Two men (Jonathan Bailey and Matt Bomer) sit in an AIDS clinic waiting room in 'Fellow Travelers.'

This Freddie Mercury Song Pairs Perfectly With ‘Fellow Travelers’

"I seem to be what I'm not, you see."

It’s safe to say that I’m in love with Showtime’s historical romance Fellow Travelers. But at the end of this week’s episode, “Hit Me,” they really outdid themselves by using “The Great Pretender” by Freddie Mercury.

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Fellow Travelers does an excellent job of weaving key points of queer American history into the story. The inclusion of the Lavender Scare and Reagan’s utter failure to handle the AIDS crisis is not often featured in romances. Of course, the real heart of the show is the characters and the epic romance between Hawk Fuller (Matt Bomer) and Tim Laughlin (Jonathan Bailey). Their chemistry and love keep them orbiting each other for decades, whether they like it or not. The two first meet in the 1950s and still feel that pull in the later 1980s, even though they live on opposite sides of the country with vastly different lives.

Seeing them in the later 1980s shows how much one has changed while the other has stayed the same. Tim is an openly gay activist living in San Francisco. Sadly, as this is the height of the AIDS epidemic, Tim has contracted the deadly virus. During this era, medical treatments weren’t as advanced as they are now, and the disease wreaks havoc on his body. Hawk comes to stay with Tim and help him during the difficult time. In the episode Tim makes Hawk get an AIDS test, something Hawk hasn’t done yet. At the end of the episode, Hawk looks at the camera while answering questions about his sexual activity. As the scene starts to fade and the end credits roll, the song “The Great Pretender” by Freddie Mercury begins to play.

Pretending that I’m doing well

In 1987, Freddie Mercury released an album separate from his work with the rock band Queen. His cover of “The Great Pretender” appeared on that album and has long been one of my favorites. The song was originally sung by The Platters in 1955. It’s about pretending to be fine after a breakup, even though you are dying inside and miss the person you were with. When Mercury recorded his version, he said it felt like how he did on stage, creating characters and pretending to be someone he wasn’t. As a closeted bisexual man, I could see how the words would connect with him. Although Mercury never explicitly said this, I have often wondered if the song also had to do with his HIV/AIDS diagnosis. It was around the same time the song was released that he received his diagnosis.

Pairing this song with Hawk is pure brilliance for multiple reasons. On the surface, it works as a stand-in for Hawk’s feelings for Tim. He pretends to be fine but is longing for his one true love. Hawk is also pretending that Tim is still in his life. Going deeper, Hawk is the master pretender. He lies to everyone about who he really is. Yes, he loves his family, but Hawk lies constantly to maintain the facade of being a straight man. Even in the confidential interview with a healthcare provider during his AIDS test, Hawk dances around the truth as the song plays. He says his only sexual partner is his wife, but when asked if he has had sexual encounters with men, he admits to that as well. Just like Mercury, Hawk is the Great Pretender.

Fellow Travelers is currently airing on Showtime.

(featured image: Showtime)

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D.R. Medlen
D.R. Medlen (she/her) is a pop culture staff writer at The Mary Sue. After finishing her BA in History, she finally pursued her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer in 2019. She expertly fangirls over Marvel, Star Wars, and historical fantasy novels (the spicier the better). When she's not writing or reading, she lives that hobbit-core life in California with her spouse, offspring, and animal familiars.