Cobra Kai season 1 begins with a deep dive into the adult life of Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), The Karate Kid’s main villain and the bully beat by Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) in that film’s final fight. It was an effective and excellent way to begin the series, but it’s not all that happened. The show also spent some time with Daniel, his business and his family.
Why? Because Cobra Kai is all about putting Johnny and Daniel in their old masters’ shoes and seeing if they fit. Daniel struggles to live up to the example of the late Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), while Johnny tries to avoid doing to his students what John Kreese (Martin Kove) did to him. Or, at least that’s what he was trying to do until Kreese returned in the season one finale’s final moments.
What exactly does Kreese want? This and many questions like it were on our minds when we spoke with Kove, Zabka, Macchio and executive producers Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg at this year’s SXSW.
“What keeps it fresh for me is, they incorporate the current events of our time into the structure of the show itself, into the writing,” he says of Hurwitz, Heald, and Schlossberg. “We had one scene in the first episode that really brings in exactly what John Kreese’s point of view is, politically and economically. You almost buy that he has a problem with in society because of these things. Because of X, Y and Z. You haven’t seen the guy in 30 years but he’s there and he’s believable. He’s been thinking about these things the whole time.”
Aside from the (correct) assumption that Kreese was a villain in The Karate Kid and is still a villain in Cobra Kai — an assumption that Kove himself makes in conversation — others are quick to note just how useless that term is on this show.
“Our intention, from the very beginning of the series, was to show all of these characters as people. They’re just people,” says Hurwitz. “Every person has that moment in their life when they’re the hero. They also have things in their lives that they’re not exactly proud of. It all depends on the perspective.”
Even so, it’s abundantly clear in Cobra Kai’s second season that Kreese is playing for keeps, no matter how his methods impact those around him.
“He’s going into kill mode,” Kove says of his character. “But it’s kind of marvelous, because they merge what he and the other characters are going through, economically and socially, with what’s happening around them in the world. They’re reacting, just like other people would. Who knows? Some people in the audience might even have, or have had, the same problems in their lives.”
Justified or not, much of what Kreese does and says this season is going to have a massive effect on the dojo he once taught at. It’s also going to affect Johnny in ways that fans haven’t really seen in this version of the character. In many ways, the pair’s reunion is going to feel like a trip back in time to the end of The Karate Kid.
“Johnny is trying to find himself and he’s found this kid that he cares about. It’s why he opened the Cobra Kai back up in the first place. He’s trying to do it in his own way, different from Kreese,” says Zabka. “But then his kids start fighting dirty, just like he used to, so he’s not jumping up and down when they win. Maybe he’s going to try to make a change, or maybe Kreese is going to come back and suck Johnny right back into his vortex.”
Cobra Kai season 2 premieres Wednesday, April 24th on YouTube Premium.