‘The Sympathizer’ Episode 4 Recap & Ending Explained: Why Was The Captain Fired From Niko’s Film Set?


Last week’s episode of The Sympathizer largely revolved around the murder of The Major. The Captain didn’t want The General and the CIA to grow suspicious of the fact that he was spying on the Americans on behalf of the North Vietnamese communists. So, he wanted to throw The Major under the bus and calm the authorities for the time being. The Captain roped in Bon for the mission, and the duo carried out a successful but incredibly sloppy assassination. In return, The Captain was recruited as the Vietnamese consultant for Niko Damianos’ anti-war film on the Vietnam War (which is obviously a dig at Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now). Episode 4 of The Sympathizer is all about The Captain’s experience on the set of The Hamlet. Let’s find out how that went.

Spoiler Alert

The Captain Goes to Napa Valley

The fourth episode of The Sympathizer starts off with a pretty awkward conversation between The Captain and Niko. The Captain has been hired to inject some authenticity into the representation of the Vietnamese characters who will be featured in The Hamlet. But Niko thinks that he is so smart that he doesn’t actually need to listen to what The Captain has to say. Something as simple as giving the Vietnamese actors some lines makes Niko freak out. But The Captain doesn’t back down and intimidatingly suggests the type of lines that the Vietnamese actors should have. I usually don’t like scenes where a movie or a show demeans artists. However, in this case, I feel that it’s pretty fair to criticize a director who is trying to promote his auteur status by milking the trauma of the Vietnamese people while the wounds of the war are still fresh, thereby bashing every director in existence who has made war or anti-war films. Anyway, this is followed by a scene between Man and The Captain, where the former tells the latter to give some good lines to the Vietnamese actors. Since this face-to-face conversation isn’t possible (because Man is in Vietnam and The Captain is in the USA), I think it’s one of their coded letter-based conversations or a figment of The Captain’s imagination. 

Now, I was under the impression that The Captain was going to go to Vietnam to shoot Niko’s film. However, during a conversation with Ms. Mori, it’s revealed that the whole film is going to be shot in Napa Valley, California. The General isn’t happy with The Captain’s temporary new job because he won’t be around to help the old man. But he eventually approves of it when he realizes that The Captain’s work on the film is going to please Claude, and if Claude is pleased, he’ll probably help The General “reclaim Vietnam.” While driving to Napa Valley, Lana sneaks into The Captain’s car, and the latter is forced to take her to the film set. They attend a party where we get cameos from David Duchovny (who is playing a version of “legendary method actor” Marlon Brando called Glenn) and John Cho (whose character is named James Yoon, and he is a critique of the typecasting of Asian actors). By the way, the whole party ends up being pretty insensitive as Niko goes on a bizarre tangent about gods and whatnot, while Glenn assaults The Captain under the guise of his method acting process. The only silver lining in this very dark cloud comes in the form of Monique Thibault, the production designer of The Hamlet, who takes him to the Vietnamese village set. The sight of the detailed huts and livestock makes The Captain nostalgic. The Captain is so happy that he suggests putting the picture of his mother on the cemetery set to make it look more realistic and to make up for his absence when his mother passed away. At one point, Thibault says that all the flora and fauna have been shipped from the Philippines, which is probably a reference to the fact that Apocalypse Now was shot in the Philippines, not in Vietnam. Ironically enough, The Sympathizer was shot in Thailand, because the producers didn’t get the permission to shoot in Vietnam.

The Captain Is Jealous Of Lana’s Relationship With Jamie Johnson

Due to Glenn’s method acting, the shooting of the film doesn’t start on a good note as he gets too critical about his co-star, Jamie Johnson’s acting skills. To make matters worse, during a scene set in a Vietnamese village, The Captain points out that the Vietnamese extras aren’t actually Vietnamese. This causes Niko to freak out and ask his assistants to bring at least 100 Vietnamese extras in the next 48 hours. Niko’s overreaction is his way of hiding the fact that this confusion has been caused because he didn’t give the Vietnamese characters any lines. So, the casting agent thought they could hire any Asian-looking person and make them talk in their native language. But The Captain’s request to give them lines exposed the racism coursing through the veins of Niko and his White crew. Anyway, The Captain brings in the entire Vietnamese community, including The Major’s mother and Bon. Since The Captain is in charge of the lines that the Vietnamese actors are saying, he makes them talk about American imperialism. This method ends up being particularly effective in a scene where a South Vietnamese actor is pretending to be Vietcong. Since the rest of the crew doesn’t understand Vietnamese, they think that The Captain is doing a great job. 

