HBO’s ‘The Sympathizer’ Episode 3 Recap & Review: The Life of a Spy

The Captain’s double life is getting more difficult to keep secret each day.

Warning: Spoilers ahead for The Sympathizer Episode 3: “Love it or Leave it.

HBO’s The Sympathizer Episode 3 is now streaming on Crave and Max, and the limited series is nearly halfway complete. Life is getting increasingly more difficult for the Captain (Hoa Xuande), and the clock is ticking for him to make some incredibly tough decisions. The Sympathizer continues to impress as HBO’s next great show, with Huande, Sandra Oh, and Robert Downey Jr. leading the charge.

The third episode finds the Captain making progress in his interrogation in the present day while his business back in America becomes messier each minute. Robert Downey Jr. raises his total to four different roles and seamlessly transitions back and forth to each. Thankfully, each is different enough, making CIA Agent Claude, Professor Hammer, and the newly introduced Congressman and actor easy enough to differentiate.

However, while viewers may be able to navigate all the different RDJs, the Captain has a much tougher time doing so within the story. Outside forces continue to pull him in different directions, and he’s forced to sacrifice his moral compass to maintain his cover.

The Captain Is Challenged With More Than He Can Handle in ‘The Sympathizer’ Episode 3

Major Oanh pleads with The Captain for discretion in The Sympathizer Episode 3 | Agents of Fandom
Major Oanh (Phanxinê) passionately tries to persuade the Captain (Hoa Xuande) to embrace the American Dream and not sell him and his business out to the General. Image Credit: Bell Media.

With the newly recruited Bon (Fred Nguyen Khan) by his side, the Captain sets off to gather intel on Major Oanh (Phanxinê), aka Dumpling. Although the Captain is inexperienced with killing, Bon reveals he was part of a secret team of assassins in Vietnam called F-3.

While the Captain is upset that his blood brother Bon killed his comrades in Vietnam, he is actually more relieved to find out Bon’s truth. It not only means he wasn’t the only one keeping a secret, but Bon’s special skills could be useful. The Sympathizer Episode 3 consistently portrays the Captain’s back-and-forth struggle as a double agent.

Unfortunately, Dumpling’s mother, played by Kieu Chinh, thwarts their ploy. As the only one home, she lures the two in for a cup of tea with her kindness and welcoming nature. With Dumpling not home and his mother there to welcome them, their murderous plot will have to wait. Although the scene may have seemed inconsequential at the moment, it is made abundantly clear that Dumpling’s mother, despite being nearly 80 years old, still has excellent hearing. The two are invited to her Longevity Party and decide to hold off on their scheme until Independence Day, hiding their gunshots under the guise of fireworks.

A Longevity Party for the Ages

The Captain is uncomfortable as his girlfriend Sophie and the General's daughter Lana meet for the first time. | Agents of Fandom
If being a double agent wasn’t enough drama, the Captain (Hoa Xuande) also finds himself stuck between his girlfriend Sophie (Sandra Oh) and the General’s daughter Lana (Vy Le). Image Credit: Bell Media.

The Sympathizer Episode 3 spices things up when the Captain brings his now girlfriend Sophia (Sandra Oh) to the Longevity Party. While the General’s daughter Lana (Vy Le) is actively flirting with him, she hits it off with Sophia as the two get a drink. Unfortunately, this is one of the few positive moments for Lana in the episode, as her family is constantly harassing her due to her more modern clothing choices.

However, this isn’t the only time The Captain is forced to choose where his loyalties lie during the party. He is torn between enjoying himself with his friends and family while also needing additional recon for his potential assassination. The Captain takes no pleasure in his duties, but keeping his cover intact remains the number one priority.

The Longevity Party in The Sympathizer Episode 3 also introduces Robert Downey Jr.’s third character of the series, Congressman Ned Godwin. The smug, stereotypically American Congressman arrives as a special guest, delivers a speech, and gifts Major Oahn’s Mother a knife, an unlucky and disrespectful custom in Vietnamese culture.

The Captain Must Compromise His Morals in ‘The Sympathizer’ Episode 3

The Captain wears a blonde wig to conceal his identity alongside Bon in their car in The Sympathizer Episode 3. | Agents of Fandom
The Captain (Hoa Xuande) is ready to eliminate a threat to his dual identity. Image Credit: Bell Media.

Finally, with enough intel, Bon and a poorly disguised Captain arrive at Major Oahn’s workplace. They plan to frame him as a spy using his questionable import/export candy business and ties back to Vietnam. However, as The Captain trembles and cannot pull the trigger, Dumpling starts a fight, and everything appears lost for the Captain in The Sympathizer Episode 3.

Thankfully, Bon arrives to save the day. After a long series of wrestling and flying fists, the Captain pulls the trigger, and the two blood brothers stage the killing as a hate crime, fleeing the scene. Although it appears that the two get away unnoticed, the previously established good hearing from Dumpling’s mother could come into play, as she is spotted in the scene on a balcony facing the other direction.

Secrets Must Be Kept at All Costs in ‘The Sympathizer’ Episode 3

The Captain interrogates the communist revolutionary known as The Watchman in The Sympathizer Episode 3.
The Captain (Hoa Xuande) is forced to interrogate a communist revolutionary (Phong Le) with whom he secretly aligns politically. Image Credit: Bell Media.

Before the conclusion of The Sympathizer Episode 3, the traumatic events cause the Captain to flash back to his first experience with death in the war. CIA Agent Claude (Downey Jr.) forces the Captain to interrogate a communist revolutionary named The Watchman (Phong Le), whom he secretly supports.

During the interrogation, the Captain provides a coded message to The Watchman. The prisoner suggests he will cooperate if he can finally have some food and suggests hard-boiled eggs. He uses the eggs to choke and take his own life, avoiding having to reveal any secrets.

Flash forward back to the near present-day United States, and the Captain finds himself praised by CIA Agent Claude, who refers to him as his protégé. Claude brings him to a fancy American restaurant, where they meet Professor Hammer (Downey Jr.), Congressman Godwin, and a brand-new character played by (you guessed it!) Downey Jr.

RDJ’s newest character in the story is a racist actor who wants the Captain to play a part in helping him create his next movie. While it’s not obvious what role this could have in the Captain’s future, what is clear is that it will only cause more chaos and confusion in his life as a double agent in the United States. The Sympathizer Episode 3 is the strongest of the series to date, and the pace doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

Follow the Agents of Fandom socials for all the latest entertainment news and reviews, and check out our interview with the cast below.

'The Sympathizer' Episode 3 "Love it or Leave it" Review

'The Sympathizer' Episode 3 "Love it or Leave it" Review
4.5 5 0 1
4.5 rating
Total Score

The Good

  • Wonderfully demonstrates the emotional turmoil of the Captain in his life as a double agent.
  • Robert Downey Jr. kicks ass in all four (!) of his roles.
  • Sandra Oh stuns in limited screen time.
  • Riveting plot points from multiple angles all leading toward an exciting ending.

The Bad

  • Frequent use of flashbacks to multiple different time periods makes it confusing to follow.
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