The Brothers Sun is the story of a family, specifically an Asian family with all the pitfalls and expectations of the culture, against the background of the mafia. Charles Sun is the elder son, and his character fits that mold perfectly. It is usually said that the firstborn goes through all the experiments of parenting. Their upbringing is stricter than that of their younger siblings because the parents are figuring out their parenting, using them as their specimen. By the time the second or third child arrives, the parents have figured out all the tricks and are aware of what works and what doesn’t. That is why they are able to enjoy parenting more with subsequent children than with their firstborn. In The Brothers Sun, someone says that the eldest gets the “most respect and least love.” This has to be the reason for it. Additionally, most older children become secondary caretakers for their siblings. This added responsibility is what conditions them to put others’ needs before their own. There is a reason this is observed as a pattern across geographies and generations and not just as an individual case. This is what makes this show so unique: the fact that it accurately captures the dynamics of an Asian family, and people across jobs and ethnicities can relate to it so well.
Charles loved cooking, especially baking. Sweets were his passion, and maybe if his parents were not gangsters, he would have opted to go to culinary school. Of course, being an Asian, even that would have been after many fights and debates, but at least it wouldn’t have been an impossible choice for him, considering that nobody’s life was at stake. Charles probably never expressed his interest in sweets. He just followed that as a hobby in his spare time. Whenever he spoke about the family business, the words he used were ‘it has to be done,’ ‘this is the only way,’ and ‘there is no other choice.’ This is what was drilled into him from a very early age. He had long stopped talking about what he wanted or liked and was adamant about doing what was ‘needed.’
When Charles killed a man for the first time, he was very confused and horrified at what he was capable of. Charles specifies that he did not understand why he kept hurting the man even after his death. If Charles had consulted a therapist, he would have been told that this was a response caused by fear. Charles was in a very vulnerable position, and he could see the danger that his parents were in. At such a moment, his father used the words “protect your family.” Charles must have heard that phrase before, but he probably never thought that he would have to act on it so soon. When Charles was fighting that man, it was obvious he had already been receiving some training. But this was the real world, and Charles was running on fear and adrenaline, which did not let him understand the concept of a ‘clean kill’ or simple ‘danger elimination.’ His mind was clouded. Therapy would have taught Charles that this was all a natural response. But it was his father who spoke to him, and he said that it was a sign that he was built to be a soldier and a killer. Charles leaned into that because nothing else made sense. That was perhaps the start of Charles’ depression. He mentioned how food lost his taste, and he became so emotionless because he had to think about only one thing.
There is a scene in The Brothers Sun where Alexis tells Charles not to call her again, and Charles goes on a killing rampage the next second. This reminds us of how Charles had said that anger was the only emotion that he allowed himself to feel because that pushed him to be as ruthless as he was. Alexis’ words should have led to disappointment, hurt, confusion, or at least a need to meet and clear things up. But Charles had trained himself for only anger.
When Charles met his mother and brother, he was finally in the company of people who cared about him as a person. His father treated him like a soldier, but Eileen and Bruce treated him like family. Even when Eileen was being passive aggressive to Charles, swatting him on the head, or being openly preferential to Bruce, she showed love for Charles, even in the capacity of an ‘older’ son. As for Bruce, he was a lot softer. He asked about the memories they last shared and mentioned how his brother was nice. Also, Bruce told Charles his secrets, and the two of them kept them from their mother. Bruce was feeling like a son and a brother, which made him consider what family duty actually meant.
When Big Sun ordered Charles to kill Bruce with Eileen watching, he had to stop and think about what his purpose was. It was clear that Big Sun wanted to deliver such a blow to Eileen because she had stood up to him and was trying to be Dragon Head. Eileen had also wanted Charles to follow his heart and open a bakery if he wished to, which meant that she viewed him as more than a soldier and wasn’t telling him to carry the burden of her dreams. Charles couldn’t find fault with that. When he came to know just how far he had been pushed, starting from the ‘test’ that he had to undergo, he saw his whole life in a new light. Charles did not wish to live like a killer because he realized that it did not make him happy, and frankly, it wasn’t even necessary. It wasn’t ‘compulsory’ like it had been drilled into him. This is why he helped Bruce by telling him where their father was.
Charles got his wish of opening a bakery, and he could see his new life starting. But considering his life so far, there were a lot of loose ends that he had to tie up. Charles is going with his mother because she needs his help. Eileen wouldn’t have asked him for it and figured out her own way, but Charles knows that his reputation and skills would just make things quicker. He has realized that the key to living the life he wants is to let his mother live the life she wants. Once she becomes the Dragon Head and the boss, nobody will harm her or her family. Until then, people would continue attacking them all or try to use them as weaknesses. Eileen also wants to legitimize the businesses. That means that the police wouldn’t chase them, and Charles would have a shot with Alexis. Charles is not going back to his old life permanently. He is going back for just enough time to set things right and then come back to do what he really wants, which will be with the support of his family and real friends, who won’t judge him for watching the cooking channel instead of “Gymkata.”