Cobra Kai really knows how to escalate a season, doesn’t it? We’re still two episodes away from the finale, but the match-up between Cobra Kai and the combined Miyagi-Do/Eagle Fang dojo in “Taikai” feels pretty high-stakes. On a plot level, this fight will determine which dojo makes it to the Sekai Taikai, the biggest and most intimidating tournament featured in the Miyagi-Verse yet. It’s the type of event that could make these kids famous or at least get them lucrative brand deals.
But even on a human level, these match-ups are significant. Eli used to be the type of bully who led Kenny to pursue karate in the first place — and, ironically, the same type of bully he emulates now. And Tory and Sam’s rivalry dates back to season two, almost as long-standing as Miguel and Robby’s was. Theirs is even more serious. Tory is probably the person Sam thinks most about besides Miguel.
All of this begins when representatives of the Sekai Taikai visit Cobra Kai to evaluate their students, and Daniel swoops in with Johnny, Chozen, and Amanda to throw their hat in the ring. The main representative, a German man named Gunther Braun, agrees to assess both dojos, so there’s an extended montage of Gunther visiting each one. At LaRusso’s Army — seriously, even Gunther is begging them to come up with a new combined name soon — Daniel demonstrates his classic chores-focused method of learning defense, with Johnny’s aggressive offense coming afterward. Johnny also bonds with Gunther over their shared love of Rocky Balboa. (“His victory over Russia effectively restored my fractured homeland,” Gunther remarks.)
But Silver’s lessons are impressive, too, especially with Kenny’s shockingly fast mastery of karate and the exorbitant mo-cap technology they have at their disposal. They’re karate machines. So Gunther declares that the two dojos will have a direct competition, with one male match-up and one female match-up. Sam, Tory, and Kenny are all obvious choices. The only unclear choice is the male pick from LaRusso’s Army since Miguel, Robby, and Eli all have a claim to be the strongest fighter. But Miguel and Robby agree it should be Eli since he won the All Valley fair and square, so the matches are set.
First up is Kenny versus Eli. Kenny goes into this fight pissed from seeing Robby training Anthony, whom he still thinks of as his bully, even though the dynamic has been flipped for a while now. But Kenny also has the ref on his side; once again, Silver paid him off, so Kenny’s basically free to make whatever illegal move he wants. He also has a trick up his sleeve: the “Silver bullet,” a move he just learned from Silver. With a sharp jab between the ribs, he knocks all the wind out of Eli, leaving him gasping for breath on the mat.
The next fight is less straightforward. It’s supposed to be the big sequel to Tory and Sam’s fight in the All Valley, but Tory doesn’t know what to do. She’s supposed to be taking Cobra Kai down, but does that mean she should throw the fight? Kreese, despondent after getting fucked over by his counselor and by Daniel, seems resigned to being in jail. Why bother continuing to plot against Silver when Kreese is stuck in here anyway? Still, Tory plans to compete anyway. It’s not until she notices Silver eyeing the ref during the first fight that she puts two and two together and realizes she can’t go through this all over again.
With Tory suddenly missing, Devon takes her spot. And as in the first fight, the ref is on Cobra Kai’s side, giving Devon a point for a hit Sam blocked and withholding a point from Sam for a shoulder hit that wasn’t a shoulder hit. During a brief timeout, though, she gets the encouragement she needs from Daniel, Chozen, and Miguel to make every point undeniable. There are certain moves the ref just can’t make work for Cobra Kai. After that, it’s over quickly for Devon, though she actually has more approval from Kim Da-Eun than ever.
Gunther and his fellow tournament reps make the decision — predictable, maybe, but still satisfying — that both dojos will qualify for the Sekai Taikai! With that, Daniel and Johnny turn the kids loose to go celebrate at Johnny and the Diazes’ complex with no adult supervision.
There have been fewer than usual big social events this season, aside from the water park war. So it’s nice to see everyone letting loose for a change. There’s definitely much less teen relationship drama this season, especially when you compare this episode to the junior prom drama of last season’s eighth. But we do get some when Sam walks in on Miguel making out with a girl right when she seemed ready to reconnect with him.
But alas, the fallen octopus charm she found outside her house will have to wait for later. Outside, she runs into Tory, the deserter. The episode ends with Tory uttering one of the most fist-pumping lines of the season: “You didn’t lose the All Valley.” Chills.
“Taikai” is the first episode to feature a real, formalized fight between Daniel and Johnny’s students and Cobra Kai since the All Valley last season. And it might be the last, depending on how soon the Sekai Taikai comes up. Cobra Kai tends to be stronger in its spring-semester seasons than its summer or fall-semester seasons; having a tournament to look forward to always gives the season a defined structure. But if the Sekai Taikai doesn’t happen in the last two episodes of season five, I won’t mind. There’s a lot going on right now, between Tory coming clean, two fractured relationships, two significant new senseis, a pregnancy, and Kreese’s meddling from behind bars. I’m not sure where this season goes from here, but it should be a fun ride.
Mr. Miyagi’s Little Trees
• Johnny very publicly tells Silver, “I’m gonna shove that ponytail straight up your ass.”
• In some ways, this season never dealt with the fallout of the Johnny-Miguel drama toward the end of last season. So I appreciate the little moment when Johnny takes the time to remind Miguel he’s not forcing him to compete.
• And in the same scene, nice fake-out with Robby’s snarky comment about Johnny’s “fatherly advice” to Miguel. It’s still a relief to see Robby and Miguel on the same team.
• Bert says the new Cobra Kai dojo is “like a Cobra starship.”
• Maybe if Johnny had compared Cobra Kai to Ivan Drago, Gunther wouldn’t have allowed them a spot in the tournament. There really are some parallels there, with their similarly cold and remorseless way of fighting. “If he dies, he dies” could just as easily be a Kreese line as a Drago line.
• Another nice Daniel-Chozen bromance moment: comforting Sam the night before the fight by comparing her rivalry with Tory to their own. And Chozen comes in with some classic wisdom about fighting for, not against.