Fellow Travelers is the period gay odyssey that we’ve been missing. The show, which spans three decades of sheer pain, is a historical tragedy that will most certainly leave you dewy-eyed. The Showtime miniseries follows two men who meet around the time of the Army-McCarthy hearings and their saga thereafter. It’s a poignant tale of what used to be, but it’s also quite unfortunately relevant today. The show is based on the novel of the same name by author Thomas Mallon. As much as this is an epic love story, it’s also a history lesson for the liberated. Matt Bomer and Jonathan Bailey are both unstoppable in their leading roles as Hawk and Tim, who leave memorable impressions by the end of the series, but all the other characters are just as compelling. Keep your tissues ready for this one if you haven’t seen it yet, and tread ahead for full spoilers.
What Happens In The Series?
Fellow Travelers begins in 1986 when Hawkins “Hawk” Fuller celebrates a job that is taking him to Italy, a long-awaited dream finally fulfilled. He’s met with an unexpected guest, an old friend named Marcus, who is visiting him with some sad news. A man named Tim Laughlin is on his deathbed and has sent a gift for Hawk: memorabilia from their time together—a paperweight. Hawk decides to go visit his old friend before he takes his last breath. We’re then taken back to 1950s Washington, D.C., where the two men first met. Tim is a passionate young college graduate who wants to make a difference in the world, and Hawk, who seems to develop an interest in the young man within seconds of meeting him, gets him a job under Senator McCarthy. Ironically, Tim would rather fearlessly go on to fall in love with Hawk after a few closeted meetings and time spent together while working under McCarthy himself. With the anti-communist movement in full swing, Hawk has ulterior motives—extracting information about McCarthy and Roy Cohn, his lawyer, through Tim.
Marcus, a black journalist, befriends Tim when he notices his closeness to Hawk. Marcus warns Tim of his partner’s tendencies to discard his lovers like used tissue paper. Young and naive Tim obviously doesn’t quite see clearly when it comes to the older and essentially impeccable Hawk, who has swept him off his little feet. The paperweight is meant to signify Hawk’s first love affair with a man; somewhere through their tumultuous relationship, he gives it to Tim, who returns it to him all those years later. As the search for the “subversive and deviant” men in government grows larger and more horrendous, Tim’s feelings for Hawk get stronger, while the older man feels pressured by the emotional attachment that he most easily pushes away (it’s rather frustrating to watch). At some point, the FBI steps in to question those in government jobs about their “perversions.” One of Hawk’s secretaries is on his team, but the other one notices a gift from Tim and reports him. Mary, the friendly secretary, and Tim become friends, pretending to go on dates in front of the world to keep them both safe. Mary’s girlfriend is caught, but Mary is saved by a letter that Tim is forced to write to her after he tells Hawk of his entanglement with her queer friends.
Amidst the lavender scare, Tim and Hawk’s relationship makes further progress as they get away from the city. Tim is abandoned by Hawk, leaving Tim wondering about them yet again. Marcus is given a chance to work for the Washington Post after publishing a story about the fake desegregation of the capital city. Still, even with little to no progress, his road ahead is littered with discrimination. While Hawk’s own family knows the nature of his sexuality, Senator Smith, the man he mostly owes his career to and is somewhat of a son to, thinks he’s in love with his daughter Lucy. We know from episode 1 of Fellow Travelers that Lucy and Hawk will end up being married and having kids and grandchildren at some point. In episode 5 of Fellow Travelers, it is revealed that Leonard, Smith’s son, is of the same nature as Hawk. Leonard knows of Hawk’s homosexuality, but to the family, he is the perfect soldier who is their pride and joy within the government. Leonard could never be the son Smith wanted, so Hawk essentially took his place. Unfortunately, it was always Hawk’s word over Leonard’s. At this time, Tim quits his job because he isn’t quite clear about McCarthy’s actions anymore. Unfortunately, Hawk’s hard work saving Senator Smith from disgrace isn’t quite successful, so Senator Smith commits suicide so that Leonard’s sexuality is kept under wraps. Hawk keeps his promise to Senator Smith and marries Lucy, while Tim gets drafted into the Army.
Why Does Tim Go To Prison?
