This article contains Cobra Kai spoilers.
The return of Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) has been a major selling point in promoting Cobra Kai season 4. The teasers have focused on the silhouette of him tying back his signature ponytail like Rambo cinching up his headband. Unlike the season 3 teasers which only hinted at the return of Chozen (Yuji Okumoto), there was no mistaking that Silver was coming back to Cobra Kai.
For anyone new to the Cobra Kai universe, Silver was the main villain in the final film with Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) – The Karate Kid Part III. Only Daniel and Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) return for significant roles. Daniel’s mom Lucille (Randee Heller) and the Referee (martial arts master and choreographer Pat E. Johnson) reprise their roles too but only with minor parts. And while Kreese (Martin Kove) appears, Silver dethrones him as the maniacal caricature villain.
This threequel was the weakest of the trilogy. It was critically panned as a disappointing rehash of the prior films, and has been only marginally referenced by Cobra Kai, until now. With an inferior script, Silver epitomized the cardboard cutout villain. He’s the CEO of DynaTox Industries, a sketchy nuclear waste disposal company, and he’s exorbitantly rich. He’s the money behind the Cobra Kai dojo, a self-centered egomaniac who commands his underlings whilst smoking cigars in his bubble bath and cackling with hackneyed “bwahaha” as he ruminates over his evil plans. When Silver was introduced in 1989, his character felt like a parody of Steven Seagal’s over-the-top debut as Nico Toscani in Above the Law the year before, right down to the greasy ponytail.
Nevertheless, Griffith was the first main cast member that had a solid background in the martial arts prior to entering the franchise. He has black belts in Karate and Taekwondo and is well versed in stage combat. He also trained as an opera singer. The Karate Kid Part III was his major film role, and he continued acting in film and television until he retired in 2007. It took a tantalizing offer about developing the character to cajole him out of retirement to return to the role of Terry Silver.
Unlike the midseason return of Part II alumni Chozen and Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita), and end-of-season appearance of Ali (Elizabeth Shue), season 4 just went for it, bringing out Silver in the very first scene. His face isn’t shown, and his hair is loose (and silver), but we all know who it is. He receives that call from Kreese that ended the last season and then promptly hangs up on him, setting the tone for the tension between them.
When Kreese crashes a party at Silver’s beautiful seaside home, “Terrance” is still rich and privileged. He has a gorgeous partner, Cheyenne (Salome Azizi), the developer of a mindfulness app for kids. She’s painfully unaware of Silver’s past as a Vietnam veteran and sensei and her character that is quickly abandoned. Perhaps she’ll be more developed for season 5.
At first, Silver seems reformed. Reflecting upon his Karate Kid III villainy, he says “I was so hopped up on cocaine and revenge. I spent months terrorizing a teenager over a high school karate tournament. It sounds insane just talking about it.”
DynaTox is referenced when Demitri (Gianni Decenzo) does a web background check and finds a “toxic waste scandal in Borneo back in the 80s” but it’s unclear how Silver regained his fortune. Nonetheless, Kreese is still a master at manipulation and cajoles Silver to come back. “Karate is not a phase,” goads Kreese. “It’s a way of life. You can leave it for a while but it never really leaves you.” However, the season finale reveals that it’s Silver pulling the strings.
Cobra Kai has excelled at fleshing out the characters from the original films with plausible motivations and meaningful back stories. Season 3 delved into the trauma that formed both Kreese and Silver when they were P.O.W.s in Vietnam. Griffith imbues Silver new maturity, and we can see his slow burn as his malice intensifies.
Silver buys his way into Cobra Kai, upgrading their gear and their uniforms (whilst providing an entire new wardrobe for cosplayers and expanding Netflix’s merchandise potential). His tossing money around foreshadows him crossing the All Valley Karate Tournament judge’s palm with silver. His vicious assault on Stingray (Paul Walter Hauser) is shockingly violent, but well within character when his ultimate treachery is revealed. That slow burn wasn’t directed at Miyagi-Do at all. It was all about Kreese and understandably so. “Turns out you disappearing was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Silver says to Kreese, setting himself up to be an even greater villain in season 5.
Griffith and the writers of Cobra Kai have taken a corny ’80s Karate villain and evolved him into a complex major antagonist for this generation. We can’t wait to see what havoc he might wreak upon the valley’s Karate world next season.
Cobra Kai season 4 is available on Netflix now.