Based on Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Sympathizer” is HBO’s new historical black comedy-drama television series. It is co-created by acclaimed filmmaker Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Decision to Leave, The Handmaiden) along with Don McKellar. It is a fascinating mix of a dark comedy, a war drama, and a spy thriller that stars Academy Award-winning Robert Downey Jr in multiple roles. The show’s main cast includes Hoa Xuande, Toan Lee, Fred Ngyuen Khan, Tom Dang, Scott Ly, Tien Pham, and Ngyuen Kao Ky Duen. “The Sympathizer” episode 1 is now available to stream on Max.

Spoilers Ahead 

The Sympathizer Episode 1 “Death Wish” Recap:

The series switches between different timelines, like the source material, to tell the story of Vietnam. The protagonist of this narrative is a Biracial Vietnam-born citizen referred to as the Captain (played by Hoa Xuande). He works as a police captain but is secretly a communist spy from North Vietnam. The story happens at a period shortly before the end of the war in Vietnam. What is known as the Vietnam War in America is called the American War in Vietnam. The show’s creators note that the conflict was between North Vietnam, led by the communists who defeated their French colonizers & South Vietnam, who were backed by the Americans to take over from the French people.

Initially, we see the Captain locked up in a jail. He is made to write his confession. Thus, the story gets rewritten based on his memory. He recalls an incident from four months before the Fall of Saigon, when he met Claude (played by Robert Downey Jr), a CIA agent, who mentored the Captain on the American ways of doing things. At the time of the release of Charles Bronson’s “Death Wish,” they walk inside a cinema hall to witness the confrontation of a comrade. This woman is being insistently questioned about how she received a particular list. The interrogation is conducted as per the orders of the General, a high-ranking Southern Vietnamese general that the Captain serves.

The Contact

In the cinema hall, the communist spy (played by Kayli Tran) gets questioned about her point of contact. About two days ago, at the Special Police HQ, the captain learned that the officials caught her. While she is forced to reveal a list, she swallows it. So, the officials use unusual ways to retrieve it. The Captain struggles to make peace with the torture this fellow spy goes through. Just a few days before, he felt hope in the company of his blood brothers / close childhood friends, Bon (played by Fed Nguyen Khan) and Man (played by Duy Nguyen). They get together to see Bon’s baby and figure out what the first word is out of its mouth.

Man hopes the Captain will help Bon and his family escape the looming chaos. He asks the Captain for a complete staff list for the Secret Police. At the time, The General struggled to inspire hope in people. The Captain says that the American Congressional delegation isn’t expecting military updates but faith in their way of fight. The General trusts Henry Kissinger’s words and doesn’t believe America will ever withdraw. In the General’s absence, the Captain tries to steal the staff list. Het makes a copy through his tiny camera and leaves.

The List

The Sympathizer Episode 1: Recap & Ending Explained
A still from “The Sympathizer” episode 1 starring Hoa Xuande.

The Captain hands over a book to the General: Asian Communism and the Oriental Mode of Destruction by Richard Hedd. He highlights a few quotes for the General to look impressive in his forthcoming address. For a while before, the Captain lived at the General’s house. He found it humiliating. But the silver lining was that he could find privacy in the General’s grand mansion. Alas, he sent the list to the intended people. Soon after, the wiretap catches its trail. So, the Captain informs Man about it. Because of this, the female communist spy gets caught. She warns the General’s men that their fall is imminent. About two months later, the same cinema gets blown up as a part of pre-dawn attacks in Saigon.

The General’s Escape

In the wake of attacks in Saigon, the General plans to flee safely out of his country with his extended family. As a representative of America, Claude offers his help, but not to the extent the General expects. He warns that the General must limit his expectations considering the threat to his life. Still, he agrees to arrange two planes, at least to the General’s face. The General ordered the Captain to select who would get a chance to escape from the staff list. Instead of following the orders, the Captain begins crossing off people to be left behind and face a harsh trial.

At the time, the then-president resigns and flees to Taiwan. Before leaving, The General starts burning his confidential documents. He hates the way Americans handle this crisis. The Captain notices the General’s mutilated foot. The General gets emotional. He still believes they could have won the war. At his office, the Captain chose staff members who get to flee. But he specifically chose incompetent people who seemed competent. Soon after, Man informs the Captain that he would need to move to America to continue his work as a mole for their mission. He mentions how the Captain adores the ‘American ways,’ which makes it beneficial.

The Sympathizer Episode 1 “Death Wish” Ending Explained:

Why does the Captain get left behind?

A day before the fall of Saigon, the Captain helps the General’s family prepare for their escape. They get on a bus to travel through an empty city filled with signs of destruction. Eventually, the General feels humiliated by the way the American helpers treat him and the fact that he has to travel with the commoners. Along the way, their bus becomes a target of a blast. The Captain tries to help Bon, his wife, and his kid to get on the plane. But while running, he loses her wife. While trying to save them, the Captain gets left behind. Because of this, we see him being in a prison cell, forced to write his memories associated with the war.

Read More: The Sympathizer: Complete Cast & Character Guide of the 2024 Max Series

Trailer:

 

The Sympathizer Episode 1 Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia
The Sympathizer Episode 1 Cast: Hoa Xuande, Robert Downey Jr., Sandra Oh, Toan Lee, Fred Ngyuen Khan, Tom Dang, Scott Ly, Tien Pham, Ngyuen Kao Ky Duen
Where to watch The Sympathizer

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