The Sympathizer – S01E01 – Death Wish | Transcript

With the fall of Saigon imminent, the Captain juggles the communist party, the South Vietnamese army, his CIA handler and his conscience.
The Sympathizer - S01E01 - Death Wish

Original air date : April 14, 2024

With the fall of Saigon imminent, the Captain juggles the communist party, the South Vietnamese army, his CIA handler and his conscience.

* * *

(film projector clicking)

(footsteps approach)

(window opens)

(man speaking Vietnamese)

(speaking Vietnamese)

Captain: Start again.


I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces.

I was cursed to see every issue from both sides.

I was a communist agent implanted in the South.

(ambient street noise) Winter, 1975.

Claude asked me to meet him in front of the cinema.

He was a fan of Charles Bronson.

(rewinding) Yes, that’s right.

I know that last time, I’d said the movie was Emmanuelle, but she was leaving.

The movie was definitely “Death Wish.”

(street chatter)

(light, tense music playing)

speaker: Hey, you know what that is?

Jesus. (chuckles)


Man, you stand out like a sore thumb in this town.


But still, you manage to surprise me every time.

Yeah, training. Training, my friend. You’ll get there.

You know, by the time I’m through with you, you’ll be able to blend in with the Harvard rowing crew. (laughs)

Do I know what what is?


No, no, no, a death wish.

A death wish. Does that mean anything to you?

(nearby chatter)

Captain: But something was clearly off.


A death wish. Does that mean anything to you?

My wishes are all for life… despite everything.

Aww. Well, keep your chin up.

Chin up. This war’s not over yet. Come on.

I saw it stateside. Crude to say the least.

But a primer for existentialist philosophy, you know?

Plus a score by Herbie Hancock.

I mean, that is just fantastic.

You don’t hear that every day.

(officer speaking Vietnamese)

Claude: I-I think you’ll be cozy right about there.

This is my general preferred seating area.

Optimal sound, picture large enough to fill your field of vision.

I thought she was under my charge.

Where’s my translator?

(person clears throat)

He’s saying, “Where did you get the list?”

I think you’ll appreciate this.

Not at first, you won’t.

You’ll lock all this up in a little box,

but in the future, when you look in that box again,

and you will, it’ll remind you

that your contribution to this war

has been substantial.

So, keep your eyes glued to the action.

Be proud of yourself.

At least half as proud as I am of you.

Well, half proud is about my maximum.

Half. Exactly.

I am half and half.

Biracial, bilingual,

a synthesis of incompatibilities.

Claude, from the CIA,

was the key figure who taught me the ways of America.

He offered me education and the latest pop culture.

Like all his countrymen,

he thought he could buy my loyalty.

The key figure who taught me the ways

of the South Vietnamese was about to enter.

The General was in charge of the Secret Police.

His name sparked fear in the hearts of the North

and in much of the South too.

(officer speaking Vietnamese)

(General speaking Vietnamese)

Mm, I didn’t expect you to be here. You never come.

I thought it’d be good training for your

ambitious aide-de-camp.

It wasn’t my idea.

She was under my charge, and I obviously had to…

You obviously did very well in capturing her.

But you’re too soft on the follow-through

with someone as pigheaded as she.

Dumpling’s an old hand.

Let him show you the ropes. (sniffs)


(projector rolling)

(tense music playing)

I read your notes. Excellent quotations.

How do you know the Communist stuff so well?

Well, I study, sir.

General: One thing you can say about the commies,

they’re not hesitant to use forceful rhetoric.

It’s very seductive.

Like that quote from Trotsky:

“What is to be done?” “What is to be done?”

Uh-uh. Pretty sure that’s Lenin.

Well, to be accurate, it’s Chernyshevsky.

Lenin was just quoting him.

Ahh. Aha!

(crapulent major laughs)

General: Did you have any plans for after this?

Can you pick up my dry cleaning?

I need a pressed shirt for a dinner.


Captain: She looked at me with a particular hatred,

and she had every reason to.


