Despite the absurdity of an environment or character’s situation, TV viewers tend to become accustomed to the scenery of a show quickly. Whether the setting be in the middle of Manhattan, a dangerous jungle, or even another universe, the setting, although noteworthy, is generally not what we focus on. Instead, we tend to follow the issues at stake, the problem, or a particular character we sympathize with. In Orange is the New Black, however, to understand the main character’s thoughts and feelings, it is essential to view the new environment (jail) the same way that the protagonist (Piper) does. To accomplish this goal, producers jump in between scenes of flashbacks to Piper’s old environment and her new one in jail to create a juxtaposition.
When Piper’s old life outside of jail is shown, the first thing I noticed was the lighting. In scenes that portray the past, the lighting is always brighter and has a more yellow/orange glow. This lighting is so noticeable because it is very different from the lighting of the jail scenes before it where dark grey tones prevail. The use of bright lighting in scenes outside of prison conveys that Piper’s past life was much happier, fortunate, and comfortable than her current bleak situation.
To convey this theme of a nurturing past and cutthroat present, clips between the two often end with characters talking about the same thing in different ways. For example, in episode two of the first season, Red mentions how a certain bathroom smells like a dead animal. Immediately after, the filming jumps to a different scene that takes place in Piper’s past, where she talks about how she loves the smell of soap—a luxury that she cannot afford now. During this scene, she excitedly discusses how she can start a business marketing soaps and lotions. As soon as Piper says “lotions” the scene cuts and goes to the jail, where a gross, generic container of lotion is slammed down on a desk. Furthermore, clips constantly jump from Piper not eating anything in the jail because she is being starved out by another inmate to her purposefully not eating at home because she is adhering to a detox diet. By switching scenes from her new life in jail to her old life with her fiance outside of it, the producers emphasize that Piper’s old life was comfortable and that her current one is foreign, scary, tough, and an enormous emotional, social, and physical challenge. By timing scenes to end at certain meaningful points, viewers gain a true understanