The Downtown Native
- Portrayed By: Charlie Carver
A young man searching for clues about the mysterious disappearance of his roommate.
- Amateur Sleuth: And an incredibly persistent one at that.
- Camp Gay: A downplayed example; Adam is very soft and delicate, but these traits only serve to contrast him with his eventual boyfriend.
- Nice Guy: Sets the plot in motion out of a genuine desire to find and save his friend from danger.
- Sole Survivor: By the end of the season, Adam is the only main character to have successfully escaped Big Daddy.
- Supporting Protagonist: Patrick and Gino take his place as the main characters after the first few episodes, with Adam mostly remaining on the background.
- Portrayed By: Joe Mantello
An Italian-American reporter and editor-in-chief of The Downtown Native.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: In "Thank You For Your Service", Gino is kidnapped and tortured by the Mai Tai Killer, who shoves hot needles into his nailbeds.
- Da Editor: A quintessential example, even Adam finds him particularly difficult to work with.
- Going for the Big Scoop: Homophobic cops, serial killers and even the mafia mean absolutely nothing to him.
- Intrepid Reporter: Goes out of his way to involve himself in ongoing police investigations if it means getting material for his work.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Even with his massive Hair-Trigger Temper, Gino does more for the gay community of New York City than the entire police department.
- Mentor in Sour Armor: Becomes one to Adam.
- Unscrupulous Hero: Gino is unpleasant to almost everyone around him and he's not above manipulating his own boyfriend to get what he wants.
- Portrayed By: Sandra Bernhard
A lesbian woman with curious theories concerning the AIDS epidemic.
- Butch Lesbian: A bit aggressive and tomboyish.
- Conspiracy Theorist: Vehemently believes AIDS to be a bioweapon engineered by the goverment, among other things.
- The Cuckoo Lander Was Right: All of her theories are implied to be right.
- Workaholic: Fran is a lab assistant, a fortune teller and a reporter for The Downtown Native.
New York Police Department
- Portrayed By: Russell Tovey
A closeted gay detective investigating the brutal murders of gay men around New York City.
- Amicable Exes: With Barbara, whom he still sees as a good friend.
- Armoured Closet Gay: Patrick is gay, but has to cover it up because he's also a cop who's stuck in one of the most homophobic precincts in the city. This is a source of great tension between him and his boyfriend Gino, who's been out for years and wants Patrick to come out, too.
- Byronic Hero: The penultimate episode of the season explores his flaws and how they shaped him.
- By-the-Book Cop: He's the only cop in the entire police department who gives a damn about the gay community of the city.
- Defective Detective: He's a skilled cop but one who suffers from serious personality issues and visions of his dead ex-wife.
- Good Is Not Soft: Patrick straight-up executes Whitely for his heinous crimes, having deemed him to be Beyond Redemption.
- Military Brat: He's the son of a WW2 veteran and was raised to be a model police officer.
- Sadist: A non-villainous example; Patrick secretly enjoys dominating and "punishing" other men, but only when it is consensual.
- Portrayed By: Kal Penn
A NYPD captain and Patrick's superior.
- Da Chief: Of the 6th precinct.
- Dirty Cop: He's not afraid to use Police Brutality when it suits him, especially against gay men.
- Murder by Inaction: For years, Marzara has consciously ignored cases related to gay men, and he even urges Patrick to do the same.
- Portrayed By: Brian Ray Norris
Patrick's partner in the NYPD.
- Dirty Coward: He makes homophobic jokes about Patrick but only behind his back.
- Hate Sink: Moreso than Marzara himself; his only role in the story is to remind us that the NYPD hates the gay community.
- Speak Ill of the Dead: Enjoys doing this to gay murder victims, much to Patrick's discomfort.
- Portrayed By: Isaac Cole Powell
A young and eccentric photographer fascinated by the morbid aspects of humanity.
- Attention Whore: Has a reputation for liking to "make a splash".
- Badass Baritone: He's around the same age as Adam but his voice is already deeper than that of the other male characters.
- Nightmare Fetishist: According to Theo himself, he finds charm in decadence and perversion in beauty.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: His decision to make amends with Sam ultimately costs him his life.
- Psychic Powers: Claims to have inherited these from his Haitian grandmother, it's never really elaborated upon.
- Spirit Advisor: His spirit serves as one to Sam during the latter's final moments, teaching him a few lessons about his life choices and guiding him through his personal purgatory.
- Straight Gay: In contrast to his boyfriend, Adam.
