The Cobra Kai Season 5 Ending Is More Ambiguous Than You Think
The following story contains spoilers for Season 5 of Netflix’s Cobra Kai.
Cobra Kai generally tends to end its seasons with some sort of big spectacle: a tournament, a giant fight in a school, or something of equal magnitude. And then when those things are over, things tend to be in…not so great a place; previous seasons have left off with main characters suffering grave injuries and our heroes explicitly losing to our villains. In Cobra Kai Season 5, that’s not the case: Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence, teamed up seemingly for good, come out on top. Terry Silver, in full coked-up villain form, has a litany of charges to answer for, and seems headed for prison. Even Mike Barnes, who had his furniture story burned down, seems to be OK after taking a priceless painting from Silver’s collection. So what’s the problem?
Season 5 leaves plenty of threads open to follow in the future, and all of them are good ones. Johnny and Carmen (Miguel’s mother) are expecting a child. Daniel seems like he can finally give his family a little bit of time (and start helping kids learn Karate to protect themselves again).
The respective couples of Robby and Tory and Sam and Miguel all seem to be doing pretty well. Hawk is on the side of the good guys and seems to be a pretty good kid again. Kenny went down a bad road in Season 5, but it seems like maybe Terry Silver being exposed could make him recalibrate. And Stingray, well, we’re OK with whatever direction the writers want to send that guy, as long as we get to keep watching Paul Walter Hauser play him.
But the finale of Cobra Kai Season 5 was bookended with a pair of scenes set to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” an appropriate end-of-life anthem. In them, we see John Kreese recounting his limited time left—and in the opening scene, we see him stabbed many times in the chest. As he bleeds, we’re left wondering throughout the entire episode if we’ve seen the last of The Karate Kid franchise’s ultimate antagonist.
Did Kreese escape prison at the end of Cobra Kai Season 5, or did he actually die?
As the season comes to its closing moments and Daniel and Johnny see Silver hauled away in handcuffs, potentially facing prison time, they remark on the fact that both Kreese and Silver will soon be behind bars. “Here’s hoping Silver and Kreese end up cellmates,” Johnny says after a great handshake with Daniel. Maybe a Banquet Beer is in order for some celebration? But the detective overhears: “You mean John Kreese?” he asks, clearly holding something back. “You didn’t hear what happened?”
We’re made to believe in this moment, of course, that what we saw in the opening scene has happened: Kreese is dead. We’re then taken, immediately, to a flashback sequence where Kreese is rolled in on a gurney to a medical examiner’s office—except his stab wounds aren’t stab wounds. He’s very much alive, and takes all the examiners out, and escapes the facility in a doctor’s clothing using a stolen security badge from his social worker.
We’re made to believe that Kreese, in this moment, made his very own Silence of the Lambs-style Hannibal Lecter prison escape. But here’s a question for you—what if he didn’t?
I’m going to essentially call this the Taxi Driver theory, because that’s essentially what it is. While we saw Kreese escape in the closing moments, we never heard the second part of what the Detectives were telling Johnny and Daniel. What if “what happened” wasn’t that Kreese escaped from prison using a master plan from a beloved thriller movie, but that he got stabbed to death protecting someone in the cafeteria?
What we saw at the end, then, would just be Kreese’s own near-death visions of the master plan he always thought he would carry out.
Of course, the likelihood in a show like Cobra Kai is that Kreese did, in fact, escape, and that one way or another he will be back in Season 6 to cause a whole lot more trouble for Daniel, Johnny, and the rest of the crew. But for just a moment, let’s just wonder: what if?
Evan is the culture editor for Men’s Health, with bylines in The New York Times, MTV News, Brooklyn Magazine, and VICE. He loves weird movies, watches too much TV, and listens to music more often than he doesn’t.
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