There is a lot that makes Orange is the New Black surprising and groundbreaking, but I want to talk about Mr. Healy for a minute.
We’re introduced to Mr. Healy in the first episode and inclined to like him. At least, I was. He is immediately kinder and more sympathetic to Piper than anyone else we’ve met in the prison. He’s not rough with her. He seems to know where she’s coming from. More than anyone else, Healy allows Piper to get her bearings, tells her what she can expect from her time at Litchfield, and presents himself as the sort of figure with whom she might associate in the “real” world. He isn’t hardened like her bunkmates. The scent of prison is nowhere on him. Piper relates to him because he seems “normal,” and as viewers, so do we.
Of course, we know right off the bat that he is homophobic.
He tells her that lesbians are dangerous and will try to be her friends, but that she shouldn’t let them.
We know that he is a homophobe.
But in the face of everything else we see about him in the very first episode, this is something about Mr. Healy that we are inclined to forgive. Because narratives are always doing that: presenting set-in-their-ways men (and women) as kindly paternal figures - who just happen to think terrible things about LGBT people. In the first episode, we see Healy as just like all the other middle-aged white men we have seen on TV who are perfectly likeable characters apart from their homophobia. We think that his hatred of lesbians is just something we have to forgive.
Then later on, of course, we are proven wrong: this is not something we have to forgive. Healy puts Piper in solitary confinement for dancing with a woman, and we see that his homophobia is dangerous and harmful. All homophobia is dangerous and harmful.
Hating lesbians is not an endearing character trait. It is not something we need to forgive.
The show allows us to think, for a while, that we will have to accept this about him, maybe even to laugh at his prejudice like it is the butt of a joke. But then turns everything on its head and shows us that no, he is just like anyone else who does terrible things in the name of homophobia. He is a dangerous, powerful white man who discriminates against the very women he is in charge of protecting. He is a very serious threat to them. And it is not to be dismissed or taken lightly.
Orange is the New Black is commendable for introducing a character who I - as a white bisexual woman who is often perceived as straight - thought I would have to forgive for his homophobia as though it were any other mildly irritating trait. But I don’t. Orange is the New Black makes Healy an enemy to Piper because he is homophobic and has power over her. It’s remarkable.