When HBO released the first trailer a few days ago for its upcoming spy series based on Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Sympathizer, I didn’t know what to expect (as I hadn’t gotten around to reading the novel yet). I certainly knew nothing about the story herein, which is focused on a half-French, half-Vietnamese communist spy during the last days of the Vietnam War who goes on to live in exile in the US. But what I can tell you is the exact moment when I went from “What is this?” to “Okay, HBO, definitely watching.”
It’s right at the beginning of the trailer when Hoa Xuande’s character “The Captain” is asked by an eager-beaver American about his time “over there” — “So, did you kill anyone?” The Captain is the spy I mentioned above, who embeds in a refugee community in Los Angeles.
The Captain draws out his response, with a sort of dramatic flourish, and his response is intercut with intense flashbacks. “With my own hands? … No. No, I never killed anyone.”
Continues the American: “We were all marching. We were on your side.” The Captain’s eyes widen.
“Really! And which side was that?”
“Uh … the side of the Vietnamese people.”
“The people in the north? Or the people in the south?”
“Well, all of them, I guess.”
A soft chuckle. “I guess we all look the same after all, right? … I mean, I could be Viet Cong for all you know. A spy… how would you know?”
He lets the silence hang there. And then laughs conspiratorially, laying one hand across his chest. “I’m not, of course! I love America!”
Park Chan-wook and Don McKellar are the co-showrunners and executive producers, and in addition to Xuande the cast of this HBO series includes Fred Nguyen Khan, Toan Le, Ky Duyen, and Sandra Oh. Robert Downey Jr. is also an executive producer and will portray multiple characters in the series (coming in 2024). Get ready, this one is going to be truly, unforgettably, epic.
Spy/Master HBO series
As for the second HBO spy TV series that I can’t wait for, HBO on Wednesday gave us a trailer for Spy/Master, which is coming to the network very soon (on May 19). It’s a six-part espionage drama series starring Alec Secăreanu and created by Adina Sădeanu and Kirsten Peters, and it’s set during the height of the Cold War.
Here’s the official logline for the series from HBO. The show:
“covers a week in the life of fictional character Victor Godeanu, played by Secăreanu (“God’s Own Country,” “Ammonite,” “Happy Valley”), the right-hand man and closest advisor to Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. However, Godeanu is also a secret agent for the KGB and must escape Romania and Ceaușescu before his cover is blown. With only one shot at staying alive, he uses a diplomatic trip to Germany as a springboard to the United States. Helped by an undercover Stasi agent and former flame played by Svenja Jung (“Deutschland89”), and an up-and-coming CIA agent played by Parker Sawyers (“Southside with You”), Godeanu must elude the KGB and his own country’s spooks, fully aware that his defection is putting his family back home in mortal danger.”