After the turbulent, practically non-stop fuckfest, this was the first episode of fellow travelers, we viewers needed a moment to come down – the post-sex cigarette, if you will. If the show dumped its gratuitous, mind-blowingly awesome sex scenes on us for a full hour eight weeks in a row, we’d eventually get sick of it (as great as that sounds). Instead, the Showtime drama slows down a bit in the second episode, just enough for everyone on both sides of the screen to catch their breath.
So are Jonathan Bailey’s hands slapping against Matt Bomer’s bare ass cheeks while Bailey blows him from the front, just five minutes into the episode? Yes. But I swear there’s more narrative structure here! Going from foot sucking and kinky sex games in the first episode to a single offscreen blowjob in the next episode is a big step towards success fellow travelers much more so than the sex scenes, which the show wisely used to attract viewers. Now that the show has built an audience by luring them in with a little naughtiness, it can concentrate on mastering its dance between carnal desire and gripping drama, which it does with a strong second part that deftly plays to its hype Premiere follows.
At the end of last week’s episode, Hawkins (Bomer) – later in his life, in 1986 – heard the pay phone ringing at the San Francisco diner, where he was waiting for a call from his old friend Tim (Bailey). At the beginning of Episode 2, we learn that the call didn’t come from Tim, but from his sister Maggie (Edie Inksetter). Tim sent Maggie in his place to reiterate that he did not want to see Hawkins after Hawkins broke Tim’s heart while the two continued their covert relationship during their time in Washington DC in the mid-20th century
“[Tim] “The fact that you were ever able to have a real partner, you stole that from him,” Maggie says to Hawkins, referring to the fact that he has accompanied her brother over the decades. “I think you’ll be relieved not to have to see him.” When Hawkins asks why he would fly 3,000 miles if he didn’t really want to see Tim, she replies, “I don’t know, so you could say that “You tried?” The show’s writers do a great job of quietly inferring Hawkins’ continued moodiness over the years and slowly teasing it out in the early part of the show’s two timelines.
A few decades ago, the year was 1953 and Hawkins and Tim had been seeing each other for almost a year. They have developed a tender closeness and Hawkins has finally overcome his fear of post-coital intimacy. But just because they’re cuddling doesn’t mean they’re courting. The relationship between Tim and Hawkins is still largely used as a basis to provide Hawkins with information about what is happening on the Republican side of Washington so that he can provide his Democratic senatorial boss with enough gossip to support Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist tirade fight. Tim also serves as a cover for Mary (Erin Neufer), Hawkins’ assistant, who, Tim learns, is a lesbian and lives with her friend Caroline (Gabbi Kosmidis).
When Tim asks why he needs a beard and Hawkins doesn’t, the answer is simple: Hawkins is a decorated war veteran and his medals make him bulletproof from the government’s prying eyes. Stripping a veterinarian of his job would, in Hawkins’s eyes, be as anti-American as communism, and this so-called impenetrable status allows Hawkins to bask in the allure of danger. He enjoys the thrill of keeping his queerness as secret as possible, even in the midst of McCarthy’s newly enacted Lavender Scare order, which calls for outing every closeted queer person in Washington, stripping them of their jobs, and causing national perversion avoid.
While Hawkins can avoid criticism from his government colleagues, he doesn’t quite manage to do so when it comes to his own family. His mother Estelle (Rosemary Dunsmore) confides in Hawkins that his father is dying – she believes it’s real this time – and that he’s had an unusual change of heart. While his father makes no effort to put Hawkins back in the will, Estelle believes there is a way Hawkins can get his inheritance back when he comes home to visit his family. But this opportunity is limited, and since Hawkins is not one for over-communication, he avoids telling Tim where he wants to go altogether.
Hawkins heads east to his family’s sprawling estate and enters a dinner with relatives already in progress. He’s skilled at answering her questions about bachelorhood and dating, but he stumbles when he meets his father Russell (Peter Millard). “You were good at a lot of things, son, but you were never good at hiding,” Russell tells Hawkins. Hawkins lies and tells his father that the circumstances of their argument – his homosexuality – have changed. “Then all that’s left is your apology,” his father replies.
Hawkins asks his father what he has to apologize for, to which Russell explains that he has suffered a lifetime of strife after seeing Hawkins perform oral sex on his high school tennis team friend Kenny. Kenny was Hawkins’ first sexual experience, his first romance, and his first encounter with the loss of a loved one. Kenny died in World War II, and Hawkins’ developing relationship with Tim – whose sweet earnestness reminds Hawkins of Kenny – makes Hawkins look at his father’s entire misfortune in a different light.
“I’m sorry you’re dying…” Hawkins begins. “…that not a single damn soul gives a damn and that you didn’t knock first.” Bomer sells this line with unassailable conviction, taking already robust material to a new level. However, it is a reminder of that fellow travelers can sometimes get a little too close to a The other twoIts two leads are talented enough to help overcome that dreaded plateau every time.
Hawkins returns to Washington and immediately seeks out Tim. He doesn’t explain his absence and tells Tim that it doesn’t matter where he is, despite Tim’s confusion. “I’m home now,” he says before kissing him. It’s just the moment of affection we need before the depressing events that punctuate the rest of this episode. Mary and Caroline are outed by a government employee and Hawkins encourages Tim to write a letter on Mary’s behalf, saving their mutual friend but leaving Caroline out in the cold without a job. Hawkins’ insistence on writing the letter is just proof that as warm-hearted as Hawkins may be, he can turn cold in a minute, especially when friends become a burden to his personal safety. It’s that coldness that gives Tim goosebumps when he tells him he’s done with Hawkins’ dirty work.
In 1986, Hawkins is propositioned for sex by two young men at a gay bar while waiting for Tim to come over. Hawkins witnesses the horrors of the AIDS crisis and has reservations about the kind of wanton, unprotected group sex the men propose. “You’re bulletproof,” Hawkins says, alluding to the time in 1953 when he told Tim the same thing about his veteran status. “Do you know what it took me a long time to realize? Not everyone else is.”
Tired of waiting, Hawkins goes to Tim’s apartment and knocks on the door. Tim thinks it’s Maggie and shouts that the door is open. Hawkins comes in to see his lover lying on the couch staring at him. Despite being older and physically weakened by complications with HIV, Tim is as handsome as ever, and there’s no denying that the same innate chemistry still exists between him and Hawkins. Tim reluctantly lets Hawkins stay for dinner and the episode comes to an end.
fellow travelers Due to the consistent, hour-long running time, it can feel a little over the top at times, but it’s moments like this ending that make the series’ writing work so beautifully. The plot hardly changed in the 80s. But by the ’50s, things had progressed enough to close all the necessary narrative gaps in both timelines, at least up to that point. And all without the plethora of sex scenes that did the same thing in the first episode. It just goes to show you: Sex may not always be a narrative device, but it definitely is may Be. Take that, Generation Z is abstinent!