The Biggest Differences Between the Novel and the Series Featuring Robert Downey Jr. and Sandra Oh: The Sympathizer

Note this post includes major spoilers for the novel and TV series The Sympathizer

Published Time: 27.05.2024 - 05:31:05 Modified Time: 27.05.2024 - 05:31:05

Note: this post includes major spoilers for the novel and TV series The Sympathizer.The thrilling Max limited series The Sympathizer comes to an end today.Both the TV show, created by Park Chan-wook and Don McKellar, and the 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Viet Thanh Nguyen, which the series is based on, follow an unnamed, Vietnamese-French police captain, who is secretly working as a communist spy in Vietnam and Los Angeles. Both a political thriller and biting satire set during the Fall of Saigon in 1975, The Sympathizer asks thought-provoking questions about identity, politics and loyalty.The Max series features Hoa Xunde as the Captain, Sandra Oh as Sofia, Toan Le as the General, Fred Nguyen Khan as Bon, Duy Nguyễn as Man, Vy Le as Lana, Alan Trong as Sonny, David Duchovny as Ryan Glenn and John Cho as James Yoon. Robert Downey Jr., an executive producer on the series, also appears in several roles, including the CIA agent Claude, professor Robert Hammer, Congressman Ned Godwin and film director Niko Damianos.There are some changes, both significant and less so, between the Max limited series and the novel, however. Read on to see the biggest differences.

Both versions of The Sympathizer revolve around the Captain, who is writing a confession upon being imprisoned. The television series, though, starts out differently from the book.In the show, the Captain is immediately revealed to be writing his confession, which tells of his journey from Vietnam to Los Angeles, and what ultimately led to him being captured. The series moves back and forth through time, with the Captain often talking to officers at the encampment about what he’s writing.In the novel, the Captain’s capture and imprisonment isn’t revealed until the end of the book. The novel is also told in chronological order, unlike the TV show.

Throughout the series and novel, the Captain has to kill numerous people to throw others off his trail as a communist spy. One of his targets is a Major who used to work under the Captain’s superior, known as the General, and who has also come to America after the Fall of Saigon. The Captain offers the Major’s name as a potential mole amongst the General’s ranks in order to protect himself.

There are some slight differences with this character in the television show. For one, the Major lives with his mother, alongside his wife and twins, in Los Angeles. The Major’s mother complicates the Captain’s assassination plans, as he must work around an additional potential witness. In the book, the Captain only lives with his wife and children.The Major’s death also differs from page to screen. In the TV show, the Captain's friend and soldier, Bon, also assists with the killing when the Major doesn't immediately die after being shot. In the novel, Bon pulls the trigger and kills the Major himself.

Both versions of The Sympathizer see the Captain serving as a research consultant on a fictional film called The Hamlet, though the TV series has taken some creative liberties with this part of the story.One of the biggest differences is that the General’s daughter, Lana, goes to the movie set with the Captain, after sneaking into the trunk of his car. Lana joins the film as an actress, and forms a flirtatious friendship with Jamie J -

ohnson, a popular R&B singer who is playing a soldier in the film.Lana’s involvement with the film gets complicated when the director, who doesn't get along with the Captain due to his critique of the Vietnamese representation in his script, writes a scene in which Lana’s character is sexually assaulted by a soldier. The Captain, fearful for Lana's safety, interrupts the scene while it’s filming.In the novel, the narrator goes to consult on The Hamlet alone. While there is a scene where a character is sexually assaulted, it is not Lana’s character.

Throughout the novel and series, the Captain is in a relationship with Sofia Mori, the secretary for the Captain’s former college professor. Their relationship falters, however, after the Captain goes to oversee The Hamlet, and loses contact with Sofia. When he returns to Los Angeles, the Captain learns that Sofia has started seeing Sonny, a Vietnamese journalist who has been covering the General's activities in America.

A new development in the series occurs after the Captain kills Sonny — both because he wants to throw the General off his own trail and because Sonny has started dating Sofia in his absence.After the Captain kills Sonny, he visits Sofia. She provides an alibi for his whereabouts during Sonny’s murder, but later confronts the Captain, accusing him of being a spy and killing Sonny. In the novel, Sofia doesn’t suspect the Captain of his undercover missions and doesn’t confront him after Sonny’s death.

Toward the end of the story, the Captain returns to Vietnam to fight alongside the General’s exiled troops, wherein he and Bon are captured and sent to an encampment. The Captain is tortured there because the camp's officials are adamant that he is keeping an important detail out of his confession — particularly one about a fellow communist agent, who he watched get tortured by other officers under the General.In the TV series, it’s revealed that this agent is also imprisoned at the camp, and has been ordered to write her own confession to corroborate the narrator’s. The Captain reunites with her again, and he realizes that he forgot about her abuse, thus leaving it out of his own confession.In the novel, the agent is not at the prison, and the Captain never reunites with her. He comes to the realization about the missing part of his confession after being prompted by another officer.

Both the novel and the TV show end with the Captain and Bon leaving the encampment, though they do so under different circumstances. The commissar at the encampment is Man, the Captain and Bon’s old friend, and the Captain’s direct superior as an undercover agent. Man has been severely disfigured after a napalm attack, and wears a mask to hide his identity from the prisoners, as well as his two friends, once they join the ranks.

At the end of the series, it’s revealed that the Captain has trapped Man in order to escape. He disguises himself using Man’s mask and rescues Bon. The two drive away from the camp and eventually end up on a speedboat with other Vietnamese refugees, heading toward a new future.In the novel, Man helps the Captain and Bon leave the camp after approving the Captain’s confession.

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