Marcus Gaines In ‘Fellow Travelers,’ Explained: How Did Marcus Become Free?

While Fellow Travelers focuses on the tragic love story between Tim and Hawk, two white men, from the late 50s to the late 80s, the show also puts an emphasis on the colored queer scene in the same period, or rather, the sad state of affairs. Marcus’ story in the journalistic world of Washington, D.C., parallels Tim’s journey through his political career in many ways. But, in truth, it is Marcus and Hawk who are similar in every way yet very different. Maybe I could say Marcus is the perfect balance between Tim and Hawk (although it takes him a long time to get there). Marcus starts off as a journalist for a black newspaper. When he stands up to Roy Cohn, his press privileges are revoked immediately. Marcus makes a statement that’s quite memorable: “Real change is what white people talk about when they don’t really want anything to change.” Although Marcus is a gay black man, his color always comes first. He gets a job at the Washington Post because he writes an article about being thrown out of a white restaurant, never mentioning the fact that he’s also called a deviant, along with his partner, the drag queen Frankie.

Marcus and Frankie’s story, too, is about a ship that sails right next to Tim and Hawk’s, although the storms they face are different. Marcus most definitely accepts the job at the Post because it’s respectable and exactly the kind of thing that would make his dying old man proud of him. Marcus is very firmly closeted, just like Hawk, and uses his masculinity as a weapon. A few times Marcus and Frankie get caught, once in Cozy Corner, the place they met. After that, Marcus can never go back there. It takes him years to finally feel courageous when things start to improve for his kind and his father passes away. Marcus and Frankie’s tumultuous relationship has many ups and downs throughout the series. He lets him go more than once, always coming back knocking on his door. In a similar way to Hawk, Marcus spends a lot of time cheating on Frankie. I suppose it’s their escape from attachment or love—basically, this complicated thing called feelings. But, unlike Hawk, who goes and marries a woman and ruins her life too, Marcus stays true to himself there.

Most of Marcus’ life is spent in fear. He, too, like Hawk (really, their similarities are too many), tries to climb up the social ladder in order to protect himself as a powerful man. Of course, the journey there is much harder for the black man with no support from anybody. This is probably why he’s also more wary in comparison. Marcus finally moves to San Francisco when his father dies to be with Frankie for good. This is when he gives in to his feelings for Frankie. There’s also a scene when he tells his father the name Frankie when he’s asked if there’s a woman he loves. Unfortunately, Marcus never gets to tell his father that he’s homosexual, but one could think it’s an open secret. Of course, that doesn’t stop Marcus from feeling some kind of remorse.

Later, Marcus takes a job at San Francisco State University and becomes a professor there. By this time, the queer scene is drastically different from the one when he was young, but of course, he’s still quite traumatized by the life he lived back then. During a classroom argument about Harvey Milk, a student named Jerome supports the openly gay politician, while another curses him out as a queer person. As we know, just as much as there is progress, there is regression. Instead of supporting Jerome, Marcus stays passive, something that Jerome can’t stand. Although he is right to fight for himself, he doesn’t know what Marcus has been through either. There’s obviously a generational gap that Marcus isn’t willing to fill at that point. But Marcus does know that Jerome is going through something and is living away from home, so he makes the calculated guess that he too is homosexual. Marcus wants to do all he can to help Jerome, but he’s also still very afraid.

When the White Night riots take place, Jerome is at the queer center, trying to get help for himself. Marcus is there to meet Frankie, who wants to step out and fight for his people, while Marcus worries, especially because of Frankie’s colored background. Frankie calls Marcus a coward and heads out, with Jerome following him. Later, Marcus finds Jerome and protects him from police brutality. Jerome had previously told Marcus that he doesn’t know what courage is, but at this point, Marcus shows how truly courageous he has been and will be. He kisses Frankie in front of the police in a “free” state, after being badly beaten up by the same men. They take Jerome in and become a happy family.

Their happiness doesn’t last forever, though. At some point, Marcus learns that Jerome is HIV positive, something he couldn’t have possibly protected him from. I think it is in this vulnerable moment that Marcus is at his most courageous. Jerome can’t help but blame himself for making mistakes and turning out the way he did, but Marcus reminds him that he’s innocent. I suppose Marcus sees something of himself in Jerome. He tells him everything that he himself would’ve wanted to hear in that situation. Marcus was never protected, which is why he was always afraid, but with Jerome, he is finally free of those feelings, giving him all the protection he needs. In the end, during the protests, both Jerome and Marcus stand beside a sickly Tim and scream at the top of their lungs. I suppose we can end things on a happy note, considering Jerome’s good health. Maybe Marcus did save him in the end and showed off his ultimate strength through love.

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Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika, or "Ru," is a fashion designer and stylist by day and a serial binge-watcher by night. She dabbles in writing when she has the chance and loves to entertain herself with reading, K-pop dancing, and the occasional hangout with friends.

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