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Why Cobra Kai Fans Have A Problem With The Season 1 Finale

Contains spoilers for Cobra Kai season 1

Cobra Kai, the sequel TV series to The Karate Kid franchise (The Next Karate Kid not referenced ... yet) made the jump recently from YouTube to Netflix. If you didn't watch it back in 2018 because, like everyone else, you don't pay for YouTube, chances are good you're already mainlining those first two seasons. Even if you do pay for YouTube, what better occasion for a re-binge?

For the uninitiated, Cobra Kai essentially flips the perspective from our usual protagonist Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) to his old nemesis Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka). The story is also set some three-and-a-half decades later, at a point where Daniel LaRusso has his life together and Johnny does not.

The first season of Cobra Kai focuses on Johnny's growing bond with his neighbor-turned-student Miguel (Xolo Maridueña), and their efforts to bring the defunct Cobra Kai dojo back to life. Daniel LaRusso, whose memories of Cobra Kai are not so fond, isn't so keene on the dojo's triumphant return, so he sets out to train Johnny's son Robby (Tanner Buchanan) in the gentle defensive art of Miyagi-Do.

Like the original Karate Kid, season one of Cobra Kai culminates with an All Valley karate tournament. Just as in the classic '80s flick, the tournament culminates in a bout between the pride of Cobra Kai and the lone student of Miyagi-Do, and some fans don't like how it all plays out.

Did Miguel mess up at the All Valley Tournament?

To recap, in the final episode of the season, Robby and Miguel face off in the final bout. Robby's shoulder is injured. Throughout the match Miguel repeatedly exploits Robby's injury to gain the upper hand. At one point after Robby stuns Miguel and knocks him down with a kick, Robby reaches to help Miguel up and Miguel yanks on Robby's injured shoulder.

Before the final part of the round can play out, Johnny implores Miguel to win "the right way" and not to fight "dirty," but Miguel only mirrors back what Cobra Kai taught him: no mercy. Miguel continues to exploit Robby's injury and wins the match.

Some Cobra Kai watchers don't like the way the story plays out. Some people think that Robby should've won the tournament after his double kick and don't like that Miguel "played dirty."

A different perspective comes from Reddit user verytiredindividual who writes, "I also don't really get the big deal about targeting the injury. The injured person has made a decision to fight with the injury, it's like not taking advantage of someone being shorter than you." Their complaint isn't about targeting an injury, but how the story treats that decision. "The iffy part is that Hawk from the same dojo illegally injured him but when it comes down to it as a sportsman once you're in the match going after an injury is fair game. You can console yourself with the fact that you fought injured, and the opponent can understand that the injury might have skewed the result but still."

Why the All Valley tournament is such a big deal

Cobra Kai makes a lot of dramatic story choices to invert the situations from The Karate Kid. In the original movie Daniel and Mr. Miyagi beat Johnny and Kreese at the All Valley tournament despite the fact that Daniel is injured. Johnny losing to Daniel is something that's stung him his whole life and a part of him feels like maybe his life will turn around if he can set this one thing right through Miguel.

Whether it's good or bad in terms of the tournament for Miguel to exploit Robby's injury is immaterial. This isn't about the tournament. It's about Johnny realizing he doesn't actually want that trophy — he just wants a good relationship with his son. Instead, Robby is injured both physically and emotionally.

Cycles of abuse are at the heart of The Karate Kid and Cobra Kai. John Kreese (Martin Kove) is traumatized from the Vietnam War. Soldiers coming back from Vietnam were angry and the American public didn't exactly offer them the warmest reception upon their return. Kreese took all that punishment and passed the rage down to the next generation. He taught Johnny to show no mercy by showing no mercy to Johnny himself.

Now, on Cobra Kai, Johnny has taught Miguel the same lessons, and he doesn't realize it until it's too late. Both Robby and Miguel pay the price (a price that gets even steeper in season 2).

Miguel won, and he won mostly by following the tournament rules, but there are more important rules that Johnny has failed to teach him. Johnny, in his attempts to win a trophy, has lost something much more than a tournament — he's lost the respect of his son and his respect for himself.

Cobra Kai is streaming on Netflix now.