Cobra Kai brought back the Karate Kid antagonist, Johnny Lawrence, and turned him into the series lead—but going into the sixth and final season, his character still hasn’t been redeemed of his past misdeeds. Back in the days that he and Daniel LaRusso were in high school, Johnny could be an outright jerk, and his violence could have done major damage if it wasn’t for Mr. Miyagi. Now, in Cobra Kai, Johnny has learned several big lessons, but he is still just as much a jerk in many ways—and that’s never going to change.
Redemption has been the theme of Cobra Kai, and over its five seasons, several old bad guys have come back to make amends. The likes of Chozen Toguchi and Mike Barnes proved that they were entirely different people than they were back in the days of the Karate Kid movies. The same can be said about Johnny in some ways, but overall, Daniel’s old rival is still the same as he always has been. Going into Cobra Kai season 6, Johnny is still unapologetic for how he sees the world, and that’s precisely how he needs to stay.
Johnny Lawrence Is Still A Jerk In Cobra Kai (Just As He Should Be)
If Cobra Kai had revisited Johnny years later to find him a politically correct, zen, reformed man, the series never would have seen so much success. Instead, it found a more complex, flawed character who still believed in nothing more than kicking butt and being badass, just like he did back in high school. Cobra Kai uses its main character to demonstrate the nuances of morality by not overly justifying Lawrence’s past actions, or hand waving his past away by entirely redeeming him.
That isn’t to say that Johnny hasn’t grown throughout Cobra Kai. In season 1, he drank too much, didn’t take the time to be there for his son, and didn’t hold back from bullying strangers. Going into season 6, Johnny is a successful business owner, has (more) control of his temper, and is ready to be a father to his new baby and Robby and Miguel. However, he still maintains that he wasn’t entirely in the wrong regarding his Karate Kid conflict with Daniel and doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what he is—a little bit of a jerk.
Why Cobra Kai Was Right To Make Johnny An Anti-Hero
The Karate Kid movies established Daniel as the “good” kid and Johnny as the villain. Mr. Miyagi was the moral sensei who always had the right answer with his abundance of wisdom, and John Kreese was nothing but a bully. However, Cobra Kai turned this upside down by repeating the Karate Kid formula (old karate master trains a teenager in need) but placed Johnny in the position of the wise sensei. This had clear comedic appeal, but by making Johnny Lawrence the anti-hero of Cobra Kai, the series made some clever points about morality.
The character that changed the most in Cobra Kai was really Daniel LaRusso. Johnny is just as much a jerk as he ever was, but Daniel’s perspective of him has changed. Daniel, much like the audience, has become increasingly aware of Johnny’s desire to protect others, and to help the next generation. His approach may sometimes be questionable, but Daniel has seen how good things can come from Johnny’s intentions, and has also seen how much he has grown over the years. It’s the kind of lesson only a great anti-hero like Johnny Lawrence in Cobra Kai can teach.