Home Op-Ed Cobra Kai: The Warped Transformation of Eli Moskowitz

Cobra Kai: The Warped Transformation of Eli Moskowitz

by Conor O'Brien
Cobra Kai

Throughout three seasons of Cobra Kai, Eli ‘Hawk’ Moskowitz has evolved significantly. Here is an examination of his twisted journey so far…

Unlike the contained nature of many films, television can be relied upon for its consistency.

This sentiment was shared by multi-time Emmy Award-winning actor Bryan Cranston, known for his role as Walter White (Heisenberg) on AMC’s crime drama Breaking Bad. Cranston told The Guardian in 2013, “Nowhere in the history of television – think about this – have we seen a character go through this metamorphosis. When we look at our favourite television shows, they’ve all stayed the same; stasis is part of television lore.”

Cranston is, of course, absolutely correct with his analysis.

Fans become invested in television characters over an extended period of time. Due to their familiarity, these fictitious icons are frequently welcomed into living rooms around the world. Homer Simpson will do something idiotic, The Flash will battle a supervillain, Michael Scott will cause amok at Dunder Mifflin.

However, Breaking Bad ‘flipped the script’ for this form of characterisation. When Walter White was first introduced, he was a seemingly unexceptional middle-aged chemistry teacher having a mid-life crisis and recently diagnosed with cancer.

By the end of the series, he had become a tough, assertive drug kingpin across Albuquerque, responsible for the deaths of many people, both directly or otherwise. In a sense, “Walter” was one character while his alter-ego “Heisenberg” was another entity entirely.

Given the success of Breaking Bad‘s descent into villainy, it is only natural that other shows will attempt similar narrative journeys. One of the more notable examples is Cobra Kai (2018-present). This television sequel to the classic 1980s Karate Kid films began on YouTube Premium, before making the move to Netflix.

Cobra Kai
Image courtesy of Netflix

In particular, we will be focusing on the character of Eli Moskowitz, played by former Kirby Buckets actor Jacob Bertrand.

Originally a recurring character in Season 1, Eli was introduced in the show’s second-ever episode, alongside his friend Demetri (Gianni DeCenzo). The pair quickly befriend Miguel Diaz (Xolo Maridueña), arguably the show’s protagonist after the latter’s arrival at their school.

Unfortunately, Eli is very much at the bottom of the school’s social food chain. Not only do his nerdier interests such as Doctor Who or Harry Potter clash with the more athletic ‘popular students’, Eli is also very self conscious due to a facial deformity on his lip following a surgery.

Interestingly enough, Eli actually bears several similarities with the aforementioned Walter White. Both characters are presented as somewhat weak, vulnerable individuals. They are easily dominated or pushed around by others. Additionally, both have a distinct physical attribute holding them back; Eli’s lip and Walter’s cancer being the specific examples in this instance.

Walter White experienced a transformation and discovered Heisenberg within himself. Although from a different perspective, the same can be said for Eli and Hawk. Even if it a ‘new’ version of these characters, are they really improved? Are Heisenberg and Hawk any better than Walter and Eli?

Image courtesy of Netflix

After Miguel shows off his newfound karate skills during a cafeteria fight, Eli is one of many students to join the Cobra Kai dojo. On the first day, Eli is ridiculed by Sensei Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) due to his lip. Unwilling to face this abusive treatment any longer, Eli takes Johnny’s advice to ‘flip the script’ to heart. This is accomplished by shaving his hair into a Mohawk, later getting a tattoo on his back and being dubbed ‘Hawk’ by Johnny.

As Hawk becomes more confident, cooler and better at karate, this comes at the expense of his conscience. Although once viewed as a decent kid, Hawk commits several unforgivable acts. This includes beating up and terrorising his now former best friend Demetri, later breaking his arm to assert his loyalty to Cobra Kai.

In addition to this, Hawk also vandalises and ransacks the Miyagi-Do dojo and steals a war medal that belonged to Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita). Hawk drives a wedge not only between himself and his one-time friends, but also “Eli” in general.

He is fully committed to maintaining the fearsome Hawk persona, even if it means letting go of Eli forever.

It is easy to assume that karate, Cobra Kai’s teachings, Johnny Lawrence or even John Kreese (Martin Kove) made Hawk who he is. However, Eli Moskowitz was a troubled kid long before he stepped foot in the dojo. Prior to the events shown, Eli endured years of narcissistic bullying and his self-confidence had been shattered irreparably. Before Miguel’s arrival, he had no other friends besides Demetri. One line even suggested that Eli may be on the Autism spectrum, further insight into his complex mentality.

Image courtesy of Netflix

In Season 3, the cracks in Hawk’s hard outer shell begin to show for the first time.

Even though he breaks Demetri’s arms, Hawk shows visible reluctance and remorse while inflicting this pain. Although Johnny Lawrence had been the one to inspire and facilitate Hawk’s ‘birth’, he was no longer in control of Cobra Kai. New sensei John Kreese cares little, if at all, about the kids themselves, unlike Johnny. It takes him all of Season 3, but Hawk finally reaches the epiphany that he should have much earlier.

Unsurprisingly, Hawk was a major participant in the Cobra Kai vs Miyagi-Do brawl at the LaRusso home. While he arrived with his allegiance to the former, Hawk had switched sides by the end of the battle. In a moment reminiscent of Return of the Jed Vader, he saved Demetri from his own Cobra Kai teammate Rickenberger (John Cihangir) and helped to end the fight alongside his old friends.

Is there a way back for Eli/Hawk, now that he’s started the path to redemption? Let’s return to our old friend, Walter White. He achieved the financial stability for his family that he originally set out for. That was his original goal, before becoming a crime lord. However, in the process, Walter lost his family forever after they could no longer be associated with him. Crime may pay in this case, but

By comparison, Eli overcame his insecurities. There is no arguing that he became a more confident, vocal version of himself as Hawk.

Following Seasons 2 and 3 especially, the shy kid that Miguel first met is no more. That being said, is Hawk ready to be Eli again? His arc thus far has been long, compelling and emotionally torturous. Despite his last-minute switch, would the writers let Hawk off that easy? Also, having gained a certain level of power, it seems unlikely that Eli would want to be a weak, bullied punching bag again.

The comforting familiarity has made television characters more beloved over time. This doesn’t make them any more or less interesting, the viewer gets what they expect to. Characters such as Eli Moskowitz and Walter White have showed there is scope for change in a multi-season television narrative. Human emotions are tough and confusing to navigate, so it seems fitting that this should be represented through complex characters.

Hawk is undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with. As Season 4 approaches, perhaps this troubled yet talented martial artist will rediscover Eli Moskowitz all over again.

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