The Sympathizer – S01E02 – Good Little Asian | Transcript

As he adjusts to life in Los Angeles, the Captain is forced to find someone to implicate when the General begins to suspect a mole.

Original air date : April 21, 2024

The Captain and his fellow Vietnamese refugees attempt to settle into life in Los Angeles. The defeated General grows suspicious and demands the Captain locate a mole he believes has infiltrated their ranks. While the Captain narrows in on a target, he reconnects with his former teacher, Professor Hammer, and meets his beguiling assistant, Ms. Mori.

* * *

(film projector rolling)

(speaking Vietnamese)

(Captain breathing heavily)

(door opens, closes)

Captain: “Comrade Commandant, I pick it up in America, but with my heart still in my homeland.”

(“Hello L.A., Bye-Bye Birmingham” by John Randolph Marr playing in car)

(song fades out)

(aircraft passing)

(indistinct shouting)




(song continues)

♪ Hello L.A., bye, bye Birmingham ♪



(indistinct shouting)


(tense music playing)

(indistinct shouting)


(music fades out)

(birds chirping)


(lights switch off)

(alarm beeping)

(bay door closing)

(song continues)

♪ Hello L.A., bye, bye Birmingham ♪

♪ Hello! ♪

Singers: ♪ L.A. ♪

John: ♪ Bye, bye Birmingham ♪

Singers: ♪ Hello L.A. ♪

♪ Bye, bye Birmingham ♪

♪ Hello L.A. ♪

(music stops)

(child laughing)

(bell ringing)

(“Hangin’ On” by The Cantrells playing in store)

Do you have any rice starch?

Nope. We got cornstarch.

‘Cause this is America, not Japan.

(customer chuckles)

Can of cola, 88 cents…

Captain: And so it was that Man, with his rice starch, and I, with my cornstarch, each of us wrote a coded letter using a product appropriate to our locale.

…and a kiiddy plane. That’s 10.62.

Captain: I would send the letter to my contact in Paris, my so-called “Parisian Aunt,” and that contact would relay it on to Man in Hanoi.

It comforted me to imagine Man reading my letters in his efficient new office.

(office phone rings)

(“M*A*S*H” playing on TV)

“Ma chère tante, Texas is scorchingly dry, which helps to evaporate any doubt I might have had about leaving my home.


Captain/Man: …”in our escape, Bon lost his family.”

Man: “The rockets from the savage commies spared neither woman nor child. They were both buried in Guam.”

Captain: To form my coded message, I’d scan that repulsive book by Richard Hedd to find the right words.

Once the word was found, I’d make note of the page.

Then, like coordinates, I’d count the line and the word.

(tense music playing)

(quietly) Forty-two.

Six, six.

The coded numbers would reveal themselves with a brush of iodine solution.

With three sets of numbers for each word, the sentences had to be concise.

Even Hemingway would’ve had to restrain himself.

(quietly counting to himself)

Reporter (on TV): In international news, it has been two months now since the fall of Saigon.

(beds vibrating loudly)

Captain: Surrendering myself to the merciless prodding of the magic fingers and the nightly news, I couldn’t help thinking about the General and that awful incident.

Wait, I’m sorry. I forgot.


Reporter (on TV): Saigon, April the 30th, eight o’clock.

Captain: I need to go back to Fort Chaffee and tell you about the refugee camp in Arkansas, where we first set foot on the U.S. mainland.

Reporter: The first North Vietnamese troops entered the city, packed into trucks that flew the red and blue flag of the Communist Provisional Revolutionary Government.

General, perhaps the dress uniform is not such a good idea.

General: My people have been through a terrible ordeal.

Seeing their beloved General in full dress-uniform will make them feel fortified and reassured.



Any word from Claude yet?

Uh, uh, my apologies, but he did mention he’d get your family settled in L.A. as soon as possible, or the settlement agency does have spots in Dallas.

General: No, I’m takin’ my people to sunny Los Angeles.

(indistinct chatter)

Look, there! Let me take care of that vermin!


(indistinct chatter)

(light jazz music playing)

(fly buzzing)

General: And you? Claude is also sponsoring you, right?

Captain: I’m not a priority, but in the meantime, I’ve reached out to an old mentor of mine in Los Angeles.

Don’t worry, I’ll catch up with you out there before long.

