It took five seasons, but Cobra Kai finally got Daniel LaRusso right. What started as a retelling of the original The Karate Kid story but with Johnny Lawrence acting as the mentor to a young student has evolved into a celebration of the first three Karate Kid movies. As such, much of Cobra Kai revolves around Daniel LaRusso and his past, but it was only in Cobra Kai season 5 that the show nailed who Daniel really is as a character.
Instead of simply rebooting the Karate Kid franchise with yet again another Daniel LaRusso adventure, Cobra Kai cleverly made Johnny Lawrence and the “bad guys’ dojo” the center of the story. Cobra Kai asked viewers to ponder what must have happened with Johnny after he lost the All Valley Tournament to Daniel in 1984, shifting the narrative’s point of view to Johnny and thus completely flipping the dynamic of the first Karate Kid. Johnny Lawrence is the flawed hero in Cobra Kai, which means Daniel LaRusso had to become the perfect antagonist.
Cobra Kai’s Daniel was written to be the exact opposite of what Johnny Lawrence had become. For example, whereas Johnny was broke and living alone despite having a family, Daniel had become rich, a husband, and a responsible father. However, to make Daniel the exact opposite of Johnny, Cobra Kai ended up writing Daniel LaRusso far too similar to what Mr. Miyagi was like. Cobra Kai Daniel had been so far a calm, wise master who always had the right answers and was often right about everything. That is very different from how Daniel was in the Karate Kid movies – a hot-tempered, impulsive kid who did not always listen to Mr. Miyagi and who did not like backing down from a fight. Karate Kid Daniel made many impulsive bad calls that caused a lot of trouble, which is a side of LaRusso that Cobra Kai had not explored yet. Fortunately, thanks to Terry Silver once again getting into Daniel’s head, Cobra Kai got to take Daniel out of his comfort zone – thus bringing back the hothead, impulsive Daniel LaRusso from the Karate Kid movies.
Daniel LaRusso Was Never Like Mr. Miyagi
Karate Kid 3’s Daniel and Mr. Miyagi
The biggest mistake Cobra Kai made regarding Daniel was to make him way too similar to Mr. Miyagi. Obviously, Daniel got older, and wiser, and was now putting to use everything he had learned from Miyagi. Still, an infallible Daniel was just not as fun to see as a flawed Daniel was. In fact, what made Daniel and Mr. Miyagi’s dynamic so good in the Karate Kid films is the fact that Daniel lacked the patience and the wisdom of Miyagi. Those Daniel LaRusso traits were missing from Cobra Kai, as Daniel had to represent not only Mr. Miyagi but also all of the Miyagi-Do teachings. Therefore, Cobra Kai was slowly losing track of who Daniel LaRusso really is.
Ironically, it was Terry Silver’s arrival that allowed Daniel to be that character from the Karate Kid movies again. Silver made Daniel distrust himself and others, thus reverting LaRusso to that insecure, hot-tempered Karate Kid character. Cobra Kai season 5 saw Daniel picking up unnecessary fights, arguing with everyone, and even making fun of Kreese – all of which nostalgically recalled the iconic Karate Kid Daniel LaRusso.