“Extreme Measures” is the first episode of season five to give me that giddy feeling of watching Cobra Kai at its best. Not coincidentally, it also features the two best fight scenes so far, and it’s the first episode to feature the show’s best pairing: Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso. If they’re in the same orbit again, that’s a clear sign the story is really starting to kick in as we enter the second half of the season.
Another sign is the tectonic shift of one of Cobra Kai’s oldest rivalries: Miguel and Robby. These two have been bitter enemies on and off the mat from the beginning for many reasons. They’ve usually been the strongest (male) fighters on their respective teams. They’ve dated the same two girls. They even compete over the same father figure (well, Robby’s actual father). But because Miguel and Robby sort of share a father, they’re bound to keep being forced into close proximity, and this kind of rivalry just isn’t sustainable. With Carmen’s baby on the way, Johnny knows it’s time to force these two boys to deal with their shit. They’re going to be sharing a half-sibling soon.
It’s impressive that a storyline roughly structured around Olive Garden product placement also manages to be one of the most satisfying. For one, it’s very funny: Johnny repeatedly lies to Miguel and Robby to get them in the same room, and they keep falling for it. First, he parent-traps them at Olive Garden: fail. Then he constructs an escape room out of his own apartment: inspired, but still fail. It takes a visit from Daniel for Johnny to realize the real key is something a little more “Johnny Classic.” Maybe if the two of them had just fought it out from the beginning, they could’ve avoided this decades-long bitterness between them.
So Johnny makes Miguel and Robby fight it out, and it’s an instant highlight of the season, partially because it’s the first real fight between two main characters in a while. (The second happens later.) There are real stakes and history here, and Johnny’s apartment complex makes for a solid setting; at one point, Robby kicks Miguel through the door to the stairwell, and the two of them fall out onto the second-floor balcony a couple of seconds later. Miguel finally finds himself in the position to kick Robby off the balcony, mirroring the time Robby kicked him at the end of season two, but he pulls back, and what follows is a refreshingly honest conversation between the two. Robby describes where his mind was at when he hurt Miguel that day: He had tunnel vision and barely knew where he was in the moment. He even goes so far as to confess that it was the worst moment in his life.
Job well done, Johnny accidentally mentions the baby, leading both boys to hug and congratulate him: no angst, no passive aggression, just pure happiness and those delicious Olive Garden breadsticks. When you’re here, you’re family.
The moments of familial bliss are a sharp contrast to the scenes with Daniel, who’s perhaps in a rougher place than we’ve ever seen him. He’s drinking, he hasn’t shaved, and as Johnny later points out, his shirt isn’t even tucked in. Amanda and the kids are gone, and everyone is under Terry Silver’s sway.
But Daniel and Chozen realize they have an anonymous ally when they find a message in the mail accusing Stingray of lying in the testimony that sent Kreese to jail. They find Stingray at the address from the message, living in some fancy new digs Silver hooked him up with. (Silver even procured him Johnny’s old Cobra Kai Challenger.) But Stingray won’t admit the truth when they confront him, and Daniel’s escalating desperation almost gets threatening. “You are not yourself,” Chozen tells him.
It’s Johnny, of course, who gives Daniel the perspective he needs. Johnny and Daniel’s bromance is the heart of the show, and I missed their interactions in the early episodes this season (and in the later ones last season). But this one is an all-timer, partly because it’s great to see the role reversal of a drunk, angry Daniel calling Johnny a pussy in his newly spotless apartment. Johnny is more at peace than ever, with Robby out of Cobra Kai and Kreese in prison, so it makes sense that for once he’d be wary of getting back in the fight. I love the moment when we prepare for him to take Daniel’s bait and join in on his crazed plan to flip Stingray — but then he just asks, “What’s going on with you, man?”
Johnny assures Daniel that he and Amanda will get through this rough patch, and Daniel realizes he can’t risk losing his family, owning up to his failures. He even goes to apologize to Stingray. But guess who’s there? Good old Terry Silver, who refuses to accept his sincere surrender, instead goading him into a fight and then really fucking him up. It’s Daniel’s loss of control that loses him the fight; he lets Silver get to him psychologically until he’s blinded by anger, moving more out of passion than precision. Silver’s final villainous line, “The real pain is about to begin,” raises the stakes again.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Amanda’s time away from Daniel, but this subplot made me giddy, too. While staying with her mom in Ohio, Amanda takes the kids to dinner with her cousin: one Jessica Andrews, Daniel’s love-interest-turned-friend from The Karate Kid Part III. (They actually stop at a retro bar for a while, then get White Castle on the way home.)
There’s a lot to unpack here. At the end of Part III, Jessica was packing to leave California and return to patch things up with her ex-boyfriend in her hometown of Columbus, Ohio. Now we learn that she was the one who originally introduced Daniel and Amanda once she heard her cousin was moving from Ohio to the Valley. It’s such an unexpected full-circle moment, but it makes a lot of sense, and it’s an inspired way of filling in a bit of backstory we never knew.
Robyn Lively brings a real vibrancy and warmth to this incarnation of Jessica, who frankly has much more personality than teen Jessica did. But it’s also a brilliant move to use this latest Karate Kid deep cut to shed light on Terry Silver. She was present for a lot of Silver’s shenanigans in 1985 and saw firsthand how badly he traumatized Daniel, forming a friendship with the kid while his goons terrorized him and even assaulted Jessica. It sinks in for Amanda just how present this trauma still is for Daniel — the sight of his own bloody knuckles brings him back to that oft-remembered dark lesson from Silver in Part III — and she resolves to cut him some slack.
But while our hero gets his ass handed to him at the end of “Extreme Measures,” the episode doesn’t end on a downer note the way the last couple of episodes have. Miguel and Robby are on good terms for the first time ever, Amanda is back with Daniel, and Johnny has joined the crew. And there’s still the matter of those anonymous allies, who get unmasked to us as the cherry on top of the sundae that is this episode. It’s Tory who delivered the tip about Stingray under the guidance of the imprisoned Kreese. It’s impossible not to get swept up in it all as Kreese assures Tory, “Silver’s going down. Only he doesn’t know it yet.” I’ll get the breadsticks. You guys get the sliders.
Mr. Miyagi’s Little Trees
• Sam gets a nice bonding moment with Anthony when she realizes how badly he’s getting bullied by Kenny. And the fun but brief bar fight that ensues — with Sam coming out as the obvious hero, being the one trained in karate — reminds her of the value of karate in fighting back against bullies.
• Anthony at the bar: “Right, yeah. They’re remaking all this old stuff from the ’80s.”
• Amanda LaRusso, everyone: “Every time I think it’s over, another enemy emerges from Daniel’s past like some twisted game of whack-a-mole.”