Sunday, October 29, 2023

REVIEW: 'Fellow Travelers' - Hawk and Tim Meet in the Backdrop of the Lavender Scare in Washington, D.C. in 'You're Wonderful'

Showtime's Fellow Travelers - Episode 1.01 "You're Wonderful"

In 1950s Washington, Hawkins Fuller is a war hero moving up the ladder at the State Department, flirting with women while enjoying clandestine sex with men and avoiding emotional entanglements. Everything changes when Hawk meets religious Tim Laughlin. They begin an affair that puts them in jeopardy. In 1986, married Hawk receives a mysterious package and decides he must see Tim.

"You're Wonderful" was written by Ron Nyswaner and directed by Daniel Minahan

In 1986, Hawk achieves a lifelong dream of being promoted to serve as the United States Ambassador to Italy. He spent a career working at the State Department. He has devoted his service to the diplomatic corps. He survived many obstacles and different presidential administrations. He did so by serving the institution and not a political agenda. All of it is immediately pierced with the sobering truth of what and who he truly desires. He is surrounded by family and friends celebrating him. The one person he loves most wants nothing to do with him - even during what could be his final days. That stings. Hawk completely uproots his life to see Tim one last time. He's encouraged to do so mostly because everyone doubts he would ever put the effort in. Hawk prides himself on emotionally distant relationships. Those have long kept him safe and protected. They have also left him alone where even the people he loves have to accept only being a part of all that he can offer. It's a sad life. One Hawk conditioned himself to have.

Decades earlier, Hawk was simply leading the office that coordinates between the State Department and the U.S. Congress. His biggest priority is maintaining the funding for the Voice of America program. All the attention is instead going to Senator Joseph McCarthy and his quest to expose communists within American society. Hawk is neutral. He must monitor what's happening on Capitol Hill. He's also disillusioned by politics and anyone claiming to be a true believer. Politicians from both parties are merely individuals whose egos must be coddled. That's how Hawk carries out his job. He only ever truly lets out his passion while cruising late at night. It's just meaningless sex void of any emotion. It's aggressive but not intimate. Hawk will share a cigarette but not any details of his life. Others in the community yearn for that connection. They create spaces in which they can be free and open with their love. Their identities still must be hidden in public. They can only enjoy the small intimate spaces they discover. Those interactions are eye-opening and life-affirming. Rejection and shame easily dominate as well. 

At first, Hawk sees Tim Laughlin as someone who stands out in a crowd. He orders milk at a bar. He's a genuine believer in American democracy. It must be protected from the sinister ways of communism. He's devoted to his faith. He fears being sent to Hell for the sins he commits. And yet, the sexual connection between them is palpable right away. Tim is eager to find a job of substance. Hawk wants a source in McCarthy's operation to prepare for anything that could impact his office. It's very transactional. Hawk wields an immense amount of power. He controls the dynamic for awhile. Tim is willing to oblige. The sexual attraction is just so intoxicating and overwhelming. They must have each other. Hawk orders Tim around. It's meant to convey dominance. It's pure control. That's true in their sexual dynamic as well as their professional needs. Tim reaches out with humanity as well. Hawk doesn't immediately rebuff those advances. Instead, he keeps the book in his desk. That's enough of a suspicion for co-workers to turn against each other over McCarthy's moral panic of the standards that must be imposed. It's also a way to suggest ongoing relevance to Hawk despite his reluctance to open up and be vulnerable.

Hawk is a war hero. Others perceive him as protected no matter what. He has allies within various government agencies. He uses those connections to advance his agenda. He knows and interacts with many powerful people. He wields influence behind the scenes. That's attractive too. Hawk expects others to be grateful for what he provides them. And yet, Tim knows how to invade his life too. It's relatively easy for anyone who knows his name and position. Hawk would rather keep those memories private. What holds sentimental value for him should remain only within his mind. Tim slowly learns how to wield his power within this dynamic too. It's not entirely balanced. Moreover, it's destined to head to destruction. Tim is threatened by the life others imagine as inevitable for Hawk. People are constantly pairing him up with Lucy. They are seemingly already engaged. Hawk isn't connected to anywhere. Decades later though, that's precisely the life he accepted. He got married to Lucy and had a family. He loves them. He's completely committed to them. She even knows about the lasting impact Tim has. She accepts that to an extent too. It's everyone choosing to make this arrangement work because it's expected of them. It's not love and true connection. That's sad especially as Hawk looks out at the street to see what the world has actually become.

Hawk even advises Tim that it's a bad idea to let him into his life. He doesn't listen in the moment despite the fears he has already voiced. Tim remains conflicted. He never saw the sex as some shameful sin he must repent over. The relationship is rewarding and makes him come alive in a way he never has before. This isn't his first gay experience. He too lived in the shadows like Hawk. Their connection simply offers something more. It provides a changed perspective. Tim struggles with that. He's angry that Hawk has no beliefs whatsoever. He's so resistant to intimacy. When he finally opens up and shares the story of his first love, that's enough for Tim to welcome him back in. Hawk wants to be with Tim for the night. Sex is implied because that drives so much of their connection. They are compatible in that way. However, Hawk believes he isn't deserving of more even though he is making the plea to show Tim more depth. Hawk will never fundamentally change as the decades later prove definitively. In the early days though, Tim hopes for the possibility that more is possible. He refuses to lock the door. A loving embrace is so positive especially in a world that seeks to rid society of any kind of sexual deviance. Their love is special. They are forced to live in secret. That provides power to the communist threat. Openness offers a way to stand more firmly in what they believe. That kind of acceptance is still far away. In this moment, they only have each other. It's not even a healthy dynamic. They believe it's what they deserve. Money can't fix what Hawk did in outing a junior staffer to the committee to save a friend's reputation. It's something he can do. And so, he does. He lives that way without every truly reckoning with the cost until it's probably too late. The phone still rings though.