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The Sympathizer





Kennedy Unthank

TV Series Review

“You love America,” a Communist-supporting Vietnamese man named Man accuses his friend. “Admit it.”

The accused, known to us as simply “The Captain,” looks down before answering. “I was fascinated and repulsed.”

And it’s true. The Captain can see both sides of the coin in the Vietnam War—the good and the bad—in every belligerent nation: North Vietnam. South Vietnam. The United States.

It’s the defining trait of who The Captain is. He’s biracial and bilingual. He’s a mole spying on the South Vietnamese armies to assist the Communist forces in the North—but he’s good friends with Americans and South Vietnamese alike. He’s enraptured by American culture but still wants to support North Vietnam.

Some might say it makes The Captain a perfect, unbiased informant. Others might say it makes him wishy-washy. Still others might look at him as a traitor. But for The Captain, the world is a complex place, filled with shades of gray. He feels that, to portray all those shades fairly, his approach needs to be nuanced.

Of course, when he’s imprisoned by the North Vietnamese and forced to write a confession to absolve the crimes they allege he committed, they aren’t really interested in nuance and sympathy.

But that’s all The Captain knows to give.

The Third Side of the Same Coin

The Sympathizer puts us right in the middle of a story about a man who stands right in the middle of most things. And all that time sympathizing has left him a conflicted man.

The series is based on Viet Thanh Nguyen’s work of the same name. And though only the first episode of this HBO miniseries has been released as of this review’s publication, we expect it will continue to follow the book’s plot.

And if that’s the case, then viewers can expect, content-wise, more blood, violence and death. (We’ve already seen plenty, by the way.) Based on casting call information for the show, the book’s sex and nudity will also show up on screen. And swearing, both in Vietnamese and in English, will continue as well.

The Sympathizer puts us in the shoes of a man who views the world with enough nuance to condemn the bad and praise the good of any country and ideology. But when it comes to content, “nuance” isn’t the word we’d use to describe this show.

Episode Reviews

Apr. 14 – S1, E1: “Death Wish”

The Captain begins writing his story, telling of his time as a spy in Saigon.

People die when they’re hit by artillery blasts. One explosion kills a mother and her baby, and we see both of their bodies covered in blood. These explosions likewise destroy a couple buildings and knock over a bus. A helicopter full of soldiers crashes. A man threatens to commit suicide. We see the body of a man who had been shot in the head.

A woman is beaten by men as they interrogate her for information. She bites the Captain’s finger, and her mouth is forced open by a knife as they attempt to prevent her from swallowing evidence. When she succeeds, she’s forced to defecate in front of them so they can retrieve it.

Someone quips that people are never satisfied: “Even in heaven, we’d complain that it wasn’t as warm as hell.”

The Captain and his friends drink beer, and one of them later stumbles away intoxicated. People smoke cigars and cigarettes.

The f-word is used eight times, and the s-word is used six times. Words like “a–,” “d–n,” “h—,” “b–tard,” “pr-ck” and “p-ss” are occasionally used. Jesus’ name is used in vain once.

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Kennedy Unthank

Kennedy Unthank studied journalism at the University of Missouri. He knew he wanted to write for a living when he won a contest for “best fantasy story” while in the 4th grade. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that he was the only person to submit a story. Regardless, the seed was planted. Kennedy collects and plays board games in his free time, and he loves to talk about biblical apologetics. He thinks the ending of Lost “wasn’t that bad.”

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