You certainly will, but if by any chance your mentor fails you, reach out to me at once.

(speaking Vietnamese)

General: Ah!



(tense jazz music playing)

(wind blowing)

General: Cap, my cap!

(mob shouting)

General: Get in! Get the fuck in there!

Why on Earth are those women blaming me?

(flies buzzing)

Captain: Maybe they received some misinformation.

What kind of misinformation?

About, about you and the organization.

How we lost through corruption and incompetence.

How the enemy’s revenge was fueled by cruelty and torture.

Who? Who is spreading these lies?

You know how it is. Malcontents.

The-The people for whom nothing’s ever good enough.

Someone who knows me very well is out to get me.

(sighs) General, these women are just angry…

(Captain gagging)

…because of the maggots.

Then why attack me?

Are you suggesting I am a maggot?

(Captain groans)

Then why else would my people turn on me?

Unless someone has infiltrated our ranks.

A saboteur, a sympathizer, a spy!

A spy?

A germ that stowed away on our plane!

But it was you who selected the passengers, and so you who is gonna recheck that list and report back to me with everything you find.

A full security check. Leave no stone unturned.

(mob shouting)

Captain: When the General’s paranoia is sparked, the only way to keep safe is to keep out of striking distance.

Fortunately, it wasn’t long before an answer came from that professor of mine from my college days agreeing to sponsor me and Bon.

Perfect, I thought.

I’ll go ahead and prepare a path and the General’s paranoia will naturally dissipate.

Anyway, that’s what I believed, at the time.

(train horn blowing)

(indistinct chatter)

(Lana grunts)

I don’t know what to say, sir.

To get out before you, it’s really, uh…

Scouts are always needed.

(Bon snoring lightly)

(distant chanting)

(birds chirping)

Ah, what a blessing.

Thank you for defying time and nature.

How can it be, despite the depredations of war, that you’re still the winsome lad I remember?

So, presently,

I will introduce you to my secretary, who will also be your boss.

Let’s see how Ms. Mori responds to my daily greeting.

Oh, konichiwa, Ms. Sofia Mori-san. Ikaga desu ka?

(softly) Watch, watch.

Sofia Mori: This is America.

If you don’t wanna speak English,

go back to your own country.

But it’s a privilege to have been born a Japanese, Ms. Mori.

Please do learn a word of your lovely language, for me.

Sofia: Mm. Dou itashimashite.

(office phone ringing)

By the way, this is…

Oriental Studies Department, Chairman’s office.

I think he’s busy right now. Can I take a message?

Captain: Wow. (chuckles)

Not bad, huh?

Quite the transformation from a decade ago.

Do you remember this bottle?

You gave it to me as a thank you when you returned home from Vietnam.

After my mother died.

Feel grateful to you for the ticket, by the way.

My pleasure.

Funny thing is, you have arrived just in the nick of time.

Our foes are scheming to phase us out

and fold the department into Asian-American studies,

God help us.

They say, they say we’re colonizers and imperialists.

I mean, they object to the very word “Oriental”

which is derived from the Latin “for the rising sun.”

Right? So, pray tell me,

what is objectionable about the sunrise?

I mean, you’re Oriental.

Well, half.

Well, exactly my point.

The perfect symbiosis of Oriental and Occidental.

I’m not sure I see myself that way. (chuckles)

I have an idea.

And this will be good for you,

dare I say, therapeutic.


So, (clears throat) on the left side,

I want you to make a list of all your Oriental qualities.

And then with the right side, make a list that

contradicts those qualities.

Right? So, all your Occidental ones.

Well, one can see the Oriental side of you in your…

your snug little nose,

and yet the Occidental side peeks through in those

lucid gray-green eyes.

Half-breeds are the future, my dear boy.

Oh, listen, I’m having a little gathering tomorrow night,

little soiree courting potential donors to our program.

I want you to come.

(Captain chuckles)

Let’s see.

Oh. A few gently worn garments for your perusal.

Take them if you like.

Sorry, I don’t mean to be practically streaking.

Here’s another little bag. And my…

And by the way, here’s my tailor’s address.

If there’s any alterations, he’s right there, sweet sir.

Um, I didn’t think you’d read this sorta book.

What sorta book?

Racist rubbish.


(knocking on door)

A reporter is here…

Professor Hammer: A reporter?

…for an interview.

I have an interview?

Did you feel the support and solidarity of American student activists?

(Sofia typing)

(chuckles) Not so much.

Student Reporter: We were all marching. Ya know, we,

we were on your side.

Really? And which side was that?

Uh… the side of the Vietnamese people.

Oh. Which people?

The people in the North or the people in the South?

Well, all of them, I guess.

Guess we all look the same after all, right?

I mean… I could be Viet Cong for all ya know.

Undercover. How would you know?

(tense music playing)

(laughs) I’m not, of course. I love America.


So, did you kill anyone?

(“I’ve Got a Happy Heart” by Susan Raye playing)

♪ Just take a look around you ♪

♪ And you won’t feel quite so sad ♪

♪ I’ve got a happy heart, I feel like I could… ♪

Captain: With my own hands?

♪ I think if someone shot me that I wouldn’t… ♪

No. No, I never killed anyone. (chuckles)

Student Reporter: You were here before as an exchange student.

How does it feel to come back after 10 years?

Captain: I’m in exile from my home.

I feel like I’ve exchanged hope for despair.

(Sofia typing)

student reporter: Smile.

Excuse me, ma’am. C-Could you clear frame, just for a second?

Change your frame, honey.

Captain: “Ma chère tante,

“I have finally made it to Los Angeles,

“where I now reside in a quaint pied-à-terre

“in the heart of the city.

“Not convenient to anything in particular, but neat.

“I am still doing my best to take care of Bon,

“but it’s not easy.

“He barely speaks.

“I hesitate to use such language when writing to you,

“but the motherfucker won’t even clean himself.

I’m talking filth layered on filth to the point where…”

(“Slop” by Charles Mingus playing at event)

(guests chattering)

Are those chopsticks in your hair?

Fuck off. Deviled egg?

(Captain chuckles)

(“I’ve Got a Happy Heart” plays)

(“Slop” resumes playing)

Well, Professor Hammer’s parties always start off with these.

He likes to compare himself to an egg.

What, white on the outside, yellow on the inside?

(Captain chuckles)

“O Captain! My Captain!”

You made it! Fabulous! You look spiffy.

Everyone, this is the young protégé I was telling you about.

His mother was Vietnamese; his father was French.

Lovely combination, as you can see, but complicated.

Isn’t that right, dear boy?

If only you knew.

Well, I gave our young Captain an assignment

to list his Occidental and Oriental traits,

right, to see if he might begin to untangle

the complex knot of contradictions

at the core of his psyche.

Why don’t you share your discovery with us?

Jeff, can we stop the music?

We, we… Yeah, we…

(music stops)


(birds chirping)

(Captain clears throat)


The crux of the issue has always been about the contradiction.

The, uh, Occidental side of me sees contradiction

as something to overcome,

but the Oriental side as something to endure.

(guests murmur)

Hence, the Oriental side of me

is never afraid to accept contradiction

when faced by an unexpected turn of events and say…

“I expected this.”

But the Occidental side says, “What? Why did this happen?”

and immediately begins to analyze.

(quiet laughter)

The Oriental me…


comfortable in a crowd…


but the Occidental me is always ready to take the stage.

I think in two frames of mind:

“Either/or” to the Occidental me

and “both/and” to the Oriental me.

So, accordingly, half of me values independence

while the other half appreciates interdependence.


Also, the Oriental side of…

Alright, I-I think we all get the picture.

That was great. Yeah, uh…

(Captain clears throat)

Isn’t he, isn’t he great? Uh, Ms. Mori?

I’m sorry, I’m so distracted with your kimono.

Do you mind? Come here. I’m sorry.

It’ll just take a sec.

(guests murmuring)

See, the traditional Japanese,

the nape of the neck, unaji,

is one of the most erotic parts of the human body.

Oh, and they loved exposing

their erotic parts to complete strangers.

(quiet laughter)

No, I-I’m just saying, you really should learn

more about your heritage, that’s all.


I am from Gardena.

No one asked JFK if he spoke Gaelic

and ate potatoes every night.


(guests chattering)

(“At Midnight” by Paul Lenart & Billy Novick playing at event)

(ambient nature sounds)

Captain: He still acts like a feudal lord. (chuckles)

I mean, this is the ’70s!

