'Cobra Kai' Season 3 Spoilers: Is Kreese all bad? His backstory reveals why he turned evil
But like all other negative characters in the film series and the Netflix series, is there a good streak in him? Possibly
Spoilers for ‘Cobra Kai’ Season 3
The third season of ‘Cobra Kai’ — a delightful addition to ‘The Karate Kid’ universe — was a season of grey characters. It was a season that saw characters find moral redemption. For example, this was the season we saw Johnny (William Zabka) slowly lean to become his best self. We saw Hawk (Jacob Bertrand) go from being a complete a**hole to a good guy. And we also saw ‘The Karate Kid Part II’ villain Chozen (Yuji Okumoto) as a good person — which is frankly incredible! But what of Kreese (Martin Kove)?
John Kreese, a Vietnam War veteran, United States Army Special Forces captain, and the sensei of the Cobra Kai dojo, was Johnny’s teacher as a teenager. And Season 2 and 3 of ‘Cobra Kai’ saw him become a bigger villain than ever. At the end of the last season, we saw Johnny getting ousted from his own Cobra Kai dojo by Kreese. But he did more damage than just that.
In Season 2, Kreese claimed that after the original dojo closed down, he re-enlisted in the Army to train Special Forces soldiers and run strikes during the Gulf War and the War in Afghanistan. When the Cobra Kai students became concerned about Kreese's attitude and felt that his war stories did not add up, Johnny followed his former sensei to a homeless shelter. Kreese then admitted that he had flunked a psychological test when he attempted to re-enlist in the Army and that his war stories were lies.
In a moment of miscalculation (of tremendous consequences), Johnny decided to trust Kreese. However, Kreese quickly began seeking out the most resentful and angry students to drive a wedge between the group. He later encouraged some of them to vandalize the Miyagi-do dojo run by Daniel (Ralph Macchio). In Season 3, he was no better. He constantly antagonized and manipulated his own students in an attempt to make them stronger and drove them to attack rival dojo members. He basically poisoned the minds of teenagers. But like all other negative characters in the film series and the Netflix series, is there a good streak in him? Is he just evil? Or is there something more to him than the cold calculating and tough exterior?
One of the better parts of Season 3 is the exploration of Kreese’s character, and more specifically, his backstory. We got a look into his youth — his days leading up to the Vietnam War and his time as a soldier, and later a prisoner of war. And through this, we get some context into why he is as ruthless as he acts. For starters, Kreese was a bullied teen. His mother, supposedly a depressed woman, had killed herself. And for that, he was bullied by the jocks. They called him a freak. They assaulted him at his workplace. They humiliated him. But he still had his heart in the right place. He saved a young woman from her abusive boyfriend and the two got romantically involved.
Later, when he was deployed into Vietnam, we saw his commander there teach him martial arts (he had learned in Korea). But his commander was not a good man. For starters, he did not let Kreese know that his girlfriend back home had died in a car accident, just so that he could remain focussed on his covert operation and its training. He constantly chided him for his humanity, believing that enemies could not be shown mercy under any circumstances. When Kreese’s mercy managed to get them all caught — Viet Cong made the American soldiers fight over a literal pit of snakes — the commander decided to go all nuclear on him.
He not only told him about her death, but he also made fun of it. And as they engaged in combat, Kreese finally learned the value of showing no mercy. Despite being in the process of getting rescued, Kreese let the commander fall in the pit, thereby galvanizing his newfound worldview. So, one can understand that Kreese was, if nothing, a product of his tough environment. He was a product of bullying. He was a product of harassment.
Despite this, Kreese has his good moments. Yes, he is not a great person, but he does have a soft spot for those like him — bullied and with no one looking out for them. This is why he helps Tory (Peyton List) when she gets harassed by her landlord. It is also why he takes a liking towards Robby (Tanner Buchanan). And it is also why despite his ruthless attitude, he still cares for Johnny.
Yes, he is an “a**hole”, raising an “army of a**holes” (Dimitri’s words), but he has nuance to his character. He is not a cartoon villain.
‘Cobra Kai’ Season 3 is now streaming on Netflix.