May 14, 2018
Cobra Kai 1.1: Ace Degenerate
This episode recap contains spoilers.
Written by | Josh Heald & Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg
Directed by | Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg
Summary | Thirty-four years after losing to Daniel LaRusso in the All Valley Under-18 Karate Championships, Johnny Lawrence still tastes defeat in every banquet bottle of Coors. Meanwhile, Daniel owns LaRusso Auto Group, an omnipresent chain of successful car dealerships. In three days in the San Fernando Valley, Johnny is fired from his handyman job, arrested for assault and disowned by his evil stepfather — with a buyout check — and his Pontiac Firebird is totaled in a hit-and-run. Adding insult to collision, Johnny’s car is towed to one of Daniel’s dealerships, where he endures a one-sided reminiscence of their championship match.
Flashbacks | Three. The series opens with the Lawrence-LaRusso championship match from The Karate Kid, using some previously unseen footage, particularly of the crane kick, from Johnny’s POV. When Johnny watches Iron Eagle and Louis Gossett Jr. narrates — “It’s a power you have inside you, down there where you keep your guts.” — he remembers his kick-ass high school glory days. But when he drives through the valley under the influence, Johnny can’t shake the memories of his championship loss and his fight with sensei Kreese at the beginning of The Karate Kid Part II.
The redemption of Johnny Lawrence | Johnny defends Miguel Diaz — the new kid in school, this generation’s Daniel — when he is being bullied by four high school assholes and later becomes his sensei. The ex-degenerate turns hero, the student now a teacher.
Soundtrack | 1. “Nothin’ but a Good Time” by Poison
2. “Head Games” by Foreigner
3. “Sirius” by The Alan Parsons Project
Politically Incorrect with Johnny Lawrence | When Miguel tells Johnny he has just moved into his apartment complex, he says, “great, more immigrants” and calls him “Menudo.”
Cobra Kai philosophy | “I’m going to teach you the style of karate that was taught to me, a method of fighting your pussy generation desperately needs. I’m not just going to teach you how to conquer your fears. I’m going to teach you how to awaken the snake within you and once you do that, you’ll be the one who is feared. You’ll build strength. You’ll learn discipline. And when the time is right, you’ll strike back.” — Johnny Lawrence
Best line | “It was an illegal kick.” — Johnny to Daniel, on his crane kick in their championship match
Best moment | When Miguel asks Johnny if he is going to be his karate teacher, Johnny says: “No … I’m going to be your sensei.” Cue the Alan Parsons Project and re-opening Cobra Kai dojo montage …
Coors counter | Five — Johnny finishes one when he wakes up before work, and there are four empties on the table as he watches Iron Eagle. He also mixes Jim Beam with RC Cola.
Cobra Kai business score | 1 / 10. Johnny re-opens the Cobra Kai karate dojo at the end of the episode.
Daniel LaRusso threat level | 0 / 10. Daniel is happy to see Johnny at the car dealership.
Scorecard | Johnny Lawrence 1, high school bullies 0
Analysis | Among my favorite television pilots of all time. It’s all exposition and backstory, but none of it feels like exposition and backstory. Telling the story from the supposed villain’s point of view is an ingenious approach to a sequel / reboot.
— Kevin Brewer