Was my unaji disappointing?

Were you not peeping at it rather eagerly?

I couldn’t stand up to him back there.

I’m sorry.

That’s okay.

You play your part without a flaw.

I mean your Fresh Off the Boat role.

You know you’re very blunt?

It’s not very “Oriental” of you.

I’m an American.

I see you.

I see how you act around our dear Professor,

always smiling like the Good Asian Student you used to be.

I recognize the suit.

You wound me, Ms. Mori. But I can take it.

When faced by an unexpected turn of events,

I say,

“Huh… I expected this.”

What are you concealing?


Are you hungry?

(clears throat) No, thanks.

Sofia: Come on, try it.

Uh, not a fan of cephalopods.


(Captain chuckles)

What is it with you?

You don’t like eggs, you don’t eat squid.

Speaker: Tén ten.

Didn’t you get the memo?

We Asians are supposed to eat everything.

(chuckles) Oh, my.

(speaking Vietnamese)

I know I’m gonna regret telling you this story.

Oh, embrace your Occidental side:

Confessing secrets is the most exciting thing in the world.


So, my mother was making squid as a special treat.

It wasn’t until she had cleaned the innards,

that she realized we were out of fish sauce.

So off she went to the market

and I was left, negligently, all alone,

just me… and the squid.

Sofia: You-You don’t say?

Oh, shit. Is that even possible?

(mischievous music playing)

(Young Captain panting, moaning)

Captain: I marked my violated partner

to keep myself from mistakenly eating it when cooked.

But even a 14-year-old boy should’ve had the foresight to realize

that if I didn’t eat it, someone else would.


(“At Midnight” continues)

I’m sure some people would find the story…


You know what’s disgusting?

Is the massacre of three million people.

Torture is disgusting. But masturbation?

Sure, I fucked a squid and I enjoyed it.

I’m not ashamed.

I believe the world would be a better place

if we blushed at the word “murder”

as much as we did at the word “masturbation.”

I want you to be completely honest with me.

Since then, how many squid have you screwed?


(gasps) Squid fucker! Oh, he’s a squid fucker.

You kinky little bastard. (laughs)

♪ No, I don’t wanna love you ♪

(“Anti Love Song” by Betty Davis playing)

(moaning) ♪ ‘Cause I know how you are ♪

(heavy breathing)


♪ That’s why I haven’t called you ♪

(speaking Vietnamese)


(heavy breathing)


(song concludes)

(birds chirping)

(ambient street noise)


(vehicle approaching)


Captain: General, welcome to your new home.

(General snoring lightly)


(Madame sighs)

(light jazz music playing)

(birds chirping)

(speaking Vietnamese)

(Crapulent Major sniffing)

(vehicle honks)

General: Hey!

Done yet?

Captain: Done what?

What we talked about at the camp. Goddamnit!

I mean (quietly) the spy.

Oh. (chuckles)


I’ve been thinkin’ about it, General, and, uh…

maybe there is no spy after all.

What are you talking about? Of course, there is. Huh?

But how can you be sure?

Is there anybody back home who could, mm, confirm this?

(light, tense music playing)

I was walking on the sidewalk

and you know what fell in front of me?

One of those toilet tank covers,

a white ceramic thing, a fucking heavy thing.

And that thing fell all the way from the fifth floor.

Don’t you get it?

An assassination attempt.

I’ll look into it.

Don’t just “look into it.”

Hunt the traitor down,

deactivate the rebel activity.

Neutralize the threat. Do I make myself clear?

Yes, sir.

(quietly) But I’m sure I can handle it.

Sofia: What?


You’ve been kinda distracted these last few weeks.

(“Capricho Árabe” by Francisco Tárrega playing quietly in room)

(baby crying in the distance)

(both chuckle)

You’re cool.

You’re the coolest woman in the whole world.

I know.

I have a confession.

Oh, I like confessions.

You know, you’re a very good listener.

The slight wrinkling of the eyes when you smile.

Oh, the encouraging nod.

You let people go on thinking

you’re perfectly in agreement with everything,

all without saying a word yourself.

(Captain chuckles)

What’s your mother like?

Hm? My mother?


My mother’s gone.


She was from a small village in the North,

couldn’t go to school.

A very devout Catholic.

She could work miracles in the kitchen.


Especially with a squid.

