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Why John Kreese from Cobra Kai is even worse than fans thought

Contains spoilers for season 1 and season 2 of Cobra Kai.

From the moment John Kreese (Martin Kove) is reintroduced in the final seconds of Cobra Kai's first season –– appearing as a black silhouette against the Cobra Kai logo, monologuing to Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) about being back on top, taking a big puff from his cigar as he steps into the light –– it's clear that age hasn't mellowed the former sensei. Despite previous evidence to the contrary, he might just be the real villain of Cobra Kai.

He and Johnny open season 2 with a fight, and though Kreese eventually wins his student's trust, the audience is given plenty of reason to be suspicious of his return. As Cobra Kai likes to do with all of its returning characters, the show works to give Kreese more depth than he had in the films.

When Johnny follows him during the fourth episode of the second season, he learns that Kreese has been homeless, that he was denied reenlistment into the army because he failed the psychological evaluation, and that his stories about the time between when viewers last saw the character and the present had been made up. For a second, he becomes something of a sympathetic character — but that sympathy isn't destined to last. As some fans on Reddit have pointed out, John Kreese may be far worse than some viewers would like to imagine.

Is there any line that Kreese won't cross?

Some fans have lamented what they see as a big missed opportunity to introduce some nuance to this character. As u/genkaus wrote on Reddit, "I was kind of disappointed that they made Kreese straight up evil in season 2. Specifically, I'm disappointed in his reaction – or lack thereof – to Hawk stealing Miyagi's medal of honor. Yes, he hates Miyagi and clearly, law doesn't matter to him much – but as a military man himself, that should've crossed a line for him, right?"

The two most important facets of Kreese's life boil down to his time in Vietnam with the U.S. military and Cobra Kai Karate. The moment from the second season when a group of Cobra Kai students vandalize Daniel LaRusso's (Ralph Macchio) Miyagi-Do dojo, and Hawk (Jacob Bertrand) takes the Medal of Honor Mr. Miyagi earned for his service during World War II seems like it would be the perfect opportunity to put those two aspects of his personality in tension. What would it mean if even John "Sweep the Leg" Kreese had a line he wouldn't cross? Unfortunately, Kreese demonstrates that his rivalry with Miyagi transcends even his own patriotism.

Kreese needs an enemy to fight, even though the war is over

The embarrassment of having his student defeated 35 years ago in a local karate tournament wins out over any feelings of duty or military honor that Kreese may still harbor, and some fans aren't surprised by this turn. 

"I mean it is in character for Kreese," wrote u/GodNonon, who points out how Kreese and his erstwhile war buddy Terry Silver treated Miyagi in The Karate Kid: Part III, mockingly calling him "war hero" and using slurs like "slope" in reference to his Japanese heritage. "Plus Kreese was committing stolen valor earlier this season for pretending he fought in wars that he didn't. He's lost all sense of military honor."

"He seems like someone who never got the memo that the war is over," says u/muricabrb. "In his sick twisted mind, he's actually doing a good thing. He thinks he's preparing these kids for war but because there is no war and no real enemy, he made Daniel and Miyagi-do his lifelong enemy. He will never stop until he 'wins'."

By the end of season 2, Kreese has gotten the upper hand in his war, usurping control of the reborn Cobra Kai from Johnny. Whether there's anything Johnny or Daniel can do to stop him, fans will have to wait to see when season 3 debuts in January 2021.

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