Each week Joe and Terry discuss the most recent episode of Showtime’s adaptation of Fellow Travelers, alternating between our respective sites.
Spoilers follow for Episode 3 “Hit Me”
Well Terry, it’s couples weekend on Fellow Travelers as the cast splits off into twos for a few days.
In the past, Tim (Jonathan Bailey) and Hawk (Matt Bomer) take an eventful road trip that only the latter knows is a secret information reconnaissance mission. In reality they’re leaving DC to secure blackmail information that Senator Joseph McCarthy (Chris Bauer) fucked an Army hunk with PTSD, then outed him unceremoniously.
This section of the episode nicely contrasts with the 80s timeline, if only because they both *finally* put more of the focus on Tim. Sure, we hear about Hawk’s recovery from the war and how Senator Smith (Linus Roache) helped him, which is why Hawk feels so indebted to him. For the most part, however, this storyline is about Tim’s struggle to love a man who only wants a casual sexual relationship.
The “nephew/son” dinner date and resulting sex scene is probably the best encapsulation of the pair’s relationship drama thus far. Tim begs for scraps and tries desperately to woo Hawk, who reciprocates for a time…but only up to the point that Hawk might get embarrassed or lose control. Then Tim ends back up in the dog house.
Bailey is doing really great work as the love-sick partner who can’t resist drinking wine too quickly, dropping a hurtful/curt observation about Hawk & Lucy (Allison Williams), or serenading Hawk with an on-the-nose rendition of Doris Day’s “Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps.” And while the whole attempt to emulate a hetero couple’s night out goes disastrously wrong, we do have another erotic sex scene immediately afterwards as Hawk asserts his dominance with both verbal orders and light bondage.
It’s significant that the sex scene happens immediately after Tim confesses to kissing another older gentleman in the bathroom at the rural bar. Between rushing to acknowledge missing Tim’s birthday to this response, it’s pretty evident that Hawk is just as bad a liar as he believes Skippy is.
Naturally these observations are informed by the events in the present 80s timeline as Hawk helps Tim after the latter falls getting into the bath. There’s some period-appropriate talk about AIDS, how it is contracted, and the visual signs of the disease on the body. (Naturally) this ends with a health scare for Hawk, who is already sporting a suspicious mark on his forehead…unless that’s just skin cancer from his overly-tanned face.
In non-Fuller & Skipper news, Marcus (Jelani Alladin) has a crisis of masculinity when he is the victim of a racist/homophobic hate crime outside of a white nightclub where Frankie (Noah J. Ricketts) is performing. These scenes are solid, particularly the exchange when Marcus yells “I’m a man who likes to fuck men. And I don’t apologize for it” and Frankie demands if Marcus can handle being with him. Between that and a lingering shot of Alladin’s sizable rump getting out of bed, this all works.
One challenge, though, is how, as a character, Marcus seems to exist to reinforce a) the rampant racism of the time period and b) contrast Hawk’s dating habits. At the offset, Marcus and Hawk had the same “fuck and move on” approach to men, but now Marcus is attempting to make more of an effort. He’s still failing more than he succeeds, but Alladin has good chemistry with Ricketts and I’m glad to see more depictions of queers of colour on TV.
The last subplot of note involves David Schine (Matt Visser), who is suddenly in danger of being drafted after Marcus exposed him to Robert Kennedy last episode. This means that self-hating gay Roy Cohn (Will Brill) has to go on the offense to save him. By episode’s end the disfigured man has expanded the scope of McCarthy’s Communist witch hunt into the Army in an effort to prove to the blonde hunk that he’ll do whatever it takes to fight for him.
These scenes are arguably less effective because Cohn and Schine are barely tertiary characters. With that said, Schine’s ability to weaponize the line about his date’s “perfect face” and how that pays off later when Cohn surveys his own busted mug is a solid, if unsubtle, moment. Kudos to director Destiny Ekaragha for taking the opportunity to frame Cohn’s distorted face in a water jug to visually reinforce how he sees himself.
Over to you, Terry: did you like seeing Tim and Hawk outside of DC? Thoughts on Hawk’s offer to take a week off to care for him in the 80s? Did Frankie’s story about starting drag “to be seen” get you emotionally? And does Hawk’s horrible assistant pale in comparison to McCarthy’s “Dragon Lady” assistant Jean Kerr (Christine Horne)?
