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Love in the time of McCarthyism is no walk in the park for Matt Bomer and Jonathan Bailey in the series premiere of Fellow Travelers.
The Showtime limited drama — which dropped its first episode Friday on Paramount+ With Showtime, before making its linear debut this Sunday at 9/8c — begins in 1986, with a going-away party for Hawkins “Hawk” Fuller (White Collar vet Bomer) and his wife Lucy (Girls‘ Allison Williams), the former of whom has been assigned a post in Italy. In the middle of the event, Marcus (The Walking Dead: World Beyond’s Jelani Alladin), a man from Hawk’s past, shows up with a package. It’s from Tim, Hawk’s former lover, who is settling his affairs as he battles AIDS — but he doesn’t want to speak to Hawk.
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“You have a beautiful family, a beautiful life. I hope it was worth it,” Marcus says to Hawk, who later opens the box to reveal a D.C. paperweight.
Cut to Washington in 1952 and Hawk and Tim’s meet-cute at a political party, where Tim (Bridgerton‘s Bailey, sporting an impressive American accent) fails to get the bartender’s attention. His interest piqued by the cute, fumbling stranger, Hawk asks Tim what he’s drinking. Milk, Tim responds to Hawk’s surprise. It’s not long before the two run into each other again at the park, where they discuss dreams and politics — the idealistic, deeply religious Tim wants to fight the good against Communism — and skirt the line between innocent talk and innuendo-laden flirting. (“I’ll spend the afternoon picturing you kneeling in prayer,” Hawk says after Tim announces he’s going to noon Mass.)
A connected and suave State Department employee at the Bureau of Congressional Relations, Hawk helps Tim get a job with his hero, Senator Joseph McCarthy (True Blood’s Chris Bauer). In exchange, Hawk wants Tim to keep him informed about what he’s asked to research. Despite that eyebrow-raising request, the two men begin a passionate, often sexually bossy (on Hawk’s part) affair behind closed doors. But Tim soon becomes frustrated that Hawk never shares about himself. When Tim asks him a string of questions, Hawk erupts in anger. He doesn’t like being put on trial, and no, unlike Tim (or Skippy, as Hawk dubs him), he doesn’t believe in God.
Meanwhile, another politician comes to Hawk because he was spotted at a queer establishment and now needs to give over a name to spare himself. After Hawk runs into Eddie, a man he had anonymous sex with, at the State Department, he pretends not to know him, then gives his name to his politician pal.
Tim tells Hawk about a conversation he overheard at work about an executive order and convinces Hawk to take him to a political soirée. (“I’m your boy, right? And your boy wants to go to the party,” Tim suggestively says.) Hawk, Tim and journalist Marcus end up ditching the shindig to go to a secret club, where Tim can’t keep his hands off Hawk. Despite Marcus’ warning that he and Hawk both “prefer sex without emotional engagements,” Tim can’t help pressing Hawk about what they are. He doesn’t care if what he and Hawk are doing is a sin, but the one thing he can’t live with is if Hawk is going to marry Senator Smith’s daughter Lucy. Hawk reminds him that all this can ever be between them is fun. Tim says he’s not ashamed to feel things and calls Hawk a coward before storming off. At church, Tim prays and confesses to the Father that he felt pure when he committed this sin, so how can he repent for it?
Meanwhile, Hawk’s plan backfires: Eddie tries to kill himself, prompting Hawk to leave an envelope of cash at his residence. And the executive order is expanding security investigations to all branches of government to search out sexual deviants, which could be very bad news for Hawk, especially since one of his judgy secretaries took a peek at the book inscription Tim left for Hawk after he got him the job: “Thank you for everything. You’re wonderful.”
Even in the face of that threat, Hawk still shows up at Tim’s place and confides about his first lover, who picked up that D.C. paperweight during a senior trip, after which Hawk pushed him away.
“I’d like to come up to your room. I’d like to hold you tonight, if you’ll let me,” Hawk says. Tim admits that he’s afraid of Hawk and asks him what he should do. Hawk instructs Tim to go inside and lock the door behind him. Tim goes up the steps, then stops to add, “Unfortunately, the lock is broken.” Upstairs in Tim’s room, the pair simply hug.
Fast forward back to 1986: Lucy is well aware where Hawk is going and why. He reassures his wife, “You’re everything to me,” to which she replies, “If I was everything, you wouldn’t be going where you’re going.” Hawk later calls Tim from a phone at a San Francisco diner and says he wants to see him. Hawk’s explaining that he’ll wait for his call at the diner as long as it takes when Tim abruptly hangs up on him without saying a word. Hawk sits at a booth until the place is nearly empty, watching men openly embrace on the street outside. Just when it seems like all hope is lost and that Hawk is going to leave, the phone rings.
What did you think of the Fellow Travelers premiere? And how about the power dynamics in the sex scenes? Grade the show below, then hit the comments!
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