‘The Sympathizer’ Episode 6 Is Fresh Out of Sympathy

the sympathizer
‘The Sympathizer’ Episode 6 Is Out of SympathyHopper Stone/SMPSP - HBO

It’s easy to sympathize with the Captain. I would also hate to be a spy! It’s just so much work. The job is physically taxing, sure—you have to kill someone every now and then. But espionage is mostly a mental game. It’s not only about keeping a secret but also about constantly upholding a facade. Exhausting, right? In this penultimate episode of The Sympathizer, the Captain (Hoa Xuande) is feeling the strain of his particular line of work. He reaches his breaking point—but it’s just one of many to come.

We start this week with the General’s (Toan Le) new private army. He’s fully committed to his suicide mission back to Vietnam, roping Bốn (Fred Nguyen Khan) into what the Captain calls his “circus of collective psychosis.” As stupid as their plan is—to take a hundred guys into Communist Vietnam and charge in guns a’blazing—it’s all that’s left for the Vietnamese refugees in America. They can’t all open liquor stores, sell expired candy, or work on controversial movie sets. “It reminds me of the good ol’ days.” Bốn says. “Guns and swords.”

The General reveals that his forces are all legitimate because he registered them as a charitable and tax-deductible nonprofit organization. They’re called—wait for it—the Benevolent Fraternity of Former Soldiers of the Republic of the Army of Vietnam. They promise to offer humanitarian aid to all the Vietnamese people oppressed by communism, and the General convinced some very wealthy donors to help them along. One of those donors? Robert Downey Jr. antagonist #3: Congressman Ned Godwin. When the Captain asks Godwin if he can work on his reelection campaign so that he can snoop around the office, the congressman asks him, “Do you have any skills other than being Vietnamese?” Transgression count: 1.

the sympathizer
I love the General.Hopper Stone/SMPSP - HBO

And the Emmy Goes to...

I could tell from his very first introduction that the General was a special character. After forcing the Captain to drive him out into the desert—where he shoots a gun wildly out the car window!—he orders the man to strip. Fear not, however, because he just wants to take a dip in the hot sulfur springs. Out of nowhere, the General tells him about how his toes fell off in a communist camp because of infection and rats. The Captain throws up in his mouth, but the General orders him to swallow it because...“It’s a sin to waste food.” A masterful performance from the General. Top-notch comedy.

Then the General shifts tones, confiding that he survived in the communist camp so that he could live for his daughter Lana (Vy Le). And for what? For her to become Americanized in Hollywood? “This country eats your heart and then complains about indigestion,” he says. “And now they have Lana, too. But I’ll get her back. I’ll get everything back.”

The Captain writes another letter to Mẫn (Duy Nguyễn), but from what I gather so far, he hasn’t responded once in the past four episodes. He asks if there’s anything he can do to help spare Bốn—should he go on the suicide mission. “The risk of being exposed? That’s nothing,” he tells Mẫn in a fantasy. "The real danger is the contamination of one’s mind with capitalism and Western culture. The rank-and-file foot soldiers never had to worry about that. All they did was stoke the hatred of the enemy. They never feared they might become them. We win the war, and what do I get in return? Banishment to America.”

robert downey jr sympathizer
The scary Downey returns.HBO

The Sympathizer? That Was the Old Me

At Godwin’s fundraising party, the Captain runs into Professor Hammer, another Downey from episode 2. Hammer reveals that he wrote The Oriental Mode of Destruction. Not a good look, Professor! He claims that the Captain only hates him because of what he despises in himself. During Godwin’s speech, the Captain breaks into his desk and takes photos from his secret ledger. He gives the photos to Sonny, even though he still contemplates killing him. He hates and envies him, because “he seems unburdened... He simply picked a side and lived with the consequences.” He kills Sonny (Alan Trong), puts on a weird blond Groucho Marx disguise, and flees the scene. Sofia (Sandra Oh) figures it out, but she creates an alibi for him before telling him to leave and never come back.

The Captain runs right from meeting Sofia at her apartment to Lana’s apartment. When he’s interrogated by a North Vietnam prison guard in the future, the officer asks, “Why do I need to read the specifics of your flirtations with that reactionary’s daughter?!?” I’m feeling exactly what he’s putting down. Is this thing going to happen…or is it some sort of new subliminal edging technology that HBO is trying out on our TV? The Captain awkwardly kisses her cheek, rubs her head, and tells her to “take care.” This is a bit of a spoiler, but the two actually get together in the novel. It seems that HBO tried to curb their relationship back as much as they could in the adaptation, and I get why. For better or worse, the result is an incredibly cringey exchange.

Two days later, the Captain finally receives a response from Mẫn: “Request denied.” That’s it—just two words. The Captain asks the General if he can join the suicide mission, completing the timeline. Now we finally know how he’s captured in Vietnam. In next week’s finale, we’ll see how this crazy story reaches its ending.

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