In Showtime’s Fellow Travelers, Matt Bomer and Jonathan Bailey star as Hawkins “Hawk” Fuller and Tim Laughlin, two government workers who begin an affair in 1950s Washington D.C. The new series is based on Thomas Mallon’s 2007 novel of the same name, which explores both the Red Scare and the Lavender Scare: the Cold War-era persecution of suspected communists and gay Americans working in government, respectively.So, does their relationship stand the test of time? Here’s a book summary of Fellow Travelers if you want a peek ahead at what the show’s eight episodes might have in store. Spoilers ahead.
A Heartbreaking Flash Forward
— Ben Mark Holzberg/SHOWTIME
Mallon’s novel primarily takes place in the 1950s, but begins with a crushing scene from 1991. Hawk works in foreign service and lives with his wife, Lucy, in Estonia, which is newly independent from the Soviet Union.It’s here that he receives a letter from an old friend and colleague, Mary, who informs Hawk that Tim died after a long illness. Hawk initially assumes Tim (who he hasn’t seen in decades) died of AIDS, and begins to reflect on their time together — including their first meeting 40 years ago.
In 1953, Hawk works in the Department of State, and Tim works a summer job covering politics at The Washington Star. They meet by chance after Joseph McCarthy’s wedding, and Hawk recommends Tim for a job writing a senator’s speeches.“I got the job. You’re wonderful,” Tim writes in a sweet note to Hawk. — Ben Mark Holzberg/ShowtimeSoon, they begin sleeping together in secret. But while they’re both very attracted to each other, they’re not necessarily in the same place. Tim earnestly believes that he fell in love with Hawk the moment they met. Hawk, for his part, is more experienced — and, sometimes, distant.
Several factors threaten Hawk and Tim’s budding relationship. At one point, Hawk is forced to take a lie detector test about his sexuality and denies ever being in love with a man. Though he passes, the test is an official reminder of the danger facing Hawk and Tim.
Similarly, Tim is startled when a colleague implies he knows about Hawk and Tim from the way they look at each other. This causes Tim to worry that he’ll not only be in Hawk’s “clutches,” but his peer’s, too.This ever-present concern — coupled with Tim’s devout Catholicism and frustration at Hawk’s withholding nature — drives him to enlist in the U.S. Army. — Ben Mark Holzberg/SHOWTIMEHe returns two years later, but his love for Hawk hasn’t gone away. It’s extra complicated once Hawk welcomes a child with his new wife, Lucy.Tim is happy to continue the affair, but Hawk puts things to a decisive end. He thwarts Tim from getting a job by outing him to a colleague. He still cares for Tim, but he grows “wary” when he sees that Tim is setting aside his entire life for him — as Hawk sees it, “a vow of emotional poverty that he was willing to keep six days a week.” — ShowtimeHawk instructs Mary (their mutual friend who knows of their relationship) to tell Tim it was him, guaranteeing that Tim will, indeed, move on.
Tim’s Final Message
Back in 1991, Hawk and Mary have a conversation about what happened to Tim after Hawk’s betrayal. Tim moved to Rhode Island and led a quiet, “peaceful” life outside politics. He died not of AIDS, as Hawk suspected, but of bone cancer (ironic, because he drinks milk throughout the entire book). — Ben Mark Holzberg/SHOWTIMEHe also left a note for Mary to give Hawk: “Let him know that I was happy enough. Make it easy on him.”
Hawk & Tim’s Real-Life Inspiration
Unlike many of the historical figures in Mallon’s novel, Hawk and Tim aren’t based on specific people. However, Mallon told the Key West Literary Seminar that they both “contain bits and pieces of people” he knew.“This has become my preferred avenue into history — the plausible presence of a small person who’s seeing big things,” Mallon added of his work (which has also been adapted into an opera).
Mallon did acknowledge that he made Tim’s birthday the same as his own, 20 years apart. “I realized that in some ways I was going to be writing about what my own life might have been like had I been born two decades earlier,” he explained.