‘The Sympathizer’ Episode 4 Is Pure Chaos

the sympathizer robert downey jr
‘The Sympathizer’ Episode 4 Is Pure ChaosHBO

The Sympathizer is making a movie now. I don’t know how it happened. In last week’s episode of the series, we saw a council of Robert Downey Jr. characters eating sushi off women, barking at hostesses, rubbing their bellies, and unleashing chaos into the world. Somehow they convinced our main character to completely shift his direction. After escaping the Fall of Saigon in the premiere, moving to Los Angeles, and awkwardly continuing what our latest Downey character calls “spy/counterspy” activities, the Captain (Hoa Xuande) has become a consultant for a movie that is set during the Vietnam War.

The Downey-played film director, Niko Damianos—who is a parody of Francis Ford Coppola making Apocalypse Now—is missing “the perspective of the Vietnamese people.” For reasons I can’t explain, the Captain agrees to help him. The tornado of Downeys swept him up and trapped him, and now we’re here. He thinks he can help—and possibly even save the production from producing something racist. In a way, maybe he thinks he’s rewriting history. The Captain says that if Niko wants to portray the Vietnamese in a good light, then he should give them some lines.

While the Captain is on his way to the film’s set for a month, the General’s daughter, Lana (Vy Le), does exactly what I thought she would do last episode. Enter stage left: a dangerous new love interest. She hides in his trunk until he eventually finds her, leaving him no choice but to bring her along to his Hollywood adventure. When the Captain arrives on set, he’s blown away by the authenticity of the production. “I can smell my mother’s cooking,” he says, running around the hamlet like a little kid in a candy store. What are we doing here? I’m intrigued by this obvious departure from everything I previously found interesting about The Sympathizer.

the sympathizer
The Sympathizer is making a movie now.Hopper Stone/SMPSP - HBO


New characters! The main star of the film is actor David Duchovny (The X-Files), Method acting as a macho, racist Green Beret named Shamus, who takes over the hamlet to survive the end of the war. He traps the Captain in a headlock and directly asks if he’s a communist sympathizer. There’s also a singing actor from Soul Train named Jamie Johnson (Maxwell Whittington-Cooper) in the picture, as well as another former war buddy. Naturally, the General’s daughter gravitates toward the charismatic Mr. Soul Train. So the Captain is compelled to continue his big-brother role to protect her. Oh, and we can’t forget about John Cho! He’s here as an actor playing Korean American Communications Officer “Commo” Kim in the film.

After Niko grants the extras some lines, the Captain points out that none of them speak Vietnamese. An old woman who is accosted by the Green Berets swears at them in Chinese, forcing the Captain to round up Vietnamese extras in time to film the next scenes. He teaches them communist propaganda lines, since they’re playing Viet Cong, but they refuse to say them. Instead, they curse out the film director for paying them so little. Niko loves the cut, even though he can’t tell that they’re insulting him in Vietnamese. Even the General’s daughter finds her way in as a character.

The Captain is really enjoying himself here. So is his friend Bon (Fred Nguyen Khan), who agrees to join the cast. It’s nice to see them smiling. This could be the Captain’s true calling. Had he not decided to be a “spy/counter spy,” maybe he would’ve found his passion in film. I’d love that for him, personally. But as we all know, he’s bound for a prison in North Vietnam at the end. As images of the Major continue to haunt him on set, it’s sadly time for things to turn ugly.

the sympathizer john cho
John Cho!Hopper Stone/SMPSP - HBO

Yes, Things Do Turn Ugly

Niko writes a new sexual-assault scene for Shamus and the General’s daughter. He gives her the Captain’s mother’s name as an added insult, even though he believes that he’s “honoring her” and the Vietnamese people since they were all metaphorically abused as a country. “I did it for you!” he yells at him. “She’s a real Vietnamese who will now get the privilege of representing the tens of millions of Vietnamese who never got the chance to speak up for themselves. Isn’t that what you fucking wanted?” No, Niko. This is different.

Thinking that Shamus might actually Method act a little too much and assault the General’s daughter’s on set, the Captain jumps into action and signals Johnson to attack him. He ruins the scene. Everyone is angry with him. Then, somehow, he finds himself wandering onto another set, where he barely escapes a major pyrotechnics scene. “I was ashamed to admit that I wondered if Ms. Mori would find me hot,” he tells his North Vietnamese prison guard in the future about his action-star-esque dive out of danger. If we’ve lost the plot, at least the Captain is as delusional as we are.

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