Wow. “Head of the Snake” may not reach the emotional peak of the season-four finale — and may not raise the stakes for season six the way “The Rise” did for season five — but it does feel like the end of an era for Cobra Kai (and, well, for Cobra Kai). In fact … is there a Cobra Kai anymore with neither Terry Silver nor John Kreese there?
For most of “Head of the Snake,” the students and the senseis are separated, fighting “a war on two fronts.” It turns out it wasn’t Silver in control of the limo; it’s Mike Barnes, who’s furious at Daniel for coming back into his life and destroying it. Since his furniture store burned down, he’s been in a tough place, losing both his income and maybe even his wife. Daniel assures him this was all Silver, and Mike suggests they pay him a visit to beat the shit out of him. Like Johnny and Chozen, I would also like to see this happen.
Daniel, ever the hero, doesn’t agree to the plan, so he gets left on the side of the road to get scooped up by Amanda and Carmen in Stingray’s Challenger a bit later. And it turns out he’s not wrong; when the other three guys (Daniel’s three nemeses from the original movies!) show up at Silver’s place, they quickly realize they’re outnumbered by the tough new senseis from Kim Da-Eun’s dojang. It’s not long before Mike gets knocked out and the other two guys are on their own.
While Johnny keeps the senseis distracted, Chozen goes up against Silver directly, following up on his promise from “Molé” to make Silver beg for mercy if he ever crosses the line. I realized how serious this was once Silver drew the same sword he showed Chozen earlier this season and Chozen drew his daggers — we’ve never gotten a true fight to the death on this show, give or take a snake pit in Vietnam. It occurred to me that Chozen could actually die, and suddenly I couldn’t stop worrying that his phone call to Kumiko last episode was there to make this final sacrifice all the more tragic.
That tension makes this fight all the more exhilarating, especially as it moves out into Silver’s pool. In the end, Chozen “defeats” Silver, holding a dagger to his neck — but when he turns, distracted by Johnny’s cries, Silver slashes him across the back, leaving him to collapse in the water as he bleeds out. Back inside, Silver hits Johnny where it hurts, telling him, “At least you won’t be around to screw up another kid.” With that, he orders his senseis to “finish him” before taking off to put out other fires.
So we’re facing the possibility of all three of Daniel’s Karate Kid rivals dying at once. But that doesn’t happen, of course. Seeing the ultrasound picture that slipped from his pocket, Johnny gains the strength to fight off the rest of the senseis, with an assist from Mike, who regains consciousness just soon enough to take down the remaining two. It’s a satisfying conclusion to both of their arcs. Johnny occasionally didn’t feel as central to the drama as Daniel did this year, but he’s become somebody truly worthy of Carmen and the kids. As for Mike, I have to think he’ll be back next year, hopefully with a meatier storyline.
While all this is happening, pretty much every kid in the show shows up at Cobra Kai’s flagship dojo, where the LaRusso’s Army kids intend to find the footage of Silver assaulting Stingray. But Silver deleted the clip, of course, so new plan: They find footage of Silver admitting to Tory that he paid off the ref in the All Valley. While Demetri locates the video, the other kids head downstairs, where the Cobra Kai kids have just arrived, tipped off by Mitch. So it turns out there was a mole on each side this whole time!
Demetri starts uploading the clip to YouTube while the fight unfolds, with Kenny repeating the “Silver bullet” trick on Robby. Kim Da-Eun eventually arrives on Silver’s orders, and she joins in the fight, too. (She enjoys hurting kids a little too much.) It’s her against Tory for a while, but when Sam sees Tory in trouble, she jumps in to help, with the two of them on the same side in a fight for the first time … ever? Devon joins in, too, and her defending Tory from Kim is almost as significant a moment. “I will be a champion,” she says. “But I’ll get there my way, not yours.”
Even Anthony, of all people, has a hero moment when he finds himself holding the iPad that’s uploading the video. In the most satisfying callback of the finale, Miguel calls out, “Protect the egg!” and the kids circle up around Anthony, protecting the iPad the way they did in their lesson with Chozen.
Daniel rolls up with Amanda, Carmen, and Stingray just in time to catch the video, which Anthony casts to a TV in the dojo. Silver also arrives, but he’s met with dead silence when he yells, “What does the enemy deserve?” “No mercy” feels a little hollow now that they’ve seen how much of a phony he is. Silver proposes another fight to Daniel, and this time, Amanda encourages it. So Daniel gets the catharsis of finally defeating Silver the old-fashioned way, redeeming himself for his beatdown earlier in the season. He wins by remembering Silver’s lessons, shown in brief flashbacks to The Karate Kid Part III: take away his opponent’s ability to stand, breathe, and see. With Silver knocked to the floor, Kenny finally removes his Cobra Kai shirt, all the other Cobra Kai kids following his lead.
In season five, Cobra Kai has found itself in an interesting place. The show will likely go on another season or two — it’s unclear if we’ll see another All Valley Tournament (which would happen the following spring) or if the Sekai Taikai will be the final one of the series. But besides a bit of a slow start, season five didn’t tread water at all. In fact, almost everything gets tied up in a neat bow, with even Chozen making it out alive. (I’m super relieved he did, though a small part of me wonders if a sacrifice might’ve been necessary to keep the stakes up for next year.) Miguel and Sam get back together, finally saying they love each other. Robby and Tory get back together, too. (This season had more drama with the adults than the kids, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.) And most significantly, Cobra Kai as a whole loses the mastermind at the top.
The only real threat still remaining at the end of “Head of the Snake” is a newly escaped John Kreese, who fakes a prison stabbing with the help of his new minions and uses Dr. Folsom’s key card to bust out. Well, Kim Da-Eun is still out there, too — in fact, she’ll probably be in control of Cobra Kai for the time being. Otherwise, though, this is a startlingly happy ending, with little of the danger and bleakness of last year’s finale.
But I don’t mean that as a complaint, really. This was a solid season of TV that built in intensity as it went on, to the point that it became entirely possible that multiple major characters could die. I’m glad nobody did, but we’re not out of the woods yet. Assuming Cobra Kai gets one or two more seasons, there’s still more to this story and at least a couple more opportunities for Karate Kid cameos. (Where you at, Hilary Swank?) I’m not sure where Cobra Kai goes from here, but I’m excited to find out.
Mr. Miyagi’s Little Trees
• Not a ton of Demetri this season, but he lands a very satisfying kick on Kyler, who remains the worst.
• Robby approaches Kenny after it’s all over, but Kenny just says, “Just not right now, okay?” Curious to see if he’s one of the good guys next year, and if he makes any amends to Anthony.
Mike grabs a Rembrandt from Silver’s place, which should help him get back on his feet. Do none of the cops notice this? Either way, love that for him.
• If you go back to episode six, you can see Kreese noticing the doc scanning her badge to leave the prison.
• Thanks so much for reading, as always! This is the first series I’ve returned to recap for another season, and I’m looking forward to reading your reactions.