Suddenly we’re here! It’s the 51st All Valley Karate Tournament, the first formal competition we’ve seen on this show since three seasons ago. It turns out the choice to devote two episodes to the tournament is a wise one because there’s a lot to cover here — starting with a cameo from Carrie Underwood? Singing Survivor’s “Moment of Truth” from the original Karate Kid, and acknowledging how random her appearance is by saying, “I didn’t see a lot of karate growing up in Oklahoma, but you guys know I love to compete”?
After some hype introductions to each team, the tournament starts with the skills competition. Both Miyagi-Do and Eagle Fang seem to start off strong, but Cobra Kai takes the lead after Eli (I’ll stick with his real name for now) can’t successfully break the board over his head with a kick. With Eagle Fang down, they’ll need to win as many qualifying rounds as possible to edge out Cobra Kai. “Your team needs you,” Johnny tells Miguel, assuring him he can worry about his relationship problems later. (Never mind that Miguel’s real biggest source of angst is the last episode’s devastating ending when Johnny mistook him for his own son.)
But as we know, Cobra Kai has an edge because Robby taught everyone the Miyagi-Do karate he learned from Daniel. Daniel and Sam make that connection when they see three of their fighters in a row lose to Cobra Kai kids waxing on and off like Mr. Miyagi taught them himself. Daniel calls Robby out for what he did, but Robby has no shame. “It doesn’t matter which way you fight as long as it works,” he says. Daniel’s counter, straight from the Mr. Miyagi playbook: “Never put passion in front of principle, because even if you win, you lose.”
When the quarterfinals start, Eli goes up against Kyler, his old bully from before he became Hawk. Moon gives him an excellent pep talk, reminding him that his haircut does not define him. Then she kisses him, giving him the confidence to kick Kyler’s ass. Moments before doing it, he tells Daniel, “I know who I am now. The guy who’s gonna win this whole fucking thing.” We’ll have to wait until the finale to see if he’s right.
Sam beats Piper easily enough, too, though she forgoes Daniel’s strategy in favor of putting Piper on the defense. After a rough, offense-heavy performance that earns her the win, Daniel stubbornly tells her that she didn’t win the right way. “Maybe my right way is different than yours,” Sam points out. “Don’t I get a choice?” Who can argue with results, especially when Sam’s fighting is more assertive than actually dirty?
For Robby’s quarterfinals fight, he’s forced to go up against Kenny, who warmly thanks Robby before the fight. Without Robby, after all, Kenny would never be here. But after a reminder from Kreese that Kenny is his opponent, Robby stops going easy on the kid, winning thanks to some brutal hits. For all that Kenny has leveled up as a fighter, he’s still just a kid, and it almost feels wrong to watch Robby pummel him, especially in the final strike that triggers a collective gasp from the audience.
“The Fall” ends with the beginning of the semifinals when Miguel and Eli face off. The fight ends before it really begins when Miguel attempts a flying tornado kick and painfully pulls a muscle in his back. It’s a sort of physical manifestation of the weight of Johnny’s expectations; all throughout the episode, Johnny has been a source of intense pressure instead of real support, repeatedly hammering home how important it is that Miguel win this. (After all, with Devon out, Eagle Fang doesn’t qualify for the girls’ competition, which means Miguel needs to win the whole thing to secure the Grand Champion trophy for the dojo.) Even when Miguel is put up against his old friend, Johnny has little empathy for him and their relationship. “Remember that killer instinct. Take his ass out,” he orders. Maybe sometimes Johnny’s mentorship isn’t enough; it’s his voice Miguel hears in his head when he twists his back.
As Miguel lies there on the mat, attended by medics, he lets loose a guttural yell for his sensei. It’s a grim, intense way to end the episode, with the star Eagle Fang student injured. Just moments ago, Daniel told Johnny to stay away from Sam, and Johnny was telling him to stay away from Miguel. But suddenly, that whole feud feels trivial when the kid is actually hurt — especially when both Miguel and Sam wanted to train with both sensei to begin with.
“The Fall” feels, by design, like the first half of a two-part season finale. Most of the consequential fights haven’t happened yet. But it immerses you in this bizarre high-stakes competition right away, reminding you about all the relationships and conflicting motivations that make this a fight worth fighting. If Miguel doesn’t get up and fight, it could spell doom for Eagle Fang and Miyagi-Do both against Cobra Kai. But as scary as the prospect of losing karate in the Valley is — well, karate taught by somebody other than two bloodthirsty maniacs — there’s one possibility even more chilling: that Johnny could lose his student’s trust. What happens when you push a kid too far to achieve your own dream?
Mr. Miyagi’s Little Trees
• Like with season one’s All Valley, Miguel’s grandma Rosa smoked a joint before the tournament.