While most of the Vietnamese cast is iffy on the ethics of the film, Bon is seen having a great time dying as different background characters. Even Lana seems to be giving a great performance, but The Captain becomes concerned about her proximity to her favorite star on the set, Jamie Johnson. He isn’t able to monitor Lana because he has to keep nudging Niko in the right direction so that the Vietnamese actors can have lines. That irks Niko, but he allows The Captain to decide what the actors are going to say. Niko’s treatment of Glenn stands in complete contrast to the way he handles The Captain. Niko is always aggressive with The Captain, but whenever Glenn talks, he acts as if he is hearing the word of God. By the way, there’s a pretty meta thing happening in The Sympathizer. I’m sure you have all seen Tropic Thunder, which was a parody of films like Apocalypse Now and Platoon. In that film, Ben Stiller’s character started acting like Marlon Brando, and Robert Downey Jr. had to snap him out of his trance-like state. And now, in The Sympathizer, Downey Jr. is dealing with yet another actor who is pretending to be Marlon Brando. Coming back to the plot, Yoon’s torture scene traumatizes The Captain and reminds him of the North Vietnamese girl who had to die to maintain his cover. The adulation that Yoon gets somehow prompts Glenn to say some racist stuff about Jamie. Amidst all this, The Captain notices that Lana is getting very close with Jamie. Niko notices the tension between Jamie, Glenn, The Captain, and Lana, and he decides to script a rape scene between Glenn and Lana to aggravate the whole situation.

Why Was The Captain Fired From Niko’s Film Set?

Glenn goes missing, thereby grinding the shooting to a halt. This allows Lana to chill out near the lake, but her quiet time is ruined by two men, Jamie and The Captain. Jamie wants to flirt with her, and The Captain doesn’t want Jamie to get too close to Lana. And while this is annoying for all parties involved, it leads to The Captain learning about the aforementioned rape scene. But the fact that Glenn has gone off the deep end and is going around killing animals (for real) causes the Captain to panic regarding Lana’s safety. He alerts Niko about the ongoing situation. However, since Niko is obsessed with pulling off a bombing sequence (a reference to the carpet bombing scene in Apocalypse Now), he doesn’t care about what The Captain has to say. To make matters worse, Niko reveals that Lana’s character’s name is Que-Linh (which is the name of The Captain’s mother), and according to him, the character’s defiling represents what America did to Vietnam. This infuriates The Captain, and he is essentially fired for not seeing Niko’s “vision.” This is what all White anti-war filmmakers are like. They are so convinced that they’re doing the right thing that they’re blind to the insensitivity of it all. They don’t realize that they’re reenacting the oppression that they think they’re criticizing. And that’s why stories about the oppressed should always be told through the lens of the oppressed, not the oppressors. 

At the end of The Sympathizer, the combination of Glenn leaving a dead buck’s severed head on Niko’s bed (which is probably a reference to Coppola’s The Godfather, which featured Marlon Brando in the titular role), Yoon’s warning about how Glenn tends to do things for real when it comes to on-screen violence (which is probably a reference to Last Tango in Paris, which also featured Marlon Brando), and the appearances of The Major’s ghost lead The Captain to believe that something wrong is going to happen during the rape scene. So, he intervenes and derails the shoot. It does somewhat improve the dynamic between Jamie and Glenn, but Lana reprimands the Captain for not trusting her. During the concluding moments of the episode, The Captain is either caught in the middle of the bombing sequence, or imagines being caught in the middle of the bombing sequence because he thinks that Mori would’ve found it to be appealing. Then, the narrative cuts to the present-day interrogation of The Captain, and he gets into an argument about how much Communist propaganda they’ve injected into American pop culture. Then, they proceed to get on their feet and sing a communist song. I didn’t quite understand the significance of this moment. My best guess is that it shows that films and shows can be used to manipulate people, and it’s never clear if the one on the helm is authentic or not. If you have any other interpretations of this scene, please feel free to share them with all of us.

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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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