“Mercy Part II” kicks things back off with admirable efficiency, solidifying the long-running rivalry between Cobra Kai and Miyagi-Do, and introducing a new (old) antagonist.
This Cobra Kai Season 2 Episode 1 recap for the episode titled “Mercy Part II” contains spoilers.
True to form, Cobra Kai Season 2 strikes first and strikes hard, continuing on directly from the stellar first season’s last-minute cliffhanger. John Kreese (Martin Kove), the psychotic former sensei of Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), is back in town. But it’s pretty in keeping with the show’s underlying theme of things having moved on that Johnny is old enough to smack him around now.
It doesn’t go so well. The fight is more or less even, but the Cobra Kai dojo gets set alight and a mirror gets smashed. Things over at Miyagi-Do, meanwhile, are going pretty well. Daniel (Ralph Macchio) and Robbie (Tanner Buchanan) are sprucing the place up with a fitting amount of sanding the floors and painting the fences (“Look eye, always look eye!”), and while Johnny is dealing with his toxic father figure suddenly returning to his life, Robbie is finally finding a father figure of his own who he can genuinely look up to.
Of course, someone already sees Johnny as a father figure: Miguel (Xolo Maridueña), the All-Valley Championships winner and Cobra Kai’s star student, who embodied the karate style’s ruthless values in last season’s finale by fighting dirty in the final against Robbie. As such, Miguel’s mother, Carmen (Vanessa Rubio), goes to see Johnny at home to express her concerns about her son potentially being led astray. Sam (Mary Mouser), meanwhile, is wistfully looking at photos of her and Miguel together, as teenagers tend to, before finally biting the bullet and blocking him on Instagram. That’s how you know she’s serious.
In a diner, Johnny reluctantly meets Kreese, who delivers some backstory. After Cobra Kai closed its doors, he re-enlisted in the military, living some kind of clandestine life overseas teaching the world’s most highly-trained fighting men… karate? Sure, I guess, whatever you say. Either way, he’s predictably annoyed at how soft the world has gotten in his absence — you can pretend to be surprised at Cobra Kai using Kreese as a stand-in for archaic right-wing ideology, but are you surprised, really? Because I’m certainly not.
Johnny doesn’t want to know. There are plenty of new students queuing up outside the Cobra Kai dojo, but he doesn’t want to know about them yet, either, since there’s a more pressing matter to deal with: reminding Miguel and Hawk (Jacob Bertrand) that their behavior during the tournament was wrong. Obviously, this is framed in Johnny’s usual tough-guy terms; cheating and attacking an opponent when he’s at his weakest are “***** moves”, and no more ***** moves will be tolerated at Cobra Kai.
The problem is, as “Mercy Part II” capably demonstrates, it isn’t easy to just completely reinvent things. Sam wants to make amends with Aisha (Nichole Brown), for instance, but since she’s one of the OG members of Cobra Kai, she has other things to be doing, such as watching Sylvester Stallone’s Over the Top. And when Johnny runs into Daniel and Robbie in a hardware store, he realizes pretty quickly that it’ll take more than an apology to earn his son’s trust.
Of course, realizing that the way you’re thinking and acting is outdated and needs to change is pretty integral to what Cobra Kai is all about as a show, as evidenced by how Sam challenges Daniel’s viewpoint on Cobra Kai. Since the tournament, all he has been thinking about is ways to destroy them; but they’re Sam’s friends, at the end of the day, and as the late Mr. Miyagi used to say, there is no such thing as a bad student, only a bad teacher. The point of Miyagi-Do, Daniel comes to realize, is not to destroy Cobra Kai, but to teach them the right way instead. With a better understanding of the point, Sam joins Miyagi-Do.
“Mercy Part II” ends with Kreese visiting Johnny one more time, this time armed with a sadsack sorry speech and Johnny’s old second-place All Valley trophy, which he once destroyed and has presumably kept and repaired in the meantime. Nobody’s buying his nonsense — except Johnny, that is, who is evidently still damaged enough to find some appeal in the simple attention of an older man. When Johnny finally gives in, we’re treated to a manipulative smile on Kreese’s weathered old face.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.