‘It’s a Sin’ on HBO Max: Colin’s Storyline Is Devastating to Prove a Point

HBO Max’s It’s a Sin was designed to be an intense watch. It’s a show about a group of queer friends living in London in the 1980s during the AIDS crisis—how could It’s a Sin be anything else? The characters were so perfectly conceived and performed that you can’t help but immediately fall in love with them… and then things start to go very wrong.

The show is so well done, balancing a tone that teeters between the queer joy of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the historical horror of Chernobyl, that it will affect everyone who watches it. But just speaking from personal experience, queer viewers will be hit harder as the show makes us grapple with our own mortality and the cosmic fate that dropped us on Earth after the worst wave of the crisis was weathered. It is very clear that AIDS did not discriminate—and if I’d only been born 20 years earlier, I probably wouldn’t have made it out of the ’80s either.

It’s a Sin wrecked me so thoroughly because I’m a Colin. I mean, okay, I’m a Colin/Ritchie mix in a 75/25 ratio—but the instant I saw that Colin, played with wide-eyed wonder by Callum Scott Howells, was getting a gig at a Savile Row tailor shop, I was in. He was my kinda gay. A British menswear gay, living the kinda life I would’ve loved to live in London had I been born across the pond in the early ’60s. And Colin’s whole arc, coming from a small town and trying to make it in the big city, it took me back to when I was Colin’s age and moved to New York City from Tennessee. Watching him find a queer mentor in Neil Patrick Harris’ tailor, it filled my heart with joy—and then wrung it dry when that mentor was stolen from Colin by the “gay cancer.”

But all of Colin’s storyline, his awkward first time at a queer party and his search for himself, it re-so-na-ted with me. Colin felt like a kindred spirit, my placeholder into the Pink Palace.

And then, because It’s a Sin goes exactly hard as we need it to, it all fell apart. SPOILERS ahead if you haven’t seen beyond Episode 2.

Then Colin gets AIDS. Colin, the sweet and shy one who’s never shown as particularly promiscuous or sexually adventurous, gets AIDS. His flatmates are shocked, as they were just questioning whether he’d ever been with a man before. I was, quite frankly, shocked by my own reaction to this sudden development. I stared at the screen, my jaw dropped, muttering to myself about how it couldn’t be AIDS because Colin wasn’t having sex. Not him, not Colin, not me!

But yeah—in a series of flashbacks, we see that Colin was actually engaged in an aggressive, not always consensual, incredibly unhealthy sexual relationship (although it feels unjustly charitable to use the R word here) with the asshole jock who lived in the house Colin was boarding in before he moved into the Palace.

This was a choice. Colin’s sudden, tragic, devastating end is in the show to make a point. It was done to elicit that very response from me and viewers, to prove that AIDS was not punishment for promiscuity. AIDS did not (and does not) care how many times you have sex or who you have sex with. It’s a disease that can be passed on in any number of ways. This puritanical and tyrannical mindset is what left so many queer people to die during the crisis as bigots in government and healthcare felt AIDS was a moral punishment for what they perceived to be sins.

This isn’t a new angle, either! Hell, Golden Girls made the exact same point in the 1990 episode “72 Hours” when Rose had an HIV scare after a blood transfusion. The point, made by the sexually assertive Blanche, was that AIDS was not punishment for having sex. That’s what people thought back then, and you know that’s what some people still think now. With Colin’s story (and conversely with the admittedly promiscuous Roscoe’s HIV tests coming back negative), It’s a Sin made this point again, loud and clear for those in the back… and also me.

It’s incredibly important that It’s a Sin exists to make us think about that. This show connects us, specifically gay men my age and younger, to the hell that our elders endured by making us see ourselves in these characters. Unlike every other show I’ve watched with an AIDS storyline, I’ve never been as wrecked as I was watching that small town gay live his big city dreams turn into one heartbreaking nightmare.

Stream It’s a Sin on HBO Max

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