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Amanda LaRusso has always been an essential part of Cobra Kai: the calm, sarcastic voice of reason in a community inexplicably obsessed with children’s karate tournaments. But while she has plenty of reasons to be skeptical about the role karate plays in the Valley — both her kids’ and her husband’s lives have been threatened in the past year — she’s never really suffered a personal loss because of it. That changes in “Downward Spiral,” when karate finally comes between Amanda and her husband and, for the first time, puts her marriage in jeopardy.
The inciting incident is an auction for the charity Dreams for Teens, where Amanda is hoping to impress the founder so she can get a spot on the board. Daniel has set aside the karate drama for a moment; he knows it’s an important night for Amanda. But then Terry Silver happens to be the donor hosting the event, so all plans to stay chill go out the window. (The founder, Eva, is probably one of the only people in the Valley who doesn’t know about Daniel and Silver’s baggage.)
Amanda, of course, thinks Daniel’s being paranoid when he starts to panic about whatever Silver might be planning. But it turns out he’s right to be concerned: Silver manages to effortlessly manipulate them both, playing nice to Amanda and slyly letting it slip that Daniel sent Chozen to “rough up” his new potential sensei hires. Daniel admits that he didn’t tell Amanda he was still involved in this war, but it only escalates from there: When Silver bids $30,000 for the treasured bonsai trees Daniel is donating, he taunts Daniel with the idea that he’ll probably just use them for mulch. Then Silver makes Daniel think he called Amanda a psychopathic liar to Eva — leading Daniel to make a spectacle of himself by shoving Silver over in front of everyone and looking like even more of a fool when Eva says that Silver spoke highly of Amanda.
Back at home, Amanda is understandably pissed at how Daniel embarrassed her in front of the board. The issue isn’t that Daniel was wrong to be suspicious; we know he was right. The issue is that Daniel let Silver get to him easily instead of focusing on his wife first and foremost. And, of course, the biggest issue is that Daniel has been lying to her — not just about Chozen’s time at Cobra Kai, but about the fight at the furniture store, which Chozen accidentally reveals mid-argument. Daniel tries to show Amanda that this is what Silver wanted (again, he’s correct), but the damage is done. “The reason we’re fighting is because you can’t let things go,” Amanda says, making the decision to take some time away from Daniel with the kids.
I’m doubtful this time apart will get too serious, but it makes for an effective story for Amanda. And Silver’s skillful manipulation of the fissures in their marriage helps build him up as even more of a formidable enemy than he already was. I’m sure this isn’t the end of his crusade for revenge after Daniel “played with fire,” but he does some serious damage here.
All the teen drama of the episode converges at the water park. There’s a lot going on here: While Miguel awkwardly tries to be friends with Sam again, Robby is trying to break through to Tory about the danger of staying in Cobra Kai. Meanwhile, Kenny and the Cobra Kai boys continue to bully Anthony. The biggest conflict, though, is a territory war straight out of West Side Story: The park is split in half, with Cobra Kai restricted to one side and the ex-Miyagi Do and Eagle Fang kids to the other. It’s a boundary that’s practically designed to be crossed; who’s okay with only having access to half the water park?
A fight inevitably breaks out, and the two sides finally agree to a winner-takes-all slide race between the two All Valley champs. But Tory easily defeats Eli, whose inner tube was sabotaged by Kenny.
Robby is in an admirable but unfortunate spot for most of the episode: He’s no longer in Cobra Kai, but his personal relationships with Tory and Kenny prevent him from villainizing everyone there. He wants to de-program the kids still under Terry Silver’s sway but also keep the peace between the two sides. But to Miguel and Eli, Robby’s repeated appearances during the fights just serve to confirm that he’ll never really be on their side. And Miguel getting involved just makes everything messier.
“Don’t tell me the best place for Kenny is Cobra Kai,” Robby says to Tory after they witness his bullying Anthony firsthand. Later, he tries to get through to the kid, telling him that Cobra Kai will turn him into someone he doesn’t want to be. But from Kenny’s point of view, everything good in his life came from Cobra Kai; before, he was a lonely victim, and now he’s on top of the food chain, surrounded by “friends.” He’s not going to quit now.
And Tory isn’t, either. Robby makes one last attempt, telling her that she’s “part of the problem” if she stays in Cobra Kai. (How long until he starts saying “complicit”?) Tory is clearly conflicted; it’s clear that she’s still haunted by her first illegitimate win, judging by her expression during the “cheaters” chant directed at Cobra Kai. But in the end she can’t pull the trigger, electing to keep the brainwashing going for the time being.
Miguel and Robby have one last facedown at the end of the episode when Johnny comes to pick Robby up. Johnny’s fed up with their refusal to get along, but both remain firm: They’re not friends, and they never will be. We’ll see about that.
Johnny gets the lightest subplot of the episode as he turns to the gig economy for work now that he’s out of a job with a baby on the way. He gets the idea from Robby’s mom Shannon, of all people. She’s impressed with his miraculously not-gross apartment, immediately deducing he “knocked Carmen up.”
We see Johnny’s predictably terrible rideshare and food delivery skills unfold in a montage: He blasts Billy Idol when two girls ask for Billie Eilish, he runs stop signs, he brings food to people cold, and he even pees into empty beer cans while there are people in the car. But he gets some unexpected wisdom from the recipient of a taquitos order — who turns out to be Lyle, the same pawn shop owner who appeared in a few episodes in the first few seasons. Lyle points out that most people hate what they do. But he stays focused on what he’s doing it all for: his family. It’s the reminder Johnny needs. He even calls up Shannon and asks to have Robby for the summer.
“I’m sorry I sucked, Shannon,” he says, another perfect Johnny line. In Cobra Kaiflorid monologues aren’t necessary to earn forgiveness; honesty and genuine reflection are the quickest way to redemption. Let’s hope Daniel can pull it off, too.
• Nice to see a fantasy from Carmen’s point of view, as she dreams about her new life with Johnny, Miguel, and their new kid. It’s sexy and sweet, and I love their little morning chat once it’s over.
• Watching 90 Day Fiance at the LaRusso house, Chozen tearfully says, “Never give up.”
• Shannon is unknowingly the biggest hero of the episode for knocking on Johnny’s door before he can finish giving his social security number to a scammer on the phone.
• Demetri ends up being the Tech Town Nerd sent to hook Johnny up with a new phone, so he can get on the rideshare apps. It’s a nice way to feature a sensei-student pairing that wouldn’t otherwise be possible in the story since Eagle Fang shut down.
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