In any ensemble, it’s inevitable that some character relationships will get more time than others. A few core pairings get most of the time in Cobra Kai: Johnny and Daniel, Johnny and Miguel, Daniel and Sam, Daniel and Robby, Miguel and Sam. But when a show shakes up its ensemble and deepens the bonds between unexpected characters, it can be a lot of fun.
“Then Learn Fly” is the third episode in a row to contain a story this show has been building toward for years: Johnny and Daniel trading classes. It’s the logical next step after the last episode showed the two men learning each other’s styles, but it’s also the kind of story you could have imagined coming one day as early as season two. It means that most of the episode focuses not on our established sensei-student relationships but on three new ones: Daniel and Miguel, Johnny and Sam, and Robby and Kenny.
There are reasons we haven’t seen Daniel and Miguel interact much on this show. When Miguel and Sam were dating the first time around, she didn’t want to introduce him to her dad because he was a Cobra Kai student, and the next season, Daniel looked at him as a bully like Johnny. They finally had their first meaningful conversation in season three when Daniel shared his perspective of what went down in The Karate Kid.
So they’re on good terms now. But here we see Daniel become an actual role model for Miguel, who’s worried he’s not good enough for Sam in her father’s eyes. When Daniel assigns the Eagle Fangs to catch a koi from the pond with their bare hands, the stakes are high for Miguel. Sure, he’ll get to lead the class for the week and pick the next Gatorade flavor. But all he really wants is to impress his girlfriend’s dad, to be the type of guy Sam would be proud to date. So when he spills wine on Daniel’s shirt and falls into the pond, you feel his acute embarrassment.
After class, Miguel’s mom’s car breaks down, so Daniel offers to bring it into the auto shop. He gives Miguel a ride and makes him fix the problem himself, suggesting Miguel could follow in his footsteps one day. Miguel doesn’t think so — he can’t even afford his own car, let alone tuition to his dream school. But Daniel comforts him by telling him he never went to college. In fact, he squandered his funds on a round-trip ticket to Okinawa in The Karate Kid Part II, then wasted the prize from an ice-breaking contest on a bonsai-tree store in The Karate Kid Part III.
It’s a classic Cobra Kai move to repurpose the sillier plot points of the over-the-top Karate Kid sequels and use them to tell a much more human, down-to-earth story. So what might’ve once felt like thin excuses for a cash grab become moving examples of the unexpected turns our lives take as we’re figuring ourselves out. “My path wasn’t a straight line,” Daniel tells Miguel. “And yours is still being written.” Sometimes it’s necessary to take the circular path — a lesson that becomes literal when Miguel finally catches a fish by walking around the pond in circles to force the koi under the board.
For the Miyagi-Dos’ offense lesson, Johnny assigns them to jump between two roofs. The students balk at the idea, and you can’t really blame them: It looks like a pretty huge jump, and the mattresses haphazardly scattered below aren’t very comforting.
When Johnny confronts Sam about her repeated refusal to make the jump, they get in a big fight, addressing both of their preconceived notions about each other. Johnny brings up their run-in back in the pilot episode when her friends wrecked his car and took off while she sat in the back seat. He also mentions the time she showed up drunk at his doorstep last season and had to spend the night. “I’m a teenager who’s made a couple of mistakes,” she insists. “You’re a 50-something-year-old man who lives alone, drinks all day, and clearly hasn’t figured out his own life.”
She’s not entirely wrong. But she doesn’t understand that to a certain extent, Johnny’s circumstances were a conscious choice to avoid the soul-sucking nine-to-five desk job his parents wanted for him. It took a while, and he definitely still has a drinking problem, but his choice has paid off: Now he gets to do what he loves. “If you want to sit in the back seat your whole life, go right ahead,” he says.
When Sam gets a text from her dad telling her not to do anything he wouldn’t do, she realizes Johnny’s right: She’d be choosing a life of passivity if she always stayed obedient to her parents. At the start of Cobra Kai, Sam was literally in the back seat, complicit in bullying by sticking with her mean friends (something her little brother is now experiencing himself). Now she’s making her own moves. It’s liberating to watch her make the spontaneous, rebellious decision to jump. (She does not splat against the ground and die.)
And Johnny learns something, too: to take his own advice. “I can’t sit in the back seat any longer,” he tells Carmen after impulsively knocking on her door. He doesn’t want to wait and take things slow with her, he says. He wants them to figure shit out together. Luckily, Carmen agrees, and they share a big kiss. Yay!
“If you get put in a scary situation, don’t back down,” Johnny says the next day, summarizing the lesson. “You gotta grow a pair. Of legs. To jump.” But his issues aren’t over: Now that he’s dating Carmen, it may be harder to maintain the same relationship with Miguel he’s always had. Especially with Miguel and Daniel bonding so much — as the episode ends, Johnny furiously watches Daniel reward his student with a lotus-flower headband.
The final new mentorship of the episode is Robby and Kenny, who comes straight to Cobra Kai on his brother’s advice. But he’s turned away after Kyler scares him off the mat twice without even making contact. When Robby returns his backpack, Kenny tells him about how Shawn got arrested protecting him. He sees a TikTok of Kenny getting “milked” (locker filled with milk) and reluctantly agrees to teach him some moves because, come on, the kid’s having a miserable time and Robby isn’t (always) made out of stone.
It quickly becomes clear strength and skill aren’t Kenny’s forte yet. What he does have is speed — he can wriggle away no problem. Robby suggests he use his speed to run at the enemy instead of away because Cobra Kai is about being a man, not a coward. When Kenny returns to the dojo the next day, he initially jumps back from Kyler again. But when he hears everyone laughing and sees the disappointment in Robby’s eyes, he resolves to fight back, darting forward and punching Kyler in the face. It might be a cheap shot, but it’s enough to secure him a spot on the team. After all, Kreese never had a problem with cheap shots.
Terry Silver has known that for a long time. Triggered by a kitchen torch, he suddenly can’t stop remembering Vietnam and the debt he may still owe the man who saved his life. He visits Cobra Kai to confront Kreese again, accusing him of messing with his head and dredging up his past.” But Kreese is right when he implies that Silver never dealt with his PTSD — he just buried it somewhere and ignored it, and now he’s “clinging to some bullshit happy ending.” After all, he wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t looking for some go-ahead to do karate again.
Back at home, Silver ignores his girlfriend’s texts and looks at the patch on his side where his tattoo used to be, remembering when his father wanted him to take over the company, but Kreese told him he needed him. It’s downright romantic to see flashback-Kreese tell Silver, “I didn’t leave you behind in the war, and I’m not going to leave you behind now.” That was the most right Silver has ever felt, so it’s no surprise to see him finally tie his hair back just like he used to wear it. Terrance is gone. Terry is back.
Mr. Miyagi’s Little Trees
• The opening “trading places” montage contains a number of hilarious details: Johnny quickly sipping a Coors Banquet during a meditation session, Johnny doing the crane kick that defeated him in the ’80s, and Daniel and Johnny trying each other’s lunches. Macchio’s facial expression upon sampling Johnny’s ham sandwich is perfect.