The Sympathizer: Every Robert Downey Jr. Character Explained

April 29, 2024
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This article contains spoilers for The Sympathizer through episode 3. With the HBO original limited series The Sympathizer, adapting the award-winning 2015 novel of the same name by Viet Thanh Nguyen, audiences get four Robert Downey, Jrs. for the price of one. The Academy Award-winning actor, who also executive produces the series through his production […]

The post The Sympathizer: Every Robert Downey Jr. Character Explained appeared first on Den of Geek.

This article contains spoilers for The Sympathizer through episode 3.

With the HBO original limited series The Sympathizer, adapting the award-winning 2015 novel of the same name by Viet Thanh Nguyen, audiences get four Robert Downey, Jrs. for the price of one. The Academy Award-winning actor, who also executive produces the series through his production company Team Downey, plays four distinctly different characters over the course of the story. By the series’ third episode, all four of Downey’s characters have not only been introduced, but begun interacting with each other on-screen as the story nears its halfway point.

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With so many Downeys to get to know in The Sympathizer, here’s a quick primer explaining the background of each of Downey’s characters, what we know about them so far, and how each figure into the overall story and interact with its protagonist, a Vietnamese double agent known as simply as the Captain.

Claude

The first of Downeys introduced is a CIA operative named Claude who meets the Captain four months before the fall of Saigon in the opening episode. Tanned and with his curly hairline noticeably receding, Claude possesses a sardonic, cynical wit as he works with the Captain to help him and his associates flee South Vietnam before it is completely overrun by their Northern communist counterparts. Claude is unaware that the Captain is secretly working for the North Vietnamese government, spying on the South Vietnamese general he ostensibly works for that approaches Claude for safe passage to the United States.

Even after the Captain, the General, and a group of South Vietnamese refugees arrive in America in 1975 and relocate to Los Angeles, Claude continues working with the Captain when he learns of a North Vietnamese double agent in the group. Though Claude overhears speculation that the Captain himself may be the culprit, he initially laughs this off. For his good work, Claude introduces the Captain to a Hollywood filmmaker who is making a movie about the Vietnam War, encouraging the Captain to be hired as a consultant.

The Sympathizer

Professor Hammer

The second episode introduces Professor Hammer, an even more eccentric character than Claude, played to the hilt by Downey. An East Asian Studies graduate school professor in Los Angeles, Hammer sponsors the Captain, the General, and their associate Bon to relocate to California rather than remain in an Arkansas refugee camp. With a shaved head and thin mustache, Hammer’s interest in East Asian cultures is unabashedly obsessive, as he insists on maintaining Japanese customs around him at all times, speaking in Japanese, wearing kimonos, and decorating his home and office accordingly.

Given the Captain’s mixed heritage, Hammer sees him as the symbiosis of the Southeast Asian and Western worlds; this observation inspires both fascination and mild jealousy from Hammer towards the Captain. Hammer’s secretary is Sofia Mori, a Japanese American woman who embarks on a casually sexual relationship with the Captain, though the Captain hints at having deeper feelings for her. Hammer’s research into East Asia similarly draws him into the production of The Hamlet, the planned Vietnam War film the Captain is assisting with.

Ned Godwin

One of the more powerful people that the Captain encounters in Southern California is Congressman Ned Godwin, a former Army Green Beret who turned to a successful life in conservative politics after his military career. With a consistently cheerful and professional demeanor, immaculately coiffed sandy hair, and perfectly pressed and tailored suits, Congressman Godwin is always ready for the cameras and to turn any given moment into a publicly positive tool to enhance his image. Of course, behind closed doors, Godwin is ready to indulge in more illicit vices, taking advantage of the unscrupulous benefits that come with his prestigious position.

Congressman Godwin enters the story looking for a way to gain support from the growing Vietnamese American population among his California electorate. This places him in contact with the Captain as the Congressman integrates himself in public events in the local Vietnamese community in Los Angeles. During his own time in Vietnam, Godwin befriended the General and his prominence in California places him near production on The Hamlet.

Niko

The fourth Downey introduced in The Sympathizer is Niko, a firebrand filmmaker who debuts towards the end of the third episode. An activist who vocally opposed the Vietnam War while the United States was involved, Niko is interested in creating a movie that will unveil the emotional truths experienced by American soldiers during the war. To lend a greater sense of authenticity, Niko hires the Captain to serve as a consultant during the production as the project attempts to recreate the wartime conditions as accurately as possible.

Despite his more liberal public persona, Niko has no moral qualms about dropping racial epithets about the Captain, which he does during their first meeting, putting their dynamic off to a tense start. This, coupled with Niko palling around with Congressman Godwin despite being nominally ideologically opposed, highlights just how much of a self-obsessed hypocrite Niko actually is. This sets the stage for what is sure to be an especially chaotic movie production that the Captain finds himself smack dab in the middle of.

The Sympathizer is available on HBO and Max, with new episodes released Sundays.

The post The Sympathizer: Every Robert Downey Jr. Character Explained appeared first on Den of Geek.

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