Photo by CURTIS Bonds Baker/NETFLIX
With everyone back in the Valley, “Playing With Fire” feels like a back-to-basics episode of Cobra Kai. There’s a little of everything: a little teen relationship drama, a little Adult relationship drama, a little karate, and a new appearance from a character from the movies: one “Mike fucking Barnes.”
Terry Silver, at the conclusion of season 4, mentioned that he was planning to call back an old friend to assist with Cobra Kai. In the opening scene of the episode, he makes the same threat again to Daniel and Chozen. This prompts the men to act in preemptive. If Silver’s words last season immediately made you think of Mike, you were on the right track; Daniel also figures Silver is going after Mike, whom he tracks down with Chozen’s help.
The episode builds up the tension around “karate’s bad boy” so much that it becomes a little obvious he won’t Chozen and Daniel expected him to be the bully they expect. Still, the classic series of misunderstandings that follows is great fun, starting with the two handsaws he removes from his trunk (“good for cutting bone,” Chozen notes) and continuing with the phone conversation Daniel overhears. Even knowing that Daniel is probably missing some context, it’s delightful to wonder what else Mike could mean when he mentions wanting to “get rid of that Italian piece of shit.” The same goes for this declaration: “By the time I’m finished with them, they’re gonna be unrecognizable. I’m gonna start by cutting off their legs.”
Daniel discovers that Mike has inherited a furniture shop from his father in law. We get an entirely different view of Mike and Daniel as they catch up. Part III of The Karate Kid. He found a new passion after he was expelled from karate back in 1985. Since then, he’s wanted to apologize to Daniel but didn’t want to dredge up unpleasant memories. “It’s nice to know there are some ex-Cobra Kai out there who actually don’t want to get in a fight with me,” Daniel admits.
Of course, this immediately leads to a fight between Mike and Chozen, the latter of whom mistakes their shadowboxing for a real fight (and already beat down the “goons” who, it turns out, were Mike’s employees). Once everything’s been cleared up, Mike mentions an old lawyer of Silver’s who could help expose him — but the voicemail Daniel leaves him immediately gets passed along to Silver, who confronts him ominously in the sauna at the club they belong to. “I told you not to play with fire,” he says, assuring Daniel that he’ll deal with them after he deals with his “old friend.”
In the episode’s closing moments, we see exactly what that means for Mike Barnes, who finds his furniture store burning to the ground. (Silver’s threats are very literal.) I can’t believe I’m saying this about the little shit who once snapped Mr. Miyagi’s bonsai tree, but poor Mike! He is charming us with his monologue that catches Daniel up to the truth about what his life looks like. While I don’t anticipate him becoming a Chozen-level major character this season, I hope we see more of him.
Other storylines in the episode are more grounded. Carmen is suspected to be pregnant by Johnny, who panics about his inexperience and how unprepared he will be for another child. He doesn’t want To be this guy again. Still, it takes some time to himself — and a welcome heart-to-heart with Miguel, whom he offers some simple but genuinely good advice — to remind him that he isn’t. At the end, he is able to swaddle an infant. He’s turned the filthy bachelor pad we’re used to into something alarmingly clean and kid-friendly. He did not take a picture of his army of cockroaches hiding under his couches.
Carmen eventually comes over with the news: they’re having a baby! “Badass” is the best possible response you could get from Johnny Lawrence. It’s a good week for Carmen, whose relationship with Miguel is tighter than ever now that he’s home and everything is out in the open.
Miguel spends most of this episode focused on Sam. Their relationship is in a tense state. The episode features a heated back-and forth between Sam and Miguel over texts. We also get to see the trio of friend groups that have been neglected the past few episodes. On one side, Demetri and Eli show some adorable (and justified) concern about the lack of emojis in Sam’s texts; on the other side, Yasmine and Moon urge Sam to keep it cool and wait until they can talk in person.
Demetri is right when Eli and Demetri take Miguel to the jewelry shop to get an expensive Octopus charm for Sam. (Jacob Bertrand’s earnest delivery of “Do you maybe have one with fewer tentacles?” is perfect.) Johnny gets it right, telling Miguel to tell Sam the truth. But when it comes down to it, the biggest issue in their relationship can’t be solved with a gift or even a sincere apology. It’s Sam who needs some time to herself now, the same way Miguel did when he spontaneously took off for Mexico to find his dad. Her time in a sensory deprivation tank earlier — sorry, a “self-actualization pod” — made her realize how much shit she has to sort through.
While I like Sam, her angstiness (along with Robby’s) can sometimes get old; she’s rarely given a chance to have fun and crack jokes like Miguel and his friends. Tory seems to traumatize her in a different way every season, and she continues living her rent-free life inside her head. That’s continuing this season: In the tank, she sees various characters demanding different things from her, with a hallucination of Tory transforming into a hallucination of Sam herself. They even come to blows in a fight reminiscent of Sam and Tory’s brutal Miyagi-Do brawl in season three.
Let’s hope Sam’s time alone helps get over her demons before they become too repetitive — and let’s hope the romantic angst doesn’t overwhelm everything else the way it occasionally has in the past. Either way, “Playing With Fire” feels like a return to the Cobra Kai We love and know each other.
• Eli, who once turned his moon tattoo into a Grim Reaper tattoo after Moon dumped him, now covers up that tattoo with a lotus flower for Miyagi-Do.
• “That guy tried to kill me once. You don’t forget or forgive something like that,” Daniel says about Mike, not realizing he’s offended Chozen. “Except you,” he hilariously backpedals. “You and I, we’re good.”
• At least Chozen gets a nice couch from Mike before the store burns down. Mike charging him even more is my favorite moment. He’s probably still hurting from the time he stepped on his knee.
• Johnny tries to get a refund on his ill-functioning “Tiger Glove” condoms, which are labeled “best condom in the wild kingdom.”
• A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it callback: when Johnny types in “How to,” his prior search results are “How to tell my student that I’m banging his mom,” “How to get rid of graffiti,” and “How to find hot babes.”
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