Here is a detailed summary of the key scenes and plot points from the first episode of The Sympathizer:

The Fall of Saigon

The episode opens in the final days before the Fall of Saigon in 1975. The unnamed Captain, a Communist spy embedded with the South Vietnamese, is conflicted about his dual identity. “I was cursed to see every issue from both sides,” he reveals in voiceover.

Interrogation at the Cinema

The Captain attends an interrogation of a captured female Communist agent with the General, head of the South Vietnamese secret police, and Claude, a CIA operative played by Robert Downey Jr. The woman had swallowed microfilm containing sensitive information the Captain himself had provided her. She glares at him accusingly but does not give him up.

“This is counterintelligence. It gets wet down there,” Claude remarks crudely about waiting for the evidence to pass through her system. His over-the-top antics provide some dark comedic relief.

Childhood Friends Divided

The.sympathize S01 Ep01 02rIn flashbacks, we learn the Captain grew up with two close friends, Man and Bon, who are now on opposing sides. Man is his Communist handler, while Bon despises the North for killing his father. Unaware of the Captain’s true loyalties, Bon treats him as a brother.

Escape Plans

With the North Vietnamese closing in, the General asks Claude to arrange two planes to evacuate his family and inner circle to America secretly. Claude agrees but later tells the Captain he can only provide one.

The General tasks the Captain with choosing who gets a seat and handing over the staff list the Captain had previously stolen for the Communists. The Captain puts Bon and his family on the list, along with officers who are incompetent but appear capable.

The man orders the Captain to accompany the General to America to spy on him despite his wish to stay in Vietnam. “Home is overrated,” the Man claims, accusing the Captain of loving the American culture he was exposed to in college.

Airport Attack

In a harrowing sequence, the group boards a bus to the airport as bombs start falling on Saigon. The bus is hit, and the passengers flee on foot under heavy fire. Bon’s wife and baby are killed by shrapnel. Shell-shocked, Bon stays behind on the tarmac with the Captain as the plane to America takes off without them.

The Prisoner

Interspersed with the main narrative are flash-forwards of the Captain as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese, forced to write confessions. The circumstances of his capture are not yet precise.

Key Takeaways

The episode sets up the Captain’s identity crisis between his Communist ideals and fascination with America. His childhood friends mirror this inner conflict turned enemies and the violence that engulfs all of them.

Downey Jr. provides fun moments as the boorish CIA agent, but the grim realities of war dominate, particularly in the devastating airport scene.

The non-linear storyline, with hints of the Captain’s eventual capture, adds mystery and suggests that his precarious double life cannot last. Which side he will ultimately choose, and at what cost, remains to be seen as the Fall of Saigon destroys everything around him.

Ambiguous Allegiances

Throughout the episode, the Captain’s true allegiances remain ambiguous. Even as he carries out missions for the Communists, he seems genuinely fond of the General’s family, particularly the General’s young daughter, whom he tutors in English. This emotional attachment complicates his role as a spy.

When Man suggests that Captain loves America more than he admits, there may be some truth to the accusation. The Captain’s embrace of American pop culture, from the Isley Brothers album Claude gives him to singing Del Shannon’s “Runaway,” hints at an affinity for the West beyond mere cover.

The Captain’s Capture: Theories

The.sympathizer03The flash-forwards of the Captain’s imprisonment are left unexplained, but there are several possibilities:

1. Betrayal by the Communists

Despite his loyal service, the Communists may suspect the Captain of being a double agent due to his Western education and close relationships with South Vietnamese and American officials. They might have seen his desire to stay in Vietnam as a sign of wavering commitment.

2. Revenge by Bon

If Bon discovers the Captain’s role in his wife and child’s deaths, he may seek retribution. The Captain put Bon on the evacuation list, but his actions indirectly led to the fatal attack. Bon’s loyalty to the South and personal loss could drive him to turn on his friend.

3. Captured During a Mission

The.sympathizer.s01 01 02The Captain may have been caught while on a post-war mission for the Communists in Vietnam. His imprisonment could be a recent development rather than an immediate consequence of the Fall of Saigon.

Symbolism in “Runaway”

The use of Del Shannon’s “Runaway” as a recurring motif is significant. The lyrics about a lost love echo the Captain’s feelings of being torn between two worlds and hint at the impossibility of reconciling his dual identities.

The song’s presence at the beginning and end of the episode, first as a bonding moment with Claude and later as a distant reminder in the Captain’s cell, frames his journey from the illusion of camaraderie to the stark reality of his isolation.

The General’s Fate

The General’s insistence on two planes for his escape suggests he may be planning to take more than just his immediate circle with him. It could be a hint at the historical “Operation Frequent Wind,” in which American forces evacuated not only embassy staff but tens of thousands of at-risk South Vietnamese in the final days of the war.

The.sympathizer.02However, with only one plane available, the General may have to make difficult choices about who to leave behind. It could sow discord among his loyalists and further complicate the Captain’s mission.

The Female Agent’s Defiance

The captured female Communist agent’s refusal to betray the Captain, even under torture, is a decisive moment that speaks to the depth of conviction among the North Vietnamese. Her willingness to endure pain and humiliation for the cause contrasts with the self-interest and cowardice of some of the South Vietnamese officials, who prioritize their escape over loyalty to their country.

The Captain’s reaction to her torture is a mix of gratitude and guilt, highlighting the moral compromises he must make to maintain his cover. The scene also foreshadows the physical and psychological trials the Captain will face as a prisoner.