Created by Russell T. Davies, the series follows a group of mostly gay friends living in London in the early plague years.
Over the course of five episodes, “It’s a Sin” frequently uses music to give language to the emotions of its main characters, many of whom are still growing into their identities and learning how to express the fear and joy that accompany their journeys.
About 15 minutes into the first episode, viewers are taken to a gay bar. Inside, Ritchie Tozer (played by Olly Alexander) stands against a wall, nervously trying to fit in. He isn’t out to his family on the parochial Isle of Wight, and he’s just moved to London for school. Ritchie says nothing, never puts into words the agita he must be feeling at this moment in his life.
He doesn’t need to.
“Once I ran to you / Now I’ll run from you / This tainted love you’ve given,” Soft Cell vocalist Marc Almond sings on the chorus. “I give you all a boy could give you / Take my tears, and that’s not nearly all / Oh, tainted love.”
“Tainted Love” doesn’t have explicitly queer roots. But the track’s tropes — maddening confusion, doomed romance, the idea of “cleanliness” — are familiar to queer people.
Like the song’s narrator, Ritchie wrestles with the notion of tainted love. In particular, he grapples with the messaging he receives from his family that suggests that there’s something not right about same-sex desires.
The brief bar sequence, then, is significant in its keen portrayal of one of Ritchie’s first anxious attempts to challenge the script he’s been handed about how and whom to love.
But part of the power of “It’s a Sin” is that it focuses on more than just unease. The series also captures the moving sense of community the central characters feel when they’re together — even in a world all too eager to marginalize them.
At the end of Episode 4, the occupants of the Pink Palace — the name Ritchie and the gang give to their group home — participate in a die-in to raise awareness about the destructive toll of AIDS. Police officers beat the peaceful protesters bloody. In the back of a paddy wagon, Ritchie reveals to his friends (“all my mates”) that he has AIDS.
But he also extends a stirring promise. “I’ve got some news for you. I’ve got news for you all,” Ritchie says. “I wanted you to be the first to know: I’m gonna live.”
The above moment of communion then cuts to the closing credits, and “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” begins to play; the song functions as a coda to the episode.
“They say in Heaven, love comes first / We’ll make Heaven a place on Earth / Ooh, Heaven is a place on Earth,” the booming chorus goes.
Originally about romantic love, the song, here, gives voice to the feeling of camaraderie among the Pink Palace residents, to the small bliss their circle provides. Ritchie is the protagonist — but he’s nothing without his chosen family: Roscoe Babatunde (Omari Douglas), Jill Baxter (Lydia West), Colin Morris-Jones (Callum Scott Howells) and Ash Mukherjee (Nathaniel Curtis).
Read More: ‘It’s a Sin”: The music is its own language