(“Low Rider” by War playing)

(ambient street noise)

(office chatter)

♪ All my friends know the low rider ♪

♪ The low rider is a little higher ♪


♪ Low rider drives a little slower ♪

(“Low Rider” plays in car)

(ambient street noise)

(bicycle bell rings)

(sings along) ♪ Low rider knows every street, yeah ♪

(music stops)

(muffled chatter)

(baby crying)

(people struggling)

(items breaking)





(breathy laughs)

(helicopter passing)


Captain: I wasn’t impressed by the originality of her insult.

People have been spitting on me and calling me bastard

since I was a kid.

Although, sometimes, for variety,

they call me bastard before they spit.

(tense, jazz music playing)

(captive grunts)


(music fades out)

(captive whimpering)

Claude: You look queasy. Am I making you uncomfortable?



Come on, man. This is your fuckin’ assignment.

See it through.

You afraid to get your beak wet?

Show me. Show me, precious.

Get your nose in that shit

and nuzzle.

This is damp, man. It’s damp, it’s moist.

This is counterintelligence. It gets wet down here.

You should want this.

You should wanna taste the interrogation.



Mm-mm-mm… Here it comes.

Can smell it.


(tense music playing)

Yoo-hoo. There she is.

A little chocolate-covered treat.

Captain: So what did I do when those dogs pawed at her shit?

What could I do?

Tried to remember the last time I still felt beauty and hope.


Because what is it that makes this struggle worthy of enduring such sacrifice?

That’s right. I’m talking about hope.

The hope I feel when I’m with my family.

Not just my birth family, but my brothers.

My blood brothers. Bon and Man.





Captain: Our friend Bon’s father had been killed by the Viet Cong, so we knew we could never win him to the people’s cause.

Man and I had to hide our true identities.


(tense music playing)

“Except for you,” he said.

(music fades out)

(office chatter)


(phone ringing)

(secretary gasps)

General: How am I supposed to sound “encouraging” in my speech considering the imminent collapse of the entire Northern front?

General, the American Congressional delegation isn’t expecting military updates.

They know the situation all too well.

There is irony in who is to inspire whom.

Well, what they wanna hear, sir, is that we still share a purpose: the Mission Civilization, a faith in the good fight, the American way, et cetera.

A sophomore debate team for a Fort Leavenworth alum like yourself.

That is true, and my English is more and more impeccable since I hired you.

Is that not correct?

Impeccable. Tough word.

General: Let us show it off.

Write up some notes for the speech.

Understood, sir. I will argue vociferously against the American withdrawal.

America is not going anywhere.

Secretary Kissinger confirmed that.

He’s a man of his word, and a laureate of the Nobel Prize.

(anxious music playing)

And give me plenty of quotations in the speech.

Both sides.

Both sides?

You mean the Americans and ours?

No. I mean the commies and our morals.

Oh, shoot. Uh, I’m sorry.

Uh, when you mentioned, uh, commies’ morality, you reminded me of something. One second.

Hurry up. I’m starving!


(office chatter)

(music fades out)

This is it.

“Asian Communism and the Oriental Mode of Destruction”?

Richard Hedd?

It’s a gift from Claude.

He says it’s all the rage at Langley and the Pentagon.

If we pull a couple of choice quotes and you casually tear them apart, everybody will be impressed by your intellect, sir.

Who else but you would have such authority to speak on the Oriental mode of destruction?

I’ll make some crib notes.

I lived at the General’s house like a manservant, which was humiliating.

But fortunately, the old French colonial mansion was so massive, I still had enough privacy to do my real work.

(tense, mischievous music playing)

(ambient street noise)

(office chatter)

(phone ringing)

(door opens)


(curious music playing)

Must be a very serious gardening problem for you to call me at my office.

Man (over phone): When?

(hangs up)

(tense music playing)

(dental drill whirring)

(projector turns on)


(translator translating)

(captive chuckles)

See what I mean? Better than the movies.

(translator translating)


(murmurs, laughter)


Claude: Wow. Big talk.


(bomb whizzes)

news anchor (on TV): First reports claim that six persons were killed and 22 wounded in pre-dawn attacks in Central Saigon this morning.

(news report continues)

news anchor: The American Embassy is asking citizens to remain calm…

(doorbell rings)

Claude: Ha! Hey! How’s it hangin’, Hein?



Madame: It’s been a long time.

Sure. You know, nothing is more enticing than a taste of Madame’s pho, but, uh, it’s madness at the Embassy.

