The Captain Is Caught Between Two Worlds In The Sympathizer Episode 2

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: April 22, 2024 (Last updated: 2 weeks ago)
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The Sympathizer Episode 2 Recap - Between Two Worlds
The Sympathizer Episode 2 via HBO




The Sympathizer settles into a new environment, and the Captain finds himself increasingly and compelling stuck between two worlds.

The Captain clearly doesn’t want to be a spy anymore, which is easy enough to accept since the premiere of The Sympathizer never made clear why he became one in the first place. The Captain’s circumstances always felt a bit accidental, and they continue to here in Episode 2, where the action has shifted Stateside but the Captain’s trademark in-betweenness becomes more important than ever.

Having escaped the Fall of Saigon in Episode 1 just in time, the Captain has settled into American life with Bon, who is almost comatose with grief following the deaths of his wife and child during their escape from Vietnam.

By Man and his Viet Cong superiors, the Captain has been tasked with keeping an eye on the General, South Vietnam’s deposed leader, who is also living a restless exile in the U.S. He writes very longwinded secret messages to Man using corn starch and the Asian Communism and the Oriental Mode of Destruction, a fictional racist textbook. They include details about Bon’s lack of personal hygiene and the General’s worsening lack of respect and position among the maligned refugee community.

Our Second Robert Downey Jr. Character

The Sympathizer Episode 2 Recap - Between Two Worlds

Robert Downey Jr. As Professor Hammer

We have already seen Robert Downey Jr. playing CIA agent Claude, who does show up briefly again here, but he spends most of The Sympathizer Episode 2 in the role of Professor Hammer, a former friend of the Captain’s from his time studying in America who wants to sponsor the Captain and Bon.

Hammer is a ridiculous professor of East Asian studies who has become offensively infatuated with the culture. His office is styled with traditional Asian accoutrements and he roams around in a kimono, lecturing his Japanese-American secretary Ms. Mori about how she should show off the nape of her neck more.

If you’re wondering how much they paid Downey Jr. to play these characters in this cultural climate, so am I. So, presumably, is everyone.

The Captain Begins A Relationship With Ms. Mori In The Sympathizer Episode 2

The Sympathizer Episode 2 Recap - Between Two Worlds

The Captain begins a relationship with Sandra Oh’s Ms. Mori

Hammer is grossly fascinated by the Captain being biracial and his current between-two-worlds predicament, so tasks him with writing down a list of his most Oriental and Occidental qualities and seeing how the two contrast. When he asks the Captain to share his findings at a party, he doesn’t quite realize what a terrible thing this is to do.

Ms. Mori does, though, and she bonds with the Captain over a mutual judgment of Hammer, even though she ribs the Captain for playing the good little Asian – the title of the episode – and indulging in Hammer’s wacky charade. If only she knew.

The Captain begins a relationship with Ms. Mori after wooing her by – and I swear, I’m not making this up – recounting a story about how, as a child, he masturbated with the aid of a raw squid and then ate it so nobody else had to.

The General’s Paranoia and Ambitions

The Sympathizer Episode 2 Recap - Between Two Worlds

The General Becomes Increasingly Paranoid

The General is quickly becoming the most idiotic and hilarious character in The Sympathizer Episode 2. He begins to suspect that a spy is among the South Vietnamese refugee community but doesn’t for a moment suspect the Captain, who organized the flight list. Instead, he tasks him – at gunpoint – with rooting out the real double agent.

But the funny thing is that the General has ambitions of becoming a classic American small business owner by opening up a liquor store. He’s not lobbying on behalf of the South Vietnamese whatsoever, which means the Captain has nothing to report.

The Captain’s New Assignment

The Sympathizer Episode 2 Recap - Between Two Worlds

The Captain gets a new assignment

The General’s new enterprise isn’t winning him any new friends. Another of the Captain’s old U.S. acquaintances, Sonny, mocks him for his choice of business name. Some of his followers walk out in disgust when he celebrates his new life.

But the General is also deeply paranoid. He perceives every bit of happenstance of racial prejudice he experiences in America as a deliberate ploy to undermine and/or assassinate him, and is convinced – correctly, we know – that there is a spy plotting against him. To keep his cover, the Captain suggests it’s the Major, who still brings delicacies over from the homeland.

The problem is the General now wants the Captain to kill him.


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