The Sympathizer summary and ending explained

 The Sympathizer follows a communist spy planted in South Vietnam who flees the country at the end of the war to continue his work in the US. The series is streaming on Max.

Warning: This article contains heavy spoilers

Plot summary

The protagonist of the show, now confined to a reeducation camp in Vietnam, tells the story of how he ended up there in the form of a confession.

Referred to as the Captain, he is half-Vietnamese and half-French, never fully accepted by either side. His French father has been absent from his life.

His confession begins near the end of the Vietnam War. The protagonist is a captain in the secret police of South Vietnam, working as a right-hand man to the General. 

A CIA agent named Claude becomes his mentor, teaching him about American pop culture and spycraft. He sends the Captain to study in the US.

What no one knows is that the Captain has been spying on the General for North Vietnam, and his true loyalties lie with the communists.

The Captain has two childhood friends, Bon and Man. The three of them consider each other blood brothers, a bond that comes with the promise of lifelong loyalty.

While Bon has fought on South Vietnam’s side, Man is also a communist like the Captain. In fact, he is the Captain’s handler.

Bon, who has a wife and a son, remains unaware of his best friends’ secret work, believing them to be on the same side as him.

As it becomes evident that the fall of Saigon is imminent, anti-communist individuals, who had allied with the US, start fleeing the country.

The General gets to take a group of his subordinates, which includes the Captain. The Captain does not want to leave, but Man assigns him to follow the General to the US.

The Captain is to keep an eye on the General’s activities and report back in case the General plans an attack after the end of the war.

Bon and his family accompany the Captain, but Bon’s wife and child die in an air raid before boarding the plane, resulting in Bon withdrawing into himself.

In the US, the General and his people live in a refugee camp as they wait for Claude to reach out to them. Their life there is a stark contrast to the luxury and privilege they enjoyed in Vietnam.

The General loses the support of many of his followers. Meanwhile, the Captain’s old college professor agrees to sponsor him.

While the Captain and Bon, who is still coping with grief and dependent on the Captain, move out of the camp to an apartment in Los Angeles, the General’s family takes much longer.

The Captain begins a relationship with his boss, Sofia Mori, an older Japanese-American woman. He also continues to send secret messages to Man, keeping him updated.

After wasting his days drinking, the General opens a liquor shop. He also becomes convinced that there is a spy among his people, spreading lies about him.

The General tasks the Captain with finding the spy. Scared of getting caught, the Captain falsely accuses Major Oanh.

The Major is only guilty of starting a side business selling expired candy. The Captain is ordered by the General to assassinate Major Oanh. 

During this mission, he discovers that Bon was a trained assassin back home. Bon recovers and helps the Captain plan the assassination. 

The Captain plants evidence to frame Major Oanh and carries out the assassination, but not without feeling weighed down by guilt.

Claude then introduces the Captain to a famous filmmaker named Nicos, who is going to make a film about the Vietnam War.

The Captain becomes part of the film as a consultant. He wishes to use his position to incorporate the Vietnamese perspective into the film.

The General’s daughter, Lana, runs away from home and joins the Captain on the film set, hoping to secure minor roles in the film. 

Bon and several other supporters of the General also feature in the film. However, the partnership between the Captain and Nicos doesn’t last long. 

Differences arise when Nicos hires Lana to act in a rape scene and gives her character the name of the Captain’s mother.

This leads to the Captain getting fired, but before he can leave the set, he is caught up in an explosion that almost kills him.

He survives and receives a compensation of fifteen thousand dollars. Upon returning home, he finds out that the General’s wife, Madame, now runs a profitable restaurant. 

Additionally, the General is plotting a scheme to reclaim his homeland, and he is using the restaurant to facilitate this plan.

The Captain also discovers that Sofia is now dating Sonny, the Captain’s college classmate. The Captain and Sonny never got along due to ideological differences.

The Captain informs Man of the General’s plans but assures him that he will take care of the problem. To do that, he leaks the General’s plans to Sonny.

Sonny is an investigative journalist who writes for a Vietnamese newspaper. His news piece portrays the General as giving false hope to his people.