And, uh, nothing spells friendship like American liquor.


That’s for you, pal.

Captain: The General likes to impress Claude with his English skills, but sometimes, he wanted me to translate.

That’s when you knew things were serious.

Uh, Claude…

I got a gift for you, too, my friend.

Here’s the new Isley Brothers.

Ah… amazing.

Yeah, hot off the presses.


You know, it’s gotta have a little funk in the blood.

Yeah, quiet as it’s kept, you know, I’m 1/16th Negro.


Psst. (mouths)

The plane!

Request the plane.

Uh, we need a plane… to America.

So do we all. So do we all.

I’m afraid that all we can offer is a black flight, off the books, C-130.

That’s not enough.

If word gets out that you’re fleeing the country, you know there’ll be fuckin’ riots in the streets.

I’m not fleeing.

I’m retreating. Temporarily.

So keep this strictly confidential.

You must limit your passenger list.

(tense, suspicious music playing)

Captain: Uh… (awkward chuckle)


Captain: Uh…

uh, please, do not abandon us.


Uh… (chuckles)

Don’t forget to destroy the documents.

Contact me directly when you’re done.

I’ll get you two planes. Scout’s honor.

Captain: The General knew as well as I did that there would be no additional plane.

Claude knew that we knew.

And we knew that Claude knew.

What they didn’t know was that I had no intention of getting on that plane.

I’m tired. I think I’ll call it a night.

Hey, I’m telling you. When you check this out, you’re gonna love it.

Uh, on-on-on side two, right?

The second track, uh, they, they cover Todd Rundgren’s…

You know “Hello It’s Me”?

Please, just shut the fuck up.

Boom! (laughing) Boom!

(Captain grunting)

I could shoot the life out of you, you little prick.

You got big…

This is the full list. Select the passengers.

Captain: I’d risked so much to get that staff list, and the General himself just handed it over like the morning paper.

Only I knew that the General was soft on the inside, so he left it to me to do the hard work.

Instead of picking who would go, I began by crossing off who we would leave behind to face a harsh trial.

Was I feeling guilty? No.

I was eager to testify to their guilt at our revolutionary court.

(tense music playing)


It tastes cheap, but I better get used to it.

Our president has resigned.

That… coward… that foolish…

No, I-I can’t think of the English word.

There are many colorful options, but, uh, let’s just go with “chicken.”

General: Ah.

(Captain chuckles)

(dog barking)

Half of those confidential documents concern the U.S.

Those Americans started these crusades against communism, but now they’re bored, and we’ve been taken for suckers.


Final list?

Uh, yes. Made the selection based on loyalty and ability.

It was rare for the General to show his mutilated foot… to expose his vulnerabilities.

It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

I have one personal request.

Could we spare three spots for my friend… Bon?

General: Ah.

Captain: His son is my godson.

If all of our soldiers were as brave as the Airborne, we would’ve won this war.

Thank you, sir. (chuckles)

We will live to fight again.

But for now, we’re well and truly…

“Fucked”… will work just fine.

(Captain chuckles)

Do you know of any toast from your college years in America for a future that looks unclear?

“Here’s,” uh, “blood in your eye.”

I have no idea what that means.

(Captain chuckles)

Here’s blood in your eye.

Captain: Making the list was far from simple.

To select the most capable officers and to help them escape would be counter-revolutionary.

But to select the most incompetent would naturally raise the General’s suspicion.

So, I selected those incapable who appeared capable.

(crapulent major crying)

(drawer opens)

(snarky music playing)

(office chatter)

(music stops)

(ambient street noise)

(crowd shouting)

(cars honking)

(announcer speaking Vietnamese)

(explosion booms)

(people chattering)

(music playing at beer garden)


(friends repeating motto)



Captain: In defense of this corny moment,

I would like to clarify that we established this tradition when we were 14 years of age.

(Captain groans)

(grunting, laughing)

(distant explosion)

(music fades out)

(light guitar music playing at beer garden)

(nearby explosion)

(dog barking)

(nervous chattering)

(singing in Vietnamese)

(crowd singing along)


(singing, music stops)

(indistinct chatter)

(music, singing resumes)

Bon: Hey!