After last week’s fine but slightly underwhelming episode, “Hit Me” came roaring back for me, Joe. Yes, it’s still absolutely unsubtle in the way it contrasts characters and uses on-the-nose points of reference to explore the themes (the aforementioned “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” for example). But it also does a better job of tying it to the narrative in thematically interesting ways. Mostly the script continues to be bolstered by the fantastic performances, the chemistry and the warm cinematography.
On the performance side, Bailey is given a lot of physical acting opportunities here. The scene that actually broke my heart came early in the episode, when Hawk has been guilted by Marcus into seeking out Tim. They meet outside a horrible congressional hearing where McCarthy and Co. attempt to browbeat a laborer over possible communist ties in his organization. Tim has been “promoted” to water boy and runs into Hawk in the halls. Hawk basically orders him to skip work and go on a weekend trip with him.
The moment that broke my heart, though, came when Tim stands up to the Jean Kerr and, as he pauses in the hall, he smiles to himself. A secret smile, but one of a man addicted to the idea of love with Hawk. Knowing somewhat where the story is going and the separate lives of the two men, this joyful and hopeful smile is devastating. No matter how much the two love each other, Tim’s hopeful ideation of romance is never going to work.
“Hit Me” focuses a lot on Tim, you’re right. And the camerawork focuses on his face and reactions, further cementing us in his perspective through most of the episode. The way Bailey performs in these scenes pulled me into the romance, as he attempts to arrange an actual date and the way in which he romanticizes how it will be before it all comes crashing down is fantastic. I didn’t even care that the song and scene was a little heavy-handed. It worked to get us in Tim’s headspace.
As a respite from DC, this trip also cemented just how impossible it’s going to be for the two of them to exist as a couple. Washington is never completely out of the picture because “Hit Me” continually brings us back to the “Bonnie, Bonnie and Clyde” trio of Dave, Roy and McCarthy as a reminder of the danger swirling ever closer.
I actually really enjoyed the scenes between Roy and Dave this episode…partially because they were introduced without much fanfare earlier. So I liked that we get to see more of the inner workings between the two and what’s at stake for them. What “Hit Me” does really well is contrast these three couples, all of whom have issues with self-hatred.
Marcus’ concepts of masculinity has been addressed earlier (e.g., the office he shares with other black men who obviously look down on queerness) and here he’s forced to face that head-on. Frankie knows who he is and feels as comfortable as he can be in his skin. That frustrates Marcus, who thinks he’s comfortable with himself but really isn’t…evidenced by the fact he wants to leave any mention of queerness out of his article.
Much in the same way, Tim wants a relationship. He wants to be open and out and not care a damn what other people think — he’s the Frankie to Hawk’s Marcus. While Hawk just wants personal freedom to be able to fuck who he wants, Tim wants a connection. He wants love.
Which leads us to the complex relationship between Roy and Dave. The power dynamics there is…complicated. When Roy reaches out to stroke Dave’s hair, Dave basically flips out and pushes him aside. It could be because of a number of reasons — Dave is obviously upset that he is going to be drafted, sure. But it almost seems as if Dave is using Roy’s obvious lust for him as a way to get ahead. It’s telling that Dave throws this beautiful date with a woman in Roy’s face as a way of demeaning the man.
It initially seemed as if Roy has all the power in the relationship, but now I’m not so sure. Dave seems to see this as a career ladder as opposed to actually enjoying Roy’s attention.
None of these relationships seem possible in the world they live in. And while I’m never going to root for the relationship between Dave and Roy, it does provide an intriguing foil to both Marcus and Frankie’s relationship, as well as Tim and Hawk’s. Specifically the ways that internalized homophobia and concepts of masculinity can affect different members of the queer community: some to become horrible monsters who want to destroy others to deflect from themselves; some simply strip love from the equation (Marcus, and sometimes Hawk); and some who acknowledge their infatuation but know the relationship is impossible (Tim and Hawk).
As for the 80s storyline, I’m still not completely onboard with this framing device, though the way the episode ends has me worried that this is going to go further into tragedy than Fellow Travelers initially hinted. I just hope that if it does go down that route that the show will keep the melodrama at bay.
Next week: we’re back at Gayly Dreadful and I’m curious to see if we get an answer to Hawk’s AIDS test with episode 4 “Your Nuts Roasting on an Open Fire”.
Fellow Travelers drops new episodes every Friday on Showtime streaming