It is only later that the Captain finds out that the General has already assembled an armed army. A congressman named Ned Godwin is funding the General’s army.

Bon is also part of the General’s army. In fact, he will be going on a recon mission to Vietnam, much to the Captain’s dismay.

The Captain then works with Sonny to foil the General’s plan. He manages to make acquaintance with the congressman and gather proof of his association with the General.

The Captain takes the proof to Sonny and admits to being a communist spy who has been betraying the General. 

He then kills Sonny not only because the General had asked him to do so but also because Sofia left him for Sonny.

The Captain intended to send the proof to a contact of Sonny’s at the L.A. Times, but he never does so, as the mission gives Bon a purpose to live.

Lana, who has still not returned home to her parents, is trying to make it as a singer. The Captain almost sleeps with her but stops himself at the last minute.

Sofia figures out that the Captain killed Sonny, and the Captain decides to join Bon on the mission to protect him, even though Man asks him not to return.

The night before the mission starts, Claude tells the Captain that the CIA heard his confession to Sonny; they know that he has been a spy all along.

Claude asks the Captain to confess instead of going on this suicide mission, but the Captain refuses, determined to join Bon on the mission.

Ending explained:

The reeducation camp

The recon mission goes horribly wrong. While everyone else is killed, the captain convinces Bon to surrender to the communists. 

The two friends are sent to a reeducation camp. As the Captain tells them that he too is a communist and left the country to spy on the enemy, he is kept in solitary confinement. 

The Commandant there orders him to write his confession, which he is made to rewrite over and over again until it becomes perfect to be presented to the Commissar.

Just like that, a year passes, with the Captain perfecting his confession under the guidance of the Commandant, whose aim is to reeducate him. 

Once satisfied with the confession he has written, the Captain is no longer kept in solitary confinement and reunites with Bon, who is still defiant.

However, the Captain then speaks his mind in front of the other prisoners, so he is taken to the Commissar, a man who keeps his face hidden under a mask. 

The Commissar turns out to be Man, whose face was burned by napalm on Liberation Day. He has been trying to go easy on Bon and the Captain. 

Man requested the highest post at this reeducation camp when he heard that his two friends were being sent there. However, he is being watched by the Party. 

He cannot let Bon and the Captain push him too far without the Commandant getting suspicious, so he orders the Captain to be tortured. 

Man’s advice to the Captain is to confess the whole truth, even though the Captain keeps claiming that he has already confessed everything.

A lesson learned

Despite the torture, the Captain has nothing new to confess to Man. As a result, Man makes him watch the rape scene from Nicos’ film. 

The Captain then recalls the rape of a communist woman he had witnessed before the end of the war. He had not been entirely honest about the incident.

As the Captain was a communist spy planted in the secret police, he did nothing to save the woman from the General’s men. 

The woman is also a prisoner at the same reeducation camp. The two of them are made to read each other’s confessions.

Once he confesses the truth about the incident, Man questions him about what is more precious than freedom and independence. 

On his last attempt, the Captain gives the right answer: nothing is more precious than freedom and independence—a lesson that leads the Captain to reflect on the revolution he was loyal to.

The Captain’s freedom

Despite everything, Man still remembers the pledge he made to his blood brothers. He keeps Bon and the Captain’s picture tucked inside his mask. 

He comes up with a way to save his friends by allowing the Captain to tie him up and take his mask while he pretends to be unconscious.

Wearing the mask and posing as the Commissar, the Captain rescues Bon, who is haunted by the ghosts of all the people he has killed, much like the Captain. 

The two of them then easily leave the camp as Man watches them go. The Captain decides to confess the truth to Bon about being a spy and the Commissar being Man. 

However, Bon refuses to hear any more confessions and is satisfied with knowing that the Captain is his friend.

They are then smuggled out of the country on a cramped boat, with their destination unknown and the chances of survival only 50%. 

On the boat, as the Captain sees the ghosts of all the people who lost their lives in the war, he realizes that he has to reeducate himself.

Also Read: The Sympathizer review: An entertaining drama despite its drawbacks

More from The Envoy Web