Tim starts to work with a radical religious group as a social activist after returning from the army. He gets caught by the police, and Hawk is miraculously back to rescue him. They’ve been apart a long time, so this is completely unexpected (Hawk also promised not to write while Tim was in the army). By now, Lucy and Hawk have been married with two kids. The boy, Jackson, doesn’t like his father and knows he’s always lying. Hawk hides Tim in his hunting cabin, and Jackson finds him. Tim’s a nice enough guy, so they become friends, and Jackson reveals his poems and deepest secrets to Tim. He even takes drugs and visits the man at night, telling him that his parents are both liars and don’t really care for him. Tim realizes he shouldn’t be around, ruining Hawk’s perfect family, and gets himself arrested (also to keep his mentor safe). Lucy learns of Tim’s presence in the cabin and tells Tim that she’s had an affair. It’s revealed that she knew from the start about Tim, who slipped a letter into Hawk’s home back when he was first drafted. When Tim comes over to Lucy’s home to make a phone call for his arrest, Lucy reveals that she burned the letter.
What Is Tim Dying From?
In the Fellow Travelers flashforward, we learn that Tim has been suffering from KS, or Kaposi Sarcoma, a rare cancer that is prevalent in patients with AIDS. He’d also had PCP earlier on. Tim insists that Hawk should get himself tested for AIDS, which turns out negative, much to the “careful” man’s relief. Hawk promises Tim’s sister he’ll look after Tim for a bit so she can take a break from the struggle. At this time, Tim has a fall, and Hawk helps him up despite his bleeding. Hawk has always cared for Tim, but this particular scene makes it most evident, probably to Tim himself too.
Who Is Frankie?
In many ways, Marcus and Hawk are two sides of the same coin. They’re both extremely careful yet sincere when it comes to love. It almost feels like if their positions were switched, they’d each do the same thing the other did. The big difference, though, is that, on top of his homosexuality, Marcus is a black journalist. He’s passionate, yes, but he’s also fearful, for good reason. Marcus meets a black drag queen named Frankie during the 1960s. Their relationship slowly develops through the show, paralleling Tim and Hawk’s. The big difference is that during the White Night Riots, Marcus finally decides to stick up for himself and surrender to Frankie completely. At this point, his father, who never learned the truth about him, is dead too. They also take in Jerome, a young student of Marcus’ who also happens to be gay and homeless, thanks to an abusive father.
Why Is Hawk Bulletproof?
Throughout the show, it is made clear that Hawk has a protective shield around him. He will do anything to keep himself safe, even step on his close friends. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s a war veteran—a very respectable one at that—which keeps him safe from scrutiny. On the other hand, he’s got the Smiths who admire him, and he quickly climbs the ranks in the government office with no struggle. Often, it feels like Hawk’s just a shell with no empathy or even an ounce of kindness inside of him. By the end of the show, though, you’re left wondering: Who did he really do it for?
What Happens On Fire Island?
Although Hawk tries his best to get through to his son Jackson, in the end, he succumbs to the drugs and dies tragically. Jackson’s death is devastating for both Hawk and Lucy. Hawk has a house on “Fire Island,” a sanctuary for the LGBTQ+ community. His daughter Kimberly is about to have a baby, but only Lucy can be around her. Hawk has been a mess since Jackson’s death, and he’s been calling Tim to come visit him at his new residence. We learn that he’s left the family after Lucy told him he needed to pull himself together (he’s somewhat of an alcoholic by this time) or leave them. Hawk is whiling away his misery in debaucherous pursuits there. At this point, it’s been eleven years since the two met, and Tim tries his best to get Hawk back on track. Hawk’s got a new boytoy, and Tim can’t help but be jealous. At first, it almost seems as if Hawk’s only agenda is to have this vacation home kept a secret from his family, so he wants to put it under Tim’s name. After all, it is Hawk’s safe haven, and he still wants to hold onto Tim.
In these absolutely unfortunate circumstances, there is a silver lining. This is the first time Tim and Hawk can be “openly gay” without worrying about anybody. It’s a small glimpse of what could’ve been for a brief moment before Hawk goes back to his partying self. But Tim finally gives Hawk the reality check he needs, reminding him that there is still a family waiting for him, and they can’t be left all alone again so soon after losing Jackson. It does quite seem like Hawk is trying desperately to kill himself, the same way his son died—through overdose.
