‘The Sympathizer’ Episode 1 Ending Explained: Did The Captain Leave Vietnam?


The first episode of The Sympathizer is centered around the Captain’s efforts to retrieve a list containing the names of the people working for the South Vietnam Special Police. He is a member of the communist forces of North Vietnam. But he has been working as an officer of the Special Police in South Vietnam. During this process, he has become a close aide of the General as well as CIA agent Claude, and he has been passing information to the communists whenever they ask for it. When he learns that Saigon is about to fall, he assumes that the communists are going to obliterate the General and his minions, thereby bringing an end to his period of subservience. Even though his first attempt at getting the aforementioned list fails, he does acquire it eventually and passes it on to Man, his fellow comrade in the communist organization. He thinks that that is his last task as a spy, and after that, he’ll get to work for the communists directly. However, Man crushes his hopes by telling him that they’re not only going to let the General go, but they also need the Captain to go to the United States of America with him. Does he, though? Let’s find out.

Spoiler Alert

At the end of The Sympathizer, episode 1, the General requests that Claude organize two America-bound planes for himself, his family, his wife’s family, selected members of his Special Police Force, and the families of those police officers. The Captain manages to put Bon and his family on the list because he doesn’t want the jarhead to die in Vietnam. Claude fulfills the request. However, the bus carrying the escaping South Vietnamese people to the airplane gets bombarded by the North Vietnamese army. So, the survivors—which include the General, Madame, Lan, the Captain, Bon, Bon’s family, and several other people—are forced to run across the airstrip to reach the plane. That doesn’t stop the armies from bombarding them. As far as my knowledge about warfare goes, in this scene, we can see the North Vietnamese army using white flares to illuminate the airstrip so that they can see their targets more clearly in the night.

The General and his family manage to get aboard the American plane, but Bon and his family are left behind. The Captain doesn’t want to leave Vietnam without his friend, but he has been tasked with following the General. So, in a state of panic, the Captain throws his bag (which is full of spyware) into the plane and then rushes to get Bon, his wife, and their child. Sadly, it’s revealed that Bon’s wife and child are dead, thereby leaving Bon to deal with the tragic loss. The Captain is unable to hold back his tears, and he breaks down alongside his friend while the General and the Americans order them to get on the plane. The Sympathizer, episode 1, doesn’t reveal if the Captain and Bon boarded the plane or not. Instead, it cuts to the Captain sitting in his jail cell somewhere in Vietnam, recounting the events that have led him to the situation he is in. He hears Del Shannon’s “Runaway” playing somewhere in the distance, which reminds him of his conversation with Claude before boarding the plane, where the CIA agent wrongly remembered the song and the Captain corrected him.

In Viet Thanh Nguyen’s book, also named The Sympathizer, Bon and the Captain did board the plane. Unless Park Chan-wook and Don McKellar have made drastic changes to their adaptation, the same thing is going to happen in the miniseries as well. And all that will be cleared next week. Until then, we have to marinate in this horrifying feeling of how easy it was for internal and external forces to turn a country into a war zone and how nothing has changed. We always keep saying that we should learn from history. The Vietnam War is constantly cited in films and shows. Yet, people keep killing their own people. The first world countries keep funding genocides. Nobody bans weapons. Nobody deescalates. Nobody votes for peace. The innocent souls that are lost in the process are forgotten. And the businessmen pulling the strings continue to make money while bringing humanity closer and closer to extinction. Well, apart from a handful of people, since everyone is okay with war, I guess we’ll keep repeating these destructive cycles until there’s nothing left to fight for or fight with. I don’t know what the concluding message of Park Chan-wook’s miniseries will be (especially because I haven’t read the book). It’s too early to tell.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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