tattoo but a new one of the grim reaper on his chest. He wipes the floor with Pepperoni Combos and Kreese doesn’t even have to tell Hawk to “finish him” like a geriatric version of the announcer in Mortal Kombat. Hawk starts pummeling him until his hands are covered in blood.
Wait, wait, wait. Hold on. So now Pep Combos is going to go home and say what to his parents? “This old man approached me at the gym about joining his club and I had to pay but then when I got there it was like some kind of audition. I failed and he broke my nose and now I can’t pay to be in his club.” What would his parents do in that situation? Just be like, “Oh, that makes sense. You should be a better fighter?” No, they would call the cops and be like “There is a Cape Fear–level psycho running a dojo,” which is exactly what Amanda calls him.
When Daniel returns from Japan, or the soundstage in Tarzana that was doubling for Japan, chief scold Amanda tells him that the kids are at their grandmother’s because she’s worried about Kreese. She goes to get a restraining order, but he’s already taken one out on her because she showed up at his business and slapped him for no reason. Yes, that makes total sense. She then invites Armand over, plies him with chicken cacciatore, and convinces him to evict Kreese. The only problem is, Kreese kicks the snot out of Armand’s goons and stays in his dojo.
Amanda is back at a newly bumpin’ LaRusso Motors (not kicking the competition since 2021), gloating about how she defeated Cobra Kai in one afternoon while Daniel has been trying to do it for 35 years. That’s when Kreese gets on the phone and tells her that it’s open season on the Miyagi-Do students — even though Miyagi-Do is technically closed, but whatever — but also the LaRussos. That’s when we learn what that snake Kreese has been keeping in the studio is for: He’s let it loose in the dealership, and chaos ensues. I’m just pissed that not one person in that dealership yelled, “I have had it with these M-er F-er snakes on this M-er F-er plane.”
While this is all going down, we’re also gaining some empathy for Kreese and understanding what made him. We also learn that Vietnam Kreese was a hottie who could do things to a T-shirt sleeve that haven’t been seen outside of Warrant’s video for “Cherry Pie,” except on a man. We meet his Captain who, because this is CK, does not have a name other than Captain, who taught Kreese to have no mercy. When they’re on a mission, his compatriot Ponytail (finally, a name!) places a bomb but is caught by the enemy. Kreese can’t blow him up so instead the whole squad gets caught and Ponytail is executed in front of his face.
That obviously had to be traumatic, but what Kreese needs to understand is that what worked in ’Nam isn’t going to work back home, especially in the modern day. When Captain No Name tells him “It’s kill or be killed. No mercy,” he’s right because it is literally a war. No matter what you think about the Vietnam conflict, you can understand that battlefield mentality. But can’t Kreese see that has caused him nothing but harm in his life since he’s been back? Maybe the fog of the PTSD and the smell of Napalm in the morning is too much for him.
The best story of the episode, though, is what is going on with Johnny and Miguel. Johnny has him hooked up to a harness and hanging from the ceiling of his apartment so that he can teach Miguel how to walk. “I look like a baby, is there a more badass way to do this?” Miguel whines.
It turns out the more badass way has to do with Facebook. Miguel finds out that Ali, Johnny’s famed ex-girlfriend, wrote him a Facebook message (they are almost 60 after all, so squarely in the FB demo) asking what he was up to. Johnny not only has a mostly bare profile, he also went back and liked all of her pictures in her history, because one of his most endearing qualities is having no idea how the internet works. Miguel decides to help Johnny craft a nice message to Ali that is not 85 pages long and in all caps and also take some pictures, because the only ones he has are of him shirtless with feathered hair and a gold chain like they were pulled from a Bop centerfold in 1984.
They go all over town and Johnny pretends to read, pretends to like art, and even pretends to like sushi, which, it’s a little weird that he’s never had sushi considering he’s dedicated most of his life to Japanese cultural appropriation, but whatever. (Also, there is definitely a Sugarfish in the Valley, so he should get on that.) While they’re at sushi, Miguel runs into Tory, who apologizes for not seeing him in the hospital and everything is weird and awkward between them and Miguel hates that all of his friends that he fought so hard for have basically forsaken him.
Back at Johnny’s, Miguel is so pissed off about not being able to walk that he yells at Johnny for basically giving up. He’s mad Johnny let Kreese take Cobra Kai and didn’t do anything. “You helped a bunch of people and then walked away like a pussy,” Miguel yells at him. “You’re a sensei. If you can’t see that you’re blind.” Miguel is so mad that he doesn’t even realize he’s standing up on his own. It’s another karate miracle.
You might think that Johnny would go down to that Reseda strip and take his dojo back, but first he has to deal with Facebook. He doesn’t upload any of the phony pictures. Instead he uploads all the pictures of him helping the kids. He responds to Ali with a great note about how his life was meaningless until he met someone who needed his help and it got him back into karate. Since then he’s become a teacher trying to help get kids ready for the tough world out there. It’s so honest and sweet and true without being sappy that it brought a little tear to my eye. Then I got mad because Cobra Kai made me cry and then I could just hear my dad saying, “There’s no crying in dad shows,” even though my dad definitely cries weekly at Yellowstone for no discernible reason.
In a classic Johnny move, he decides his message is way too long and deletes it all. Finally, he comes up with the perfect response for Ali, something that has worked for bad boys trying to get laid via text message for decades: “Not much. U?”