‘Fellow Travelers’ Episode 5 Cowriter Breaks Down the Pivotal Events: ‘The Power Dynamic Has Changed’

“You just get caught up in living a lie to survive,” Robbie Rogers says

Robbie Rogers, Fellow Travelers
Credit: Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Paramount+ with Showtime

This article contains spoilers for the “Promise You Won’t Write” episode of “Fellow Travelers”

So much happens in Episode 5 of Showtime’s “Fellow Travelers”: In the 1950s timeline: Hawk (Matt Bomer) must undergo a lie-detector test after being accused of being a “deviant”and he and Tim (Jonathan Bailey) mutually decide to end their tumultuous relationship as the real-life McCarthy-Army hearings take place.

We also see the awkward reunion between the two former lovers in the ’80s.

TheWrap recently spoke with the episode’s co-writer, Robbie Rogers, who led a closeted life in the sports world before becoming the first openly gay professional soccer player in North America. Rogers is also a producer on the series, along with his husband, Greg Berlanti, who asked him to try his hand at writing for the first time.

TheWrap: It’s a big episode. A lot happens.

Robbie Rogers: I think that actually made it easier. There’s so much happening. I wrote it with my sister [Katie]. We’ve worked together, but never written together. It was exciting for us, but there was definitely pressure because it was such a big episode.

Hawk was always calling the shots in the ’50s, but when he and Tim meet up again in the ’80s after several years, they’ve both changed so much.

We see Hawk go from this sexy, powerful guy in the ’50s who’s a mover and a shaker and then in the 80s, he’s much more vulnerable, and not as surefooted. [And now] Tim can tell him exactly what he thinks about him.

When you see Hawk in the ’80s in San Francisco, there are so many gay men being openly affectionate with their lovers. And his mind is kind of blown.

When you meet Hawk in the ’50s, he’s sexy, and powerful. Not Don Draper, but a Don Draper-ish kind of character. And in the ’80’s, he’s softer and there’s a lot of history in his face and in his eyes. And some vulnerability going to see Tim. He’s in Tim’s town, on his turf, and the power dynamic has changed a little bit.

At one point, in the ’50s, after Tim learns that Hawk tried to help cover up the arrest of his political mentor’s gay son, he tells Hawk that he’s “not that different” from Senator McCarthy’s unprincipled lawyer, Roy Cohn.

It’s interesting to think about that. Both of them are fixers. Cohn is protecting McCarthy, but also himself. Hawk doesn’t have many people in his life that he really loves, but Senator Smith (Linus Roache) is definitely one of those people he’s trying to protect. The question is, are they doing that just for themselves? Or are they doing that for the other person? That’s for the audience to decide. I think Roy Cohn is pretty evil. But, yes, there are things that are eerily similar or a little bit spooky.

And Tim at that moment is also trying to [break up with] Hawk.

There’s moments where Hawk is repeating these anti-gay slurs, like when he says that Leonard is “one of nature’s mistakes.”

It’s painful when Hawk says those kinds of things, but it’s what you needed to survive at that time. I always find that extremely complicated. I was a professional soccer player and closeted until I was 23. You just get caught up in living a lie to survive. So I understand. And that’s why I still go to therapy.

In the ’50s, Hawk is trying to live a “normal” life, at least on the surface. And Tim never seems to reconcile himself to that. He wants to be able to eat dinner together and wake up together.

I think Tim’s idea of a love story was not possible in the ’50s. It was extremely dangerous. They both could lose their jobs, be outed to their families, removed from [their] government [jobs]. I think Hawk is a realist. He’s been to war and he understands politics and how dirty it can be. And Tim comes to DC to make a difference and be part of something good. So, they’re very, very different people.

Matt Bomer and Allison Williams in the "Promise You Won't Write" episode of "Fellow Travelers"
Matt Bomer and Allison Williams in the “Promise You Won’t Write” episode of “Fellow Travelers.” (Credit: Ben Mark Holzberg/Showtime)

When Lucy (Allison Williams) learns about Leonard’s arrest, she has a fairly sympathetic response when she tells Hawk about having met two men who she later realized were a couple. Hawk could have used that moment to tell her about himself, but he chooses not to.

I love that scene. She’s incredibly empathetic and I think it reveals something about Lucy that is quite modern. She has an understanding of what someone like her brother could be going through. We didn’t want to make Lucy this one-dimensional character. She’s got an interesting arc from when you first meet her. She’s a little bit like Tim. She’s an idealist and she’s interested in the Rosenbergs. There’s really a lot of life to her. And then she’s tied to Hawk because they both go through tragedy together.

I’m fascinated with the show and it makes me want to do a deep dive on the whole McCarthy time period.

I think something like 5,000 or 10,000 people lost their jobs in the State Department. It got to a point where there was a suicide a week. It’s really a dark moment in history that we obviously [haven’t heard much about]. The stakes were so high to fall in love but even just to be yourself.

You mentioned that Hawk is a lot like Don Draper. Could you expand on that?

I think Hawk’s got more of a soul. He’s a fixer and he makes decisions that you definitely don’t agree with. But his love for Senator Smith and his love that he can never confess for Tim through all these years [show his humanity]. I think he really releases Tim in Episode 5 because he loves him and he knows that he’s dangerous to him.

Episodes of “Fellow Travelers” debut on Paramount+ on Fridays and air on Showtime on Sundays at 9 p.m.

Comments

One response to “‘Fellow Travelers’ Episode 5 Cowriter Breaks Down the Pivotal Events: ‘The Power Dynamic Has Changed’”

  1. Eric D Sassaman Avatar
    Eric D Sassaman

    I find it very strange that neither Robbie Rogers, Ron Nyswaner (in a separate interview), nor the interviewer, failed to connect the fictional Senator Smith’s suicide to the real-life suicide of Wyoming’s Senator Lester Hunt, who killed himself during the same period for almost identical reasons and in an absolutely identical manner. It’s not only strange, it’s irresponsible.

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