With one episode left, the anti-Terry Silver resistance is now mainly broken into two factions: the adults and the kids. And while the adults are still flailing for control — literally, in the case of the three sensei, who are locked in a limo with a rogue driver — the kids have something approximating a plan.
If you thought Tory’s admission at the end of “Taikai” would come as good news to Sam, guess again. “Survivors” begins with the two locked in another fight, with Sam maybe angrier than ever. She calls Tory a coward for not telling her sooner and starts spiraling: What if all this had never happened? What if she’d just won like she was supposed to? Hell, what if Tory had told her the truth as soon as she realized it? So much pain could’ve been avoided; maybe Sam would’ve never had to leave karate or break up with Miguel in the first place.
There’s no time for Sam and Miguel to really address what she walked in on at the party. For now, it’s Miguel’s job to keep reminding Sam of who she is and what she values. The next night, they visit Stingray, whom Bert thinks he can convince to open up. Sure enough, with a little prodding and some D&D code names to make the privileged information just abstract enough to clear him of responsibility, Stingray tells them the truth. Silver assaulted him, not Kreese, and he paid him off with the house, and the Challenger, and the Ninja-level gaming setup. But those aren’t the things that keep Stingray from being honest and going to the police, as much as he wants to. It’s fear. And who can blame the guy, really — Terry Silver is a terrifying man, and he almost beat Stingray to death.
But like Daniel during his dark period earlier in the season, Sam has little mercy for this guy. It takes a conversation between her and Miguel for her to vent about the implications of her false tournament loss and finally gain some perspective about what needs to be done. Miguel points out that based on his own experience at Cobra Kai and basically everyone else’s — Eli and Robby also became bullies for a time — it must’ve been very difficult for Tory to come clean. Sam can keep on despising the girl and taking out her anger on everyone, but that’s not taking down the real enemy.
So she sucks it up and visits Tory, who’s been through a very rough day, starting with a visit from Robby at Cobra Kai. Robby apologizes for how abruptly he left the dojo and once again pleads with the class to follow him out, but of course, it doesn’t work. Silver completely towers over the kid as he reminds him that “There’s a difference between being heard and being listened to.” But the most disturbing part of Tory’s day is a run-in with Kim Da-Eun and Silver later that on. Partly as punishment for leaving the fight in the last episode, they force her to punch a slab of solid stone over and over. It recalls the brutal lesson that left Daniel with bloody knuckles in The Karate Kid Part III. In that scene, Daniel could only punch through when he was convinced he was punching Mike Barnes; here, Tory only harnesses the raw fury she needs when Kim prods her about her breakup.
At Tory’s place, Sam develops some empathy for her sworn enemy: because of the bloody knuckles, the general messiness of the space, the small glimpse of Tory’s mom’s bed, and finally Tory’s confession of how much the tournament made her feel like a fraud. When Sam recaps the visit to Stingray’s for her, Tory realizes maybe they can prove what happened to him. Maybe there’s security cam footage at the old dojo.
All of this is good stuff. But the real highlight of “Survivors” is the adult storyline, where we get to see the senseis and their romantic partners just celebrate and hang out for once. They know Silver is still a threat — Johnny and Carmen run into him in the elevator after the ultrasound — but they also know he probably wouldn’t go out of his way to hurt them now, with the Sekai Takai looming. When Johnny finally breaks the news of the pregnancy to Daniel, Amanda, and Chozen, they insist on going out. Luckily, cousin Louie has the connects, hooking them up with a free limo and joining the group at a club.
I’m a sucker for any scene of the old Karate Kid characters just shooting the shit and reminiscing about the absurdity of their old rivalries. So, of course, I loved the discussion of Chozen’s scale scam from Part II, which never really made sense. “I never would have uncovered your sinister plot if it wasn’t for that basket of carrots,” Daniel remarks, to which Carmen asks, “Wait, if the weight was fake, wouldn’t that mean you were scamming yourself out of money instead of the villagers?” “Not one of my smarter plans,” Chozen admits.
It’s a great episode for Chozen, who gets to really let loose with the Long Island iced teas. He bonds again with Johnny, even admitting that he’s in love with Kumiko! They used to play hide and seek as kids, and then she showed him kindness after his disgrace in Part II. Daniel gives him the green light, suggesting he stop punishing himself and go after her. So just before the group leaves to hit another bar, Chozen spontaneously leaves Kumiko a voicemail telling her that he made a mistake in not bringing her with him to California. Could this be teasing Tamlyn Tomita’s return in season six?
Like last season, “Survivors” is sort of designed as the first half of a two-part finale; it seems likely that the final episode will take place on the same night. But while the stakes may have felt a little higher in last year’s “The Fall,” season five has done a good job building to an exhilarating climax without a classic tournament. The episode ends in a tense moment, as Daniel, Johnny, and Chozen are thrown from their seats by the swerving limo, realizing they’re not as safe as they thought. But to me, the best moments of this penultimate episode come from just spending time with the characters we love. It’s not just the suspense of wondering how the senseis will get out of this one; it’s the simple joy of watching these three men drunk off their asses singing and dancing along to “Eye of the Tiger.” That’s the type of moment we watch Cobra Kai for.
Mr. Miyagi’s Little Trees
• Johnny tries a White Claw and immediately spits it out, saying, “Tastes like watermelon took a piss.”
• Chozen wants Daniel to break another giant block of ice like he did in The Karate Kid Part II. “I’m sure they don’t keep giant slabs of ice on hand, Chozen,” Daniel says, to which Chozen mutters, “What kind of bar is this?”
• There’s a little mini-subplot with Louie and Anoush, who get into a fight when it comes out that Anoush’s new girlfriend is Louie’s sister Vanessa (who appeared in one episode last year and who, I’m just realizing now, is played by Ralph Macchio’s daughter, Julia). Why not?