- Took a Level in Kindness: Theo gradually becomes a better person thanks to the influence of Adam.
- Portrayed By: Zachary Quinto
Theo's agent and a wealthy socialite with dark impulses.
- Drunk with Power: Theo reveals that Sam was not always a sadistic asshole, money just gave him more and more opportunities to hurt people.
- The Hedonist: He regularly abuses drugs and people to satisfy a pathological need to feel pleasure.
- Mad Artist: He genuinely sees pain and the suffering of others as a beautiful form of art.
- Sadist: Of the sexual variant.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: How he manages to get away with his crimes.
- Serial Rapist: He lures naive men into his apartment and imprisons them in a sex dungeon, where he rapes and tortures them for days.
- The Sociopath: And a pretty realistic depiction of one, everyone around him is either a useful tool or a disposable sex toy.
- Token Evil Teammate: Surprisingly, he's not one of the serial killers of the season but an "ally" of the good guys... Despite being a nasty predator in his own right.
- Portrayed By: Patti LuPone
An aging singer of Sicilian descent.
- Only Sane Woman: She's one of the few people who notice that something terribly wrong is happening in the city.
- Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: Kathy is smart enough to foresee the misery that the AIDS epidemic will bring to New York and decides leave the city for her own safety.
- Portrayed By: Matthew William Bishop
A hulking masked assailant preying on the gay community of New York City.
- Ambiguous Situation: Is he the malevolent ghost of the real Big Daddy or a supernatural entity who stole his identity? We may never know.
- Anthropomorphic Personification: Of the AIDS epidemic and homophobic hate crimes.
- Big Bad: He's the main threat that Adam and his allies have to face over the course of the season.
- Bondage Is Bad: His appearance is based on the leather subculture.
- Dead All Along: Big Daddy died a few years prior to the beginning of the show.
- Evil Is Bigger: Big Daddy is, as his name suggests, an enormous man.
- Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: When Sam finally unmasks him, what he sees is an angelic blonde man.
- The Grim Reaper: The season finale reveals that Big Daddy is effectively this to all of those who suffer from AIDS.
- Invincible Villain: Big Daddy behaves much like a slasher villain, being an unstoppable masked killer who's immune to bullets and reaches his victims by teleporting to their location.
- Justified in the sense that Big Daddy is not a person, but the living embodiment of an idea.
- Serial Killer: Initially appears to be a random maniac prowling the streets of New York City, the true extent of his villainy is far, far worse...
- Portrayed By: Jeff Hiller
A more mundane serial murderer operating at the same time as Big Daddy.
- Disc-One Final Boss: Mr. Whitely is the direct antagonist for most of the season, until he's finally shot in the head by Patrick in "The Sentinel".
- Heel–Face Turn: His spirit is seen comforting Gino and trying to give him hope during the Darkest Hour.
- Reluctant Psycho: Deep down, Whitely is truly ashamed of his own sadistic tendencies.
- Serial Killer: Of the Mission-Based variety.
- Sociopathic Soldier: He was dishonorably discharged from the army when he began enjoying killing people during the Vietnam War.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: As insane as Mr. Whitely's plan is, it's driven by a genuine desire to protect the gay community of New York City from all those who are trying to hurt them.
- Portrayed By: Denis O'Hare
A flamboyant hitman on the payroll of the New York crime families.
- Abhorrent Admirer: In the latter half of the season, Henry reveals that he's smitten with Gino, having read all of his articles in the Native; Gino is repulsed at the idea of being courted by an unrepentant hitman.
- An Arm and a Leg: Henry hacks off his own hand in order to escape after being captured by the Mai Tai Killer.
- Even Evil Has Standards: He feels responsible for the crimes of the Mai Tai Killer and agrees to help the others stop him.
- Hitman with a Heart: He was ordered to assassinate Gino but changed his mind after getting to know him better.
- Sociopathic Hero: Henry kills people for a living but is firmly on the side of the good guys.
Other residents of New York City
Dr. Hannah Wells
- Portrayed By: Billie Lourd
A scientist studying the newly-discovered HIV virus.
- Been There, Shaped History: She's basically the one who identified the HIV virus.
- Hero of Another Story: In the context of the show, Hannah spends most of her time fighting her own battle in the field of science, away from the investigations conducted by the Native and the NYPD.
- Portrayed By: Leslie Grossman
- Amicable Exes: With Patrick.
- The Lost Lenore: Becomes one to Patrick after being killed by Big Daddy.
- Spirit Advisor: Her spirit guides Patrick through purgatory and makes him company in his final moments.