In its second episode, Cobra Kai continues to be a much better show than it has any right to be, or even, really, than it needs to be — this easily could have been a Netflix oddity that floated by on nostalgia and gimmick, and instead it’s something unabashedly fun and undeniably addicting.
Whereas in the pilot episode we woke up with Johnny Lawrence, this time around we wake up with Ralph Macchio’s Daniel LaRusso, the titular Karate Kid now living a catalogue-perfect life: a California mansion, a beautiful wife, two kids he serves breakfast to (with jokey karate chops).
You can just imagine it all voiced over like a stereotypical movie trailer: Daniel LaRusso had everything. UNTIL…
…Until he sees that a Cobra Kai dojo has opened up in a strip mall. And he gets flashbacks to the bullying he experienced in high school. This grown man’s life is now ruined because a gym opened up that reminds him of the blonde jerk who beat him up in high school — who, by the way, LaRusso eventually kicked the crap out of and whose girlfriend he ended up dating. LaRusso should not be haunted by this in any way: It’s Lawrence who gets to be mad at LaRusso, who in his mind stole his life. You’d have thought that victory-sealing crane kick would have meant LaRusso’s Cobra Kai-related trauma had been both metaphorically and literally defeated. But alas, Cobra Kai is back, and it will haunt him.
While LaRusso is back caring way too much about things that happened in high school, Lawrence is training his only student: Miguel. And he’s teaching him the Cobra Kai way, which means lesson one is to strike first. Their bickering could be between any middle-aged man who thinks kids these days are too P.C. and their well-meaning relatives and they were probably en route to teaching each other about their world views when they’re interrupted by a visitor from the city health department, citing a list of requirements Lawrence needs to hit before he can legally open an exercise studio.
Since this is a Karate Kid spinoff, the sensei puts the pupil to work: Miguel sets off cleaning the entire studio to Lawrence’s lazy, beer-popping delight. There is no “wax on, wax off wisdom” to be had here — although the series is designed so that viewers don’t need to be familiar with the original Karate Kid; if you are, you’re bound to get a chuckle out of the back and forth: “Any particular way you want me to clean this?” Miguel asks. Lawrence answers: “Nah, I don’t give a s—.”
On the other side of the tracks, LaRusso is dealing with the consequences of his daughter becoming one of the popular kids. She skipped a family party at their country club (it’s pretty hard to root for this guy, isn’t it?) to hang out with her friends at their pool, but instead of getting too angry, LaRusso is convinced by his saintly, independent personality-devoid wife that he should try to get to know his daughter and meet her at her level. And so they allow her to invite over her crush, Kyler, for dinner, which is cringe-inducing in multiple ways, but mostly the way a middle-aged white man performativity cares very deeply about Japanese culture in front of an actual Asian-American person.
Kyler does pass along one important bit of information: that Lawrence beat up some kids outside the mini-mart where the new dojo was built. And so, hungry for a new enemy, LaRusso confronts Lawrence about his behavior. Somehow, even though he beat up a bunch of teenagers, Lawrence has the moral high ground here: It was actually the popular kids like Kyler who were beating up Miguel, and Lawrence just stepped in to protect the underdog. LaRusso’s own family, privileged and popular, had become the very thing he hated the most.
Other seeds are planted in this episode — that Lawrence has a deadbeat son, Miguel’s new dorky friends at school — but the main takeaway is the inversion in who we’re rooting for. Rich, powerful, successful Daniel LaRusso is no longer our underdog. Johnny Lawrence may be crude and ignorant and sexist, but he’s undeniably our hero here. #TeamCobraKai all the way.