FELLOW TRAVELERS: Your Nuts Roasting on an Open Fire

Posted on November 19, 2023


In the fourth episode of Fellow Travelers, we get a better understanding of just how much people have changed in the thirty-plus years that span the story, and what may have led some of them to change so drastically. It’s Christmas 1953 and the M Unit of the Security Bureau at the State Department is sending men off to their suicides. In 1986, a bemused Hawk watches Tim lead an AIDS political action group at Marcus and Frankie’s place. “He’s as passionate about left-wing politics as he was about McCarthy,” he notes to Marcus. It’s a pleasant surprise to see Marcus and Frankie still together over thirty years later. Hawk mentions that he’s “more or less sober.” Marcus says he heard Hawk got tested and asks if he’s heard back yet. Hawk says he hasn’t, but that he’s not worried. Later, they gather around the TV to sneer at the dying Roy Cohn denying his homosexuality to the last on 60 minutes.

In 1953, Hawk finds a summons from the Bureau of Security to come in for questioning. Mary makes a show of coming into his office for routine reasons in front of the suspicious Miss Addison and her tacky Christmas sweater. They confer in the manner of two people who know how to survive in a dangerous and unequal system. His boss Morton comes in and lets him know that the State Department will not be challenging McCarthy’s ongoing attacks against the army. Hawk is told not to rock the boat and that there’s a foreign posting in his future, which makes for a sharp reminder that, for whatever reasons, Hawk’s much-desired foreign posting didn’t happen for another three decades. Morton reminds him that he’s having a holiday party for department heads and their wives and Hawk practically set the phone on fire dialing Lucy immediately. With every passing second, his relationship with Tim becomes a little closer to doomed.

In McCarthy’s office, Tim is pouring celebratory drinks for Joe and his cronies, who are toasting his marriage to his scary secretary. They turn the subject toward the increasingly damaging and scandalous behavior of Roy Cohn, who has been badgering the army to give David Schine everything from weekends off to custom boots. Tim winces when one of them calls Roy a fairy. When Joe asks Tim what he thinks he should do about Roy, he says he doesn’t know, but that he wonders if Roy shouldn’t put aside personal issues in service to “the cause.” Contrasting this with the previous scene showing the Tim of 1986 as a liberal firebrand, it feels like this whole episode is in service to depicting more fully the long road and the vast differences separating the people in 1953 and their versions in 1986.

Roy is on the phone with an increasingly bitchy, manipulative and petulant David Schine, who is demanding another weekend pass. Roy mentions that several senators are trying to get him fired but eventually relents under David’s cockteasing and agrees to meet him in New York, where they will spend their time at the Waldorf doing things you can’t do with women. Schine was evidently not gay and we don’t think the point here is to assume otherwise. He’s manipulating Roy and isn’t above teasing him with the possibility of sex.


“Be careful, I might get used to this. Walking into a room on your arm.” A dutiful but clearly thrilled Lucy is getting an introductory course in what it will be like to be a Washington Wife as she trades words with the head of M Unit security. “What an insufferable prig,” she assesses, not even close to realizing just how much she’s being used.

Marcus is offered a temporary desk (“Call it a trial run”) at the Washington Post, based on his expose of Washington bars flouting the desegregation laws. He’s thrilled at first, until he’s told he’ll be writing about “the Negro experience” and that he can’t use the same restrooms as everyone else.

Hawk reports to M Unit where he’s told that they have reason to believe that they need to ask him a series of question. They do not, however, have any responsibility to tell him why they have reason to believe or who gave them reason to believe (although we all know who it is by now). When asked about his marital status, Hawk says “there’s a special lady in the picture” and that she met Mr. McLeod, the head of M Unit at a Christmas party the night before, that wily bastard. Unfortunately, this means nothing to the agent. Instead he asks Hawk to walk across the room, to check for any mincing or sashaying. When the session is over, Hawk seemingly needles the agent by bringing up the guy who walked in front of a truck at the start of the episode and how that must be hard for him. “Unfortunately, we’re seeing on average of one suicide per week,” he responds coolly. “Ever worry that someone might kill you instead?” Hawk asks. We’re not really sure why he would do this, but it plays into the sort of supernatural sociopathy that comes to the fore this episode, with his apparent superhuman ability to evade polygraph detection. At the office Christmas party, Mary counsels him on what to expect from the polygraph test (since her ex girlfriend had to take one before fleeing Washington) and is appalled to hear him making jokes about it. “You’re all wrong for him, Fuller,” she shifts gears rapidly. “He is deeply sincere and you’re going to hurt him.” She clearly knows that Hawk made Tim write that note (she almost certainly recognized Hawk’s voice in it) and is still angry about it, knowing it must have hurt Tim to write it. On the other hand, we’re not sure why Mary would so readily embrace and defend someone who works in McCarthy’s office. From her perspective, there really shouldn’t be any difference between Tim and Roy Cohn. Miss Addison, she of the sneer and the ugly sweaters, wanders over and reveals that she knows what they’re talking about and that she’s the reason Hawk is being investigated, which is mighty bold – or stupid – of her, given the investigation is still ongoing and he’s her boss. Hawk flips open his fan, calls her a c-word without saying it, and wishes her a Merry Christmas before sashaying and dipping his way out of there. More or less.


In 1986, Tim is fighting for an AIDS anti-discrimination bill and essentially orders Hawk to help him get into the governor’s office and get him to sign it. Hawk is uncomfortable about the idea and tries to get him to eat. “Stop playing the compassionate nurse. It doesn’t suit you,” Tim says bitchily. Hawk reminds him that he knows what it’s like to lose someone and Tim immediately apologizes, noting that he’d suffered a tremendous loss. Hawk says he and Lucy have been managing for seven years now “but it never feels managed.” He tells him that he can’t help him set up a meeting with the governor and all but admits he’s too scared to be associated with anything gay, adding that he has a right to protect his family. Tim shouts back that he has a right not to die and Hawk storms out looking for a bar while Tim shouts after him that the bath houses are all closed, knowing how Hawk is likely to seek out sex.

In 1953, they’re having an adorable Christmas together. Tim gives Hawk a tie and Hawk manipulates Tim with sex to get him to reveal that McCarthy is meeting with the army’s lawyers to talk about David Schine. Hawk figures out that McCarthy is being pressured to throw Cohn to the wolves. He thanks Tim by blowing him, which apparently hasn’t happened before. After sex and cuddling (they really are cute together, even if they’re wrong for each other), Hawk gives Tim a pair of cufflinks with his – Hawk’s, that is – initials on it, more or less branding him through menswear accessories, which is a very gay sort of thing to do. “I can’t bear being this happy,” Tim whispers to him and it’s both adorable and heartbreaking, given where they wound up. Hawk asks him to give an envelope to Schine if he sees him in New York. Tim tries to hide his own hurt and asks if whatever’s in there will hurt anyone. Hawk assures him that he’s trying to stop people from being hurt. There’s an interesting sort of dichotomy, where the sociopathic closet case is fighting an anti-gay system while the romantic, idealistic twink is working for that very system. We hope the series explores the tension between Tim’s ideals and Tim’s own life a little bit more. He’s very self-righteous in the ’80s – and perhaps rightly so – but someone in 1953 needs to call him a hypocrite. “Will I see you again?” Tim asks him fearfully. Hawk gives him a kiss “so you’ll remember me,” which seems like a pretty definitive answer. In 1986, Lucy calls Tim’s number looking for Hawk and they have an uncomfortable, but polite conversation. Meanwhile, Hawk’s drunkenly heading into the back room of a leather bar. The issue of the aging effects on some of these actors becomes more overt in some cases more than others – Allison Williams is simply not believable as a grandmother, for instance – but a scene like this one is when we really wish they’d cast older actors for the later scenes. When you look like Matt Bomer, you’re going to be treated a certain way in one of these scenarios. When you look like a 65 to 70 year old man, it becomes a totally different dynamic. Things go badly for Hawk – a guy tries to fuck him – and he stumbles out of there.


In 1953, Hawk teaches himself to conquer polygraph machines. What is he, gay Batman? This whole sideline struck us as a little silly. We don’t think it’s necessarily impossible to do what Hawk did, but the idea that he taught himself to do it in one night by staring at a picture of Mamie Eisenhower is a weirdly incongruent moment of camp. It’s largely in service to the idea that Hawk is a Don Draper-like master of his own domain, as well as a way of confirming his own feelings about Tim to himself, but it felt like the series’ first real moment of nonsense. Meanwhile, things are going badly for Roy Cohn in the New York meeting with the army’s lawyers. At one point he threatens to wreck the army and Joe’s advisors start begging him to cut him loose. Tim stands dutifully in a corner, taking it all in, to Roy’s irritation. Mrs. McCarthy remains drunk and bitter in the outer room. She waves her rocks glass around and tells Tim that the senator’s enemies are God’s enemies. “Let them die. That’s how we win.” Roy storms out of the meeting and Joe informs his coiled spring of a wife that the army is bringing the two of them up on charges. “You have got to get rid of that little Jew and his pervert friend,” she hisses at him. Tim gives David Schine the envelope from Hawk.

It’s Christmas! Tim is back home with his family, telling an awkwardly clever lie about the meaning behind his cufflinks. Hawk is nestled in the bosom of the Smith family, with Lucy at his side. She’s worried about why her brother is so angry all the time and we wonder if he’s gay too, although you’d think Hawk would pick up on that. In the Cozy Corner, Storme and Frankie are entertaining the crowd while an amused and clearly smitten Marcus looks on. Hawk stops by and congratulates him on his job at the Post and Marcus asks how he beat the polygraph test (seems kind of a stretch that he would know about it). Hawk says he realized it’s not about detecting the truth, but detecting the absence of guilt. “And I have none.” Marcus asks him if he’s celebrating because it proved he doesn’t love Tim or because he’s such a good liar. “I’m not celebrating,” Hawk responds. This whole thing pushed him straight into the arms of an eager and waiting Lucy Smith.


In their(?) hotel room, David shows Roy the contents of Hawk’s envelope, which are, of course, the damning evidence he snagged from that hustler in Rehoboth intimating that McCarthy had sex with men. Roy tells him to kick off his shoes and open the brandy, “We’re not going anywhere.” Lucy looks happily at her new diamond bracelet, Tim looks happily at his new cufflinks, a newly shackled but also newly free Hawk goes cruising in the tearoom, and Marcus and Frankie have searing-hot sex to ring in the yuletide. Even if they’re delusional or they had to hurt someone to get there, everyone is happy.

In 1986, a bloodied and drunk Hawk goes back to Tim’s apartment and the news that he had a seizure and was taken to the hospital. “It’s bad.” The gulf between the past and the present widens and contracts constantly.

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