Paramount+: “Fellow Travelers” starring Matt Bomer and Jonathan Bailey
To be gay in 1950s DC was to live a life of Hell. Homosexuals, like Communists, were hunted down and summarily purged from the government during the McCarthy era. Even the suggestion you were not “normal” meant disgrace and immediate, permanent dismissal.
“Fellow Travelers” (Paramount+), the excellent, deeply moving miniseries based on the Thomas Mallon novel, details the agony of this era through the eyes of two men who were in love, at a time where such love dared not speak its name.
Hawkins Fuller, aka “Hawk” (Matt Bomer), is a straight-arrow and deeply closeted State Department official who has ambitions to rise in the ranks. He is also sexually insatiable. Hawk cruises men’s rooms and gay bars, and eventually casts his roving eye on young Tim Laughlin (Jonathan Bailey from “Bridgerton”) a handsome, conservative Roman Catholic guy who works for Joe McCarthy and whom he nicknames “Skippy.” They wind up in bed, but Hawk, more sensitive to the political environment, needs to keep their love affair secret. Tim goes along, albeit reluctantly.
The series details Hawk and Tim’s on-again, off-again romance over a period of 35 years, as Hawk marries the daughter (Alison Williams) of a prominent Senator, rises through the ranks at State, and creates the perfect happy hetero life—while continuing to mess around with men. Tim, eventually turned off by McCarthy (Chris Bauer) and his evil cohort Roy Cohn (Will Brill), leaves the government, tries the Army, then the priesthood, then finally moves to San Francisco—anything to forget the man he loves but can’t have.
Nothing I’ve ever seen Bomer in prepared me for the understated brilliance he brings to the role of Hawk. He is a gay Don Draper—unflappable, perfectly attired, and almost never failing to cover his tracks. Bailey, a young hunky actor in his own right, has the more difficult role of portraying a nerdy-looking guy who needs to believe in something—whether it’s God or Hawk.
Explicit sexual scenes and a stark portrayal of the AIDS epidemic may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But if you were around during in those ugly times, “Fellow Travelers” will hit home. And if you weren’t, watch it and you may learn a few things—especially how something that was historically considered shameful has now come proudly out of the closet.
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