(soldiers grunting)

(music, singing resumes)

(glass shatters)

(tense music playing)


(vocalist singing)

(soldier yells)

(bells tolling)

(“Le coeur au bout des doigts” by Jacqueline Taieb playing in bedroom)

You better listen to your mother.

Everyone’s ready to go. You’re holding them up.

At least turn off that silly song.

(turns up volume)



(clicks tongue)

Why can’t we go to Paris?

(turns off music)

‘Cause in Paris, you wouldn’t be able to use all those handy

English expressions I taught you, hm?

Come on. You’ll like America.

Young people do. I did.


(ambient nature sounds)

(quiet chattering)

(person coughs)

(patriotic music playing)

(vocalists sing in native dialect)

(starts engine)

(music stops)

(ambient nature sounds)

(tense music playing)

(Duc crying)

(convoy approaching)

(crowd yelling)

(Duc crying)

(soldiers, crowd yelling)

(helicopter passes)

(sirens wailing)

Sir, I guess this is where we part ways.

I trust that, under your able leadership, your group will get away just fine.

You’re in front of the line.

Thank you, Claude. And thank America.

Yeah, I’ll pass that along.

What about you? Do you have an escape plan?

Come on, we’re CIA.

We’ll figure somethin’ out.

Oh, boy.

Gosh, think I’ll take ya up on that.

Leave the keys in the ignition when you leave it.

I would not want ’em to damage it when they steal it.

Sure thing.

(Captain chuckles)

General’s a good guy.

You’re right.

Guess he forked out a lot of his personal stash to bring along a lowly subordinate like myself.


(Captain chuckles)

Yeah, we should’ve slipped out in the night before we had to run away.

I don’t like it. Makes me blue.

It’s like that Dion song.

(sings) ♪ As I walk along ♪

♪ I wonder what went wrong with our love ♪

both (singing): ♪ A love that was so strong ♪

(both laughing)

Oh, my little runaway. I guess that’s you.

(Claude clears throat)

Del Shannon.

That was Del Shannon.

Teacher’s pet. Alright.

See ya stateside.

(revs engine)

(Duc crying)

soldier: The buses will come to transport you to the plane.

If you can’t understand me, find someone who can.

Stop asking the U.S. Marine Corps for food and drinks.

This is not a Burger King.



(flares booming)

(indistinct chatter)

soldier: Plane 34! Plane 34, now loading!

Soldier: Right on this line right there.

Keep it movin’.

Yup. Right there…

(Duc crying)

(indistinct chatter)

Plane 34 is reserved for my group only!

Who are these people?

Loadmaster: Ain’t no first class here today, General.

Two to a seat. Vietnamese asses ain’t that big anyhow.

You bastard! Who bought you off?!

(nearby explosions)

(General huffs)

loadmaster: Come on now. We ain’t got time for second guesses.

Nut to butt. Nut to butt!

(siren wailing)

(bus creaking)

(suspenseful music playing)

(explosion booms)

(all exclaim)

(tires screeching)

(all exclaim)

(tires screeching)

(windows shattering)


(tense music playing)

(panicked chattering)

(Duc crying)

(explosions continue)

(vehicle honking)

(people screaming)

(Linh screams)

(Duc screaming)

(heavy breathing)


(gunfire, explosions)

crew chief: Let’s go, let’s go! Move it, move it, move it!

Everybody on! Find a seat!

(Duc crying)

(all panting)

(explosion booms)

(people screaming)

Crew chief: Move, move, move!


(helicopter beeping)

Crew chief: Get on the plane! Your friends are gone, man!

(gunfire, explosions)

(tense, somber music playing)

(all yelling)

(muffled yelling)




(insects buzzing, chirping)

(music playing in distance)

(“Runaway” by Del Shannon playing)

(Captain humming)

(singing along softly) ♪ I’ma walkin’ in the rain ♪

♪ Tears are fallin’ and I feel the pain ♪

♪ Wishin’ you were here by me ♪

♪ To end this misery ♪

Del Shannon: ♪ I wonder ♪

♪ I wo-wo-wo wonder ♪

♪ Why, why-why-why-why-why ♪

♪ She ran away ♪

♪ And I wonder where she will stay ♪

♪ My little runaway ♪

♪ I run-run-run-run runaway ♪

(song fades out)

(tense music playing)

(music softens)

(music intensifies)


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