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Episode 01: Millennium Approaches: Bad News
HBO  ·  65 minutes  ·  Original Broadcast: December 07, 2003

Directed by: Mike Nichols  |  Written by: Tony Kushner

Official synopsis: New York City, 1985. A gay couple’s relationship is rocked by the revelation that one has AIDS; a young man named Joe Pitts is offered a job by conservative icon Roy Cohn – who also learns he has AIDS.

Episode Recap
Please note that recaps feature spoilers on the individual episode.
This recap was written by The Paley Center for Media

The program begins at the funeral of Sarah Ironson in New York, where an elderly rabbi talks at length about immigrants’ experience in America and the journey of life. Elsewhere, at the U.S. Court of Appeals, Roy Cohn argues with various clients and associates on the phone, offending meek Mormon clerk Joe Pitt with his profanity. Roy then offers Joe a job at the justice department in Washington D.C., and Joe, stunned, says he will have to discuss it with his wife. Joe’s wife Harper wanders around their Brooklyn home, taking too much Valium and imagining a conversation with a shady travel agent, “Mr. Lies.” She tells tells him that “things aren’t right” and that she is unhappy. Sarah’s grandson Louis departs the funeral with his boyfriend Prior, admitting that he gets “closety” around family; as they stroll around Central Park, Prior shows him a lesion on his body, revealing that he has HIV. He acts flippant, but Louis breaks down. Joe tells Harper about the D.C. job and she rejects the idea, implying that she is afraid of change. He tries to convince her by explaining all the ways in which America is improving. Louis asks the elderly rabbi about the scripture’s position on those who abandoned loved ones in a time of need, but receives no clear answer.

Joe encounters Louis crying in the bathroom at work and awkwardly attempts to console him when he mentions his sick “friend.” When talk turns to President Ronald Reagan, Louis idly comments on the irony of Joe’s being a gay Republican, and Joe, stunned, quickly corrects him. Prior and Harper both take their medicines and Prior dreams of a drag version of himself, who muses over his impending death. Harper appears in his dream, though she claims that he is actually in her hallucination, wondering if she knows him from real life. They discuss their respective problems, and Harper is upset when Prior informs her that her husband is gay. When she leaves, a feather drifts down from above and a voice tells Prior to “look up,” and he awakens confused. Joe comes home late and Harper confronts him; when he dismisses her anger as an effect of the pills, she bluntly asks if he is secretly gay and seems unconvinced when he says that he is not. At home, Louis mulls over the lack of an afterlife in Jewish tradition and wonders about judgment, acting uncomfortable when Prior mentions his latest symptoms and asking what Prior would do if he left. Joe explodes at Harper when she needles him, saying that his behavior is more important than his true feelings and that he is trying to “become good.” She hints that she may be pregnant.

Roy visits his longtime doctor, who explains the technicalities of HIV and admits that much is still unknown about the syndrome, informing Roy that he has many clear symptoms of advanced AIDS. He points out that Roy has had many sexual encounters with men over the years and was doubtless infected by one of them. Roy firmly states that the label of “homosexual” does not apply to him, despite his behavior, because of the social implications of the concept, saying that homosexuals have no “clout” in the world and that he himself is powerful. He declares that he is actually dying of “liver cancer,” threatening the doctor’s livelihood if he makes Roy’s secret known.

Guest Cast: Tony Kushner (Rabbi on Bench #1), Maurice Sendak (Rabbi on Bench #2), Nehemiah Persoff (Rabbion Bench #3), James Cromwell (Roy’s Doctor), Michael Gambon (Prior Walter Ancestor #1), Simon Callow (Prior Walter Ancestor #2), Brian Markinson (Martin Heller), Melissa Wilder (Louis’s Sister), Fatima Da Silva (Cousin Doris), Florence Kastriner (Louis’ Mother), Howard Pinhasik (Louis’ Father), Tina Benez (Drag Queen Mourner), Ty Copeman (Restaurant Patron), Shawn Curran (Central Park Sex Couple), John Epperson (Funeral Service Member), Dhonna Harris Goodale (Pedestrian), Adonis Kapsalis (Mourner), Bill Walters (Biker), Paul Wilson (Bar Patron)