Sunday, December 10, 2023

REVIEW: 'Fellow Travelers' - Hawk Relies Even More on Drugs and Sex After a Family Tragedy in 'White Nights'

Showtime's Fellow Travelers - Episode 1.07 "White Nights"

It's 1979 and Tim, now a social worker in San Francisco, travels to Fire Island where he suspects Hawk is drinking himself to death after a family tragedy. Hawk takes Tim on a tour of "gay paradise," indulging in dancing, drugs and unbridled sex until things take a dark turn. In San Francisco, Marcus and Frankie are drawn into the explosion of gay rage prompted by the verdict in Dan White's murder trial. Hawk's adult daughter, Kimberly, challenges Lucy to share the truth about her marriage.

"White Nights" was written by Brandon K. Hines & Ron Nyswaner and directed by Destiny Ekaragha

The series spent five of its eight episodes in the 1950s. That was when Hawk and Tim were constantly in each other's lives. They worked together in the government. They faced the same struggles. They maintained their fiery connection in private. It was hot and sexy. It was also limited based on the times they lived in and their own confidence in their identities. They were always at risk of exposure. Their lives could be ruined at any moment. Hawk protected himself by compartmentalizing every aspect of his identity. Tim couldn't live like that. He traveled to Washington, D.C. so certain in his convictions. Everything he thought he knew was challenged. His worldview was radicalized and altered. In the decades since, he has struggled to find his place. However, he has arrived at that point of clarity. He is certain in who he is. Upon his release from prison, he decides to live completely open. He comes out to his family. He joins Marcus and Frankie in San Francisco. He becomes a social worker. He's happy.

Tim's happiness and purpose isn't linked to his relationship with Hawk. In fact, they may only be a hindrance to one another. They are so passionate. This is the most meaningful connection they've ever had. The barriers they face are almost all internal. It's the refusal to accept this love and all that comes with it. And so, they spend many years apart. One episode was spent on their entire interactions during the 1960s. The same is true with their encounters in the 1970s. They go long stretches of time without seeing each other. Hawk has his own family. He married Lucy Smith. They had two children. Jackson died from a heroin overdose. It's an immense tragedy that rocks this family to its core. However, Hawk is incapable of providing the support his family needs. He runs away from anything that's real. He has never allowed himself to be vulnerable. Every move in life has been a careful calculation. Even his feelings for Tim were specifically planned. He had to control every aspect of their relationship. He sought ownership over Tim.

In 1979, Tim is the one looking out for Hawk. He knows the family's pain. He knew Jackson when he was a moody teenager. He was a gifted poet and musician. Everyone hoped he could make a meaningful life out of that passion. Instead, he inherited the worst traits of his parents. He felt like something was wrong with him. He didn't know how to talk about that. Drugs were the only comfort he found. Hawk blames himself. Jackson refused to drink because of the connection alcohol had to his father. It was an act of defiance. He remained of clear mind to make that decision. He could always avoid that temptation. Yet addiction is a vicious disease. The substances are potent and addictive. Jackson got hooked and could never give it up. And now, Hawk is wallowing in the same despair. Sex, drugs and alcohol can't make his grief and trauma go away. He believes he's coping. He's handling life just like he always has. He's hurting his family in the process. Tim has to become part of this world just so Hawk will listen to what he has to say. Even then, Tim is uncomfortable with the compromises he must make to maintain this connection. These partying ways are toxic to his health. However, he keeps in touch with the friends he makes during his time on Fire Island.

Hawk breaks down over seeing his son's picture. He's confronted by the cruel reality of his family's loss in the middle of the activity he loves the most. He engages in a threesome with Tim and Craig. He forces it to happen. It's a moment where his sexual satisfaction is prioritized. Craig wants it too. He believes proclaiming himself as the best sex Hawk has ever had will make Tim jealous. Tim is above those trivial concerns. He knows Hawk on a deeper level. He knows what life awaits him elsewhere. Hawk needs to return home to his family. He believes he's no good for them. He's been destructive in so many ways. His family doesn't even know him. They have only ever seen what he has wanted them to. Hawk can no longer maintain that image. He's vulnerable for the first time ever. It's in Tim's embrace. Hawk has fought against his identity for so long. He refuses to label himself as a gay man. He prefers the term homosexual. It's all about his sexual preference. It's not an identity that permeates throughout the rest of his life. That's the most brutal and vicious lie. He loves Tim. He just can't allow himself to acknowledge that. Tim sees it. That's why he always gets his hopes up. Hawk can never fully honor that promise. Tim walking away gives Hawk the clarity to know that he's messed up and needs to make things right. It's just not something Tim can be a part of any more.

Tim is needed elsewhere. San Francisco is on the verge of unrest. Dan White is only convicted of manslaughter for killing Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. The gay community rallied around Milk as a symbol for what's possible. He was slain by a man who refused to cede power to a changing world he didn't understand. The different generations respond in their own unique ways. Marcus could never come out to his father. He lived his life carrying the secret of his identity. Jerome can't bear hiding that part of himself despite the disapproval from his family. Hawk may never arrive at that peace until Tim dies. That fate seems inevitable. He continues to suffer seizures. Hawk is there for him. He isn't going anywhere. He finally provides Tim with what he has always wanted. That still carries pain for the family Hawk leaves behind. Lucy doesn't understand her husband. She loves him. She appreciates him coming home to her and loving their family. She doesn't want to see what's painfully obvious. She was raised to deflect. She can't acknowledge the truth. She and Tim are in conflict for Hawk's love. Hawk made a commitment. His heart was only broken because he allowed himself to love. He suffered the loss of a child. That's unbearable. He isn't the only one to suffer. So many others have as well. That isn't the only pain in the world either. Hawk wants to be insulated. That has kept him safe for a long time. That's only a life of denial. That passes from generation to generation until suffering is all that's left. Tim breaks free of that pattern. Marcus and Frankie found love and acceptance too. Yet the community still fights for their humanity to be respected.