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If Cobra Kai season 3’s big spoiler didn’t work out, the writers had a backup plan

Of course, that backup plan is also a spoiler, so you’ve been warned

Johnny and Daniel face off with Kreese in the background in a still from Cobra Kai Image: Overbrook Entertainment/Netflix
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

So, now that Cobra Kai Season 3 is streaming on Netflix, we can talk about that scene, can’t we? If we give it a big spoiler warning first.

[Ed. note: This post contains major spoilers for Cobra Kai season 3.]

We’ll even toss in the original, ridiculous picture of John Kreese in his Special Forces getup (it was hanging in the front of the original dojo in the 1984 movie) to make sure your eyes don’t accidentally flit over a keyword or two.

Actor Martin Kove tweeted this in May 2018, before the first season premiered.

Alright, are we all good?

Cobra Kai’s big payoff for season 3 is, yes, Elisabeth Shue, as Ali Mills, returns to the Valley. The overtures the show’s writers and Shue’s original co-stars made to bring her back provided fans with a delightful meta-cliffhanger within the first two seasons. Season 2 wrapped up with Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) hurling his cell phone into the surf, unaware that Ali (now Dr. Ali Mills Schwarber) had accepted his Facebook friend request and gotten back in touch with him.

Still, at the time, there was no public commitment from Shue to come home to the world of The Karate Kid. In a media roundtable at the beginning of December, Ralph Macchio (Daniel LaRusso) said he didn’t know his old co-star was coming back until he got the scripts for season 3.

“There was an alternate plan if she wasn’t available,” Macchio said. “When did we find out? I guess it was going on during the whole shooting of season 3, it was about, you know, the logistical side of it, at leas from my perspective. I think I found out when I got the scripts, actually, how it was going to play out.”

2019 Comic-Con International - Red Carpet For “The Boys” - Arrivals
Finally! We’ve been busting to share this with folks: Elisabeth Shue (most recently Madelyn Stillwell in Amazon’s The Boys) is back in Cobra Kai.
Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images

The alternate storyline, Macchio said, would have been that Ali’s in-world husband was the one responding to Johnny. “That was the fallback, the ‘how are we gonna vacuum ourselves out of the room’ from what we’ve written,” Macchio said, “which would be her husband was doing the Facebook back-and-forth with Johnny.”

Much to the actors’ and writers’ relief, though, this became unnecessary. Shue/Ali returns to her childhood home for the holidays, newly (but amicably) separated from her husband in Colorado. She reconnects with Johnny (right as he has rekindled things with Carmen, Miguel’s mom, no less) the way old high school friends do over the holidays. Then she invites him to the holiday party at Encino Oaks Country Club, where it turns out Daniel is also a member. The two rivals sit down to a peaceful dinner (their third together in this series) filled with reminiscing.

And that’s it, really. The story doesn’t give Shue a pivotal role, nor does her appearance really alter the story. Aside from the fan service, she has a more subtle influence on Cobra Kai’s dialogue. She represents the point of view that Johnny and Daniel, both, are good guys and bullies; both can be thoughtful and selfless, and both are their own worst enemies. In other words, she’s speaking for fans.

The first two seasons of Cobra Kai tried, with variable success, at presenting that idea, but it really took the return of Ali to make that work. For Johnny and Daniel, being her boyfriend was the one good thing they had in common.

I had worried that, by establishing Ali’s post-Valley life as a pediatric surgeon all the way back in Season 1, the writers were going to try something over-the-top, like making Ali the doctor who helps Miguel walk again. That would have been a mistake; connecting Daniel and Johnny in a third-time’s-the-charm détente was just the right touch. In the end, that’s what fans have wanted, for these two to stop fighting, and finally bro down and be friends.

Cobra Kai season 3 is streaming on Netflix now.