Why Does Hawk Report Tim?
The final episode of Fellow Travelers jumps back and forth between the past and the present, where Tim’s now had two seizures. Hawk has completely surrendered himself to Tim, and Lucy makes the decision to finally end the marriage. It seems she’s only now realized that whatever Hawk had with Tim was much more than just a fling, and it would never truly be “over,” not even with Tim’s death. Lucy visits Hawk in San Francisco to tell him all of this, saying she won’t be moving to Italy with him. She also visits Tim in the hospital to try and understand why Hawk chose him and not her (hurtful, really). Tim is desperate to live, and his last wish (if we could call it that) is to get some action taken on the AIDS bill. Tim’s been asking Hawk to get him the meeting with the California governor because he knows his background would easily make it happen. After seeing the love of his life have two seizures, Hawk finally does the right thing. But it turns out that he owes Tim something from a long time ago.
In a flashback, we find out that after his time in the army, Hawk offered Tim another job, one that would allow them to see each other on a daily basis. Hawk even takes Tim to his “den,” a place of escape, a small apartment for him to step away from Lucy from time to time. Hawk expresses his desire to be with Tim in this apartment, a little after telling him that he’s “the picture of marital fidelity.” Ironically, in about 10 seconds, they have another tumble; this time, power dynamics are reversed, almost making it seem like Hawk’s a changed man, but we couldn’t be further off. Before parting ways, Tim tells Hawk that it’s going to be great seeing him every day, something that Hawk doesn’t seem to have realized before then. As if like clockwork, Hawk reports Tim to McCarthy’s old office, setting him up for a lifetime of no government jobs, the only thing that Tim really ever cared about (how can one like this man?). Tim wants to reason with Hawk, but this is when Lucy’s given birth, and in the hospital, Tim buckles and realizes what he will never have, giving up on them for good (or so he thinks).
So now, back in the 80s, Hawk, who can’t turn back time and fix things, decides to help Tim get that meeting. Hawk exposes himself to the man he’s trying to get help from and almost immediately regrets it. It’s actually the first time he seems somewhat human in the entire show, though. Hawk is asked to bring Lucy to this party where the governor is meant to be present, but he brings a sickly Tim, wearing a suit and a cute knitted beanie instead. At the party, Hawk has had enough and admits to his friend that Tim is actually his lover after hearing that no one really wants to talk about AIDS for the 100th time. In one final moment for them together, when Hawk tries to apologize for the hurt he’s caused Tim, Tim admits that he doesn’t quite care because Hawk has given him one thing—all-consuming love (oh, my eyes are just sweating). He compares his love for Hawk with his love for God, a one-sided thing that he’s completely accepted.
Tim has finally decided to use Hawk, and after this emotional exchange, when it’s quite clear that they’re both each other’s true loves, Tim tells Hawk to leave so he can do his last brave deed. Hawk wants to be there for him, in front of everybody, but Tim believes it will stop him from letting go. Marcus shows up and lets in a bunch of queer people to protest. Marcus, Tim, Frankie, Jerome, and many others remind the party that it’s not AIDS that’s killing them, but indifference.
It is quite a poetic ending considering it’s also Hawk’s indifference to his own feelings in the entirety of Fellow Travelers that led him to be separated from his one true love. The two men are tragically separated yet again, even though they’ve finally surrendered to each other (this is too sad). At the end of the final episode of Fellow Travelers, Hawk and his daughter walk down the AIDS memorial quilt and find Tim’s name. This is the second time we see Hawk fully surrender to his grief (the first time was when Jackson died). In a sweet moment, he tells his daughter that Tim wasn’t his friend; he was the man he loved (the waterworks again). If only Hawk had admitted this about 20 years earlier, things might have turned out very differently. At least we now know that, as a granddad, Hawk is finally able to turn a new leaf. Hawk was always closed off and never truly changed with the times; maybe it was his forced pressure that always stopped him from accepting who he truly was, even when the world was willing to accept it too. We can’t say Hawk was evil; he was just a wounded, selfish, and flawed man who was consumed by the desire for power. Interestingly, he probably wanted this power to keep him safe, but it only made him more vulnerable.