With a squid?

(both laughing)

A good teacher to her son.

Doesn’t sound like we have a fucking thing in common.

(Captain chuckles)

And yet they say, for a man to be attracted to a woman,

she must share at least one big thing in common with his mom.

Maybe that’s not true.

Hm, maybe it is.

Trinh, a girl I dated back in Saigon…

she would pronounce her vowels just like my mother.

And Nicole…

my girlfriend when I studied in the States,

she, uh, she had these long fingers just like my mom.

And you, you and my mother…

you share this…

surreptitious sense of optimism,

which is foolish and yet lavish.

Ms. Mori… I think…


We’ve been fucking for a while now.


I think I’m falling in love with you.

You sneak. You stole my confession.

Listen, if we get involved…

Aren’t we already involved?

Emotionally involved…

you and I are fucking.

I’m 46 years old.

I’ve done things my way my whole life.

I am not about to change now.

Fall in love at your peril

’cause the only kind of love I believe in is free love.

In other words, this love…

is free.

(Captain chuckles)

(keys jingling)

Oh, hello there.

Uh, this is Bon.

Oh, blood brother.

(ambient street noise)

(outside chatter)

(tense music playing)

(Captain sighs)

Oh, uh, so apparently, our General

is opening a liquor store. (chuckles)

(siren wailing)

“Focus. Don’t ever underestimate the General.

“Remember how he swallowed his contempt for your mixed race

“when he knew he could use you?

“He’ll do whatever it takes to get his way.

“You wrote him off, big mistake.

“We’re tracking communications with his contacts.

Be careful, my friend.”

Who could know me so well?

You’ve never executed someone in the street…

have you?

No, I’m not saying I’ve done such a thing,

but the nature of what we were doing back in Saigon…

How could you be so slow?

Uh, it… it’s written in English.

It could just be some racist asshole.

No, someone continues

to deliberately undermine me at every turn.

It could just be the Armenian

from the liquor store at the corner.

Oh, you’re saying the Armenian liquor store owner in L.A.

conspired against me

and had the women at the camp in Arkansas

throw a slipper at me?


Today is your one chance to reestablish my leadership

as my Chief of Communications.

I’m sorry?

I just appointed you.

(light jazz music playing)

Get the gun!

(door bell rings)

(indistinct chatter)

(camera clicking)


(camera clicks)

(door bell rings)

(camera clicks)

(“Hai Cánh Phuong Buon” by Truong Hai playing in store)

(indistinct chatter)

Crapulent Major: Smile!

(camera clicks)

Journalist: There’s no such thing as a second homeland.

A homeland is a homeland because there’s only one of them.

My, my, it’s Tran Thuyet Son.

(Captain chuckles)

Wow. It’s been a while since someone’s said my name

with such a perfect accent.

But I go by Sonny now.

Oh! Like, Sonny Bono?

(both chuckling)

Last time I saw you was when?

That seminar for the Vietnamese student council?

Where we had a difference of opinion…

Where we had an argument

about the Ho Chi Minh quote,

“Nothing is more precious

than independence and freedom,”

and its application vis-à-vis our nation.

You know, I remember you getting all worked up

and screaming, “Nothing! Nothing!” and tossing your textbook.

(fake laugh)

You broke the spine.

(both chuckle)

You know what? Back then,

I thought of you as a CIA scholarship student.

(chuckles) Very funny.

So, what brings you here?

Skipping the monsoon season to enjoy some California sun?

Yeah… I admit. My side lost. Happy now?

Well, I might not be exactly happy,

but I think they’ll have a shot

at independence and freedom

now that America’s finally pulled out.

Well, then, how about you go back to rebuild the country with them?

(laughs) That’s right. You’re an American now.

No offense.

I believe I have every right to have opinions about my homeland.

I’m as Vietnamese as you are.

Oh, what, because you kept your surname?


I’m more Vietnamese than you.

You know, biologically… No offense.

(“Hon Trách” by Tuan Hai playing in store)

(Captain clears throat)

So, what brings you here?

Human-interest story.

No story’s too small.

By the way, uh, the name.

I get his patriotism, but in America,

“yellow” means nothing good, like urine.

For an Asian shopkeeper, he’s, uh, kind of shooting himself in the foot.

Just don’t bring that up with the General.

Well, I should get some quotes.

There’s more where this came from.

(indistinct chatter)

(music stops)

(crowd murmuring)

(speaking Vietnamese}




(door bell rings)



(tense music playing)


(music fades out)

(quiet chatter)

(Captain sighs)

(distant siren wailing)


(door opens)

(both chuckle)

Well, here we are now, huh?

(Captain chuckles)

No, I-I, uh, watched the news of the last helicopter

taking off from the U.S. compound over and over…


…hoping to catch a glimpse of you.

Well, I’m sorry I didn’t reach out to you.

It’s just, you know, the, the evacuation left me considerably fucked.

I couldn’t bring Y Vi.


Dammit, her house was empty.

I whizzed around the district on the General’s Harley.

I was lookin’ for her, every street, every nook, cranny, alley, uh… no avail.

Last chopper was about to depart…

(emotional) I haven’t cried over a girl in 30 years.

But, goddamn Y Vi.

Sorry to hear that.

(Claude sighs)

So… it’s been quite the shitshow with, you know, your colleagues flingin’ dirt at each other.

Only the spy says there’s no spy.

(curious, tense music playing)

Look at this gift Claude gave me.

…44 Auto Mag.

(General exhales)

Claude: Anybody object to a little celebratory pop?

Looks like you could use it.


(Claude pouring drink)

It’s Major Oanh.


A spy?

Which one of the two Oanhs? The “chopstick”?

The “dumpling.”

The fat Oanh?


General: And where would you get this idea?

Well, you see, uh, he’s involved in some kind of business.

What kinda business?

Uh, I think it has somethin’ to do with, with candy.


Captain: This means he’s got contacts back in Saigon.

He confessed that he used his background from the Secret Police in order to obtain them.

Fat Oanh, receiving innocuous candies.

Which no one would ever suspect.

Claude: Uh, his father’s people come from China.

General: Which everybody knows you can’t trust that particular breed.


Doesn’t taste like a message.

But again, he’s too fat to be a spy.

Mm. Maybe, maybe.

And there are plus sides to a spy who looks disarming, so…

Hard to say. I guess we could check with Saigon.


(Claude clears throat)

Believe it or not, your name came up once.



That-That’s funny, right?

(chuckling) It’s very funny.

General: Hm.

(Claude whistling)

So, uh, by the way, how’s Professor Hammer treatin’ you? Well?

Uh, sure.


Can I ask you something?


Why didn’t you get the General’s family out of the refugee camp sooner?

(Claude sighs)

He was waiting by the phone.

Yeah, I know. I don’t know.

Wanted him to be grateful to America.

Sometimes, it’s good to remind people how much they owe you.

(engine starts)

Night, kid.

(tires screech)

(kissing, moaning)

(office phone ringing)

Captain: Don’t worry about it.

Sofia: Wait, wait, wait, wait.

Captain: Just ignore it. It’ll be fine.

Sofia: No… (laughs)

I’m still on duty. Stop!


Oriental Studies Department, Chairman’s office.

Yes, right.

Yes. One second.

He says he’s your boss?


Thought I was.

(Captain chuckles)


General (over phone): Remember our Chinese friend, huh?

The one with the sweet tooth?

Well, I did a little probing, and it seems his relatives back home are safe and doing rather well!

Meanwhile, all of our relatives have been imprisoned in the so-called “re-education” camps!

We are starving and dying!

Do your job!

(hangs up)

(mysterious jazz music playing)

(music fades out)

(distant siren wailing)

(solemn music playing)



(music fades out)

(“Do I Move You?” by Nina Simone playing)

(siren wailing) ♪ Do I groove you ♪

♪ Do I soothe you? ♪

♪ Tell the truth now ♪

♪ Do I move you? ♪

♪ Are you loose now? ♪

♪ The answer better be yes, yes ♪

♪ That pleases me ♪

♪ Are you ready ♪

♪ For this action? ♪

♪ Does it give you ♪

♪ Satisfaction? ♪

♪ Are you hip to what I’m sayin’? ♪

♪ If you are ♪

♪ Then let’s start swayin’ ♪

♪ The answer better be yes, yes ♪

♪ Great God almighty ♪

♪ That pleases me ♪

♪ Oh! ♪

(song concludes)

(jazz music playing)

(music fades out)


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