Tue. Apr 16th, 2024
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The love that once dared not speak its name is further clouded by political paranoia in Fellow Travelers, Showtime‘s fascinating historical drama, loosely adapted by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia) from Thomas Mallon’s novel. Much of the eight-part limited series is set in early-1950s Washington, D.C., where firebrand senator Joseph McCarthy’s (Chris Bauer) relentless crusade against “subversives and deviants” in the government, and later the military, tarnished and ruined many an innocent life.

Fellow Travelers focuses less on red-baiting than on the Lavender Scare, with closeted homosexuals hounded and persecuted as potential security risks. Seemingly “bulletproof” through this period is suave war hero Hawkins “Hawk” Fuller (Matt Bomer, never better), a mid-level bureaucrat who advises a principled senator (Linus Roache) by day, wooing the politician’s daughter (Girls’ stoic Allison Williams) for cover as he engages in anonymous sex with men, avoiding any emotional attachments.

Until he meets Tim Laughlin (Bridgerton’s boyishly affecting Jonathan Bailey), an eager idealist whose sexuality is complicated by his deep Catholic faith. Hawk takes the naive Tim, whom he fondly nicknames “Skippy,” under his wing and into his bed. “Welcome to the capital of ulterior motives,” Hawk declares, finding his protégé a job in McCarthy’s office and using him as a reluctant mole. Tim’s strong moral core, which manifests in later decades into anti–Vietnam War and gay rights activism, struggles against the hypocrisy and denial of Hawk’s compartmentalized life.

When Tim admits, “I don’t lie as easily as you do,” Hawk replies, “Then you won’t survive.” Their torrid encounters, many graphically portrayed, are often punctuated by histrionic meltdowns when Tim demands more than Hawk is willing to give in a relationship soured by fear. Hawk’s Black journalist friend Marcus (Jelani Alladin) faces even more hurdles as he confronts racism as well as homophobia and his culture’s masculine ideals.

Bomer is especially effective, tapping a darker vein than we typically see, as Hawk constructs a cold, even cruel veneer of self-preservation as a family man who eventually betrays everyone he loves by never being honest about who he is. His attempt at redemption comes late in life, in flash-forward scenes framing the entire series, set in 1986 amid the AIDS epidemic. Flying across the country to San Francisco to reconnect with an ailing Tim, who’s “too angry to forgive anybody,” Hawk assesses the wreckage of his life.

Sentimental, yes, with a multiple-hanky tearjerking finish. But the larger tragedy of Fellow Travelers is in its depiction of a time of sinister, inhumane oppression. “The lying, it gets easier,” Hawk lies to Tim back in the bad old days. “Eventually it doesn’t hurt as much. Because you have no choice.”

The pain is beyond measure.

Fellow Travelers, Limited Series Premiere, Sunday, October 29, 9/8c, Showtime; streaming debut Friday, October 27, Paramount+ with Showtime

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The post Roush Review: Life in the Washington, D.C. Closet in Compelling ‘Fellow Travelers’ appeared first on WorldNewsEra.


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