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'Cobra Kai' has a surprise that will leave fans cheering — and maybe teary-eyed

A beloved blast from the past injected more than just a little wistfulness into the Netflix series.
/ Source: TODAY

Warning: This story contains spoilers for season three of "Cobra Kai."

A funny thing happened over the weekend: A series of text messages started flying back and forth between me and various friends asking if we’ve finished the third season of “Cobra Kai,” which dropped New Year’s Day on Netflix.

Sure, 2021 may have arrived, but many of us all felt like it was 1984 because “The Karate Kid” spinoff had a very welcome guest star in the final two episodes: Elisabeth Shue.

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Ralph Macchio, Elisabeth Shue in "The Karate Kid"
Daniel (Ralph Macchio) and Ali (Elisabeth Shue) during happy times in "The Karate Kid."(C)Columbia Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Shue’s appearance had been teased in the season two finale and the show delivered on the promise with a guest role that felt neither forced nor gratuitous. Indeed, Shue’s return as Ali was nostalgic while also vital to the advancement of the show’s plot, a tricky maneuver that was accomplished with more grace than a perfectly executed crane kick.

On the show, Ali, who has separated from her husband, returns to California for the holidays and decides to get together for lunch with William Zabka’s Johnny (where he apologizes for taking her for granted while they dated). That turns into a date at what is most certainly the Valley’s most romantic locale, Golf N’ Stuff, that is not-so-coincidentally similar to her date with Daniel (Ralph Macchio) those many moons ago.

William Zabka, Elisabeth Shue in "The Karate Kid"
Johnny (William Zabka) and Ali returned to Encino Oaks Country Club under a very different set of circumstances than when they danced in "The Karate Kid."Columbia Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

They nearly kiss and Ali invites Johnny to a holiday party at the same country club where Daniel wound up covered in pasta sauce more than three decades ago, in one of “The Karate Kid’s” many memorable scenes, which does not go unmentioned.

Daniel and his wife now belong to the club and he is stunned when he runs into Ali, sparking one of the series’ best scenes for fans of the original movie when Daniel, Johnny and Ali sit around a table reminiscing, with Daniel and Johnny bickering throughout.

“It was so fun to realize that all of our chemistry was exactly the same,” Shue told Entertainment Weekly.

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“My chemistry with Ralph was the same, the same with Billy — it was odd! It was literally like a high school reunion; it felt like no time had passed. Like none at all. We kept reminiscing and laughing, constantly reliving the first 'Karate Kid' every minute between takes. Nonstop reminiscing about our experience and laughing about what a great movie it turned out to be.”

Viewers didn’t necessarily watch as viewers, but more like active participants, as if we were also catching up with old friends since these are characters we truly love.

“You guys are more alike than you want to admit and maybe you recognize parts of yourselves in each other and maybe you don’t always like what you see,” Ali tells Daniel and Johnny, setting the stage for them to join forces.

Daniel also apologizes for how their relationship ended, to which she replies, “We were so young and the good times far outweighed the bad.”

Elisabeth Shue, Ralph Macchio, William Zabka in "The Karate Kid"
The trio's love triangle was at the heart of "The Karate Kid."(C)Columbia Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

The nostalgia, sweet and sad, hits hard and it hits right.

“Thanks for making me feel like a kid again,” Ali tells Johnny at the end of the night while he fills her in on his feelings for Miguel’s mom.

“Sometimes it’s good to visit the past to know where you are now, but you can’t live in the past,” she tells him as Journey’s “Open Arms” plays underneath in a saccharine ‘80s moment for the ages before they hug and we realize this potential romance is not to be.

Shue said the scenes in which she parts ways with Daniel and Johnny represent something bigger.

Elisabeth Shue, Ralph Macchio in "The Karate Kid"
On "Cobra Kai," it appears time has indeed healed all wounds for Ali and Daniel.(C)Columbia Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

"And I feel like in Ali, and maybe in me, it was this sense of saying goodbye to your childhood," she told Entertainment Weekly. "I mean, that sounds pretty intense, but you know, your first crush, your first love — so to be able to experience the emotions that you felt for your first crush again ... it really was a wonderful setup for these characters to be able to feel a loss of innocence and a reconnection and respect."

"I loved it. I was so excited about the idea of her coming back," Zabka told USA Today, noting that the first two seasons showed "how much she's still part of Johnny and still a part of the rivalry between Daniel and Johnny and how important she is to the story and to their two lives."

Viewers totally get that because these characters remain important to their lives, too. Daniel, Johnny and Ali have all moved on from high school, but that era — along with the good and the bad that goes with it — has stayed with them. Just like it has for all of us who grew up watching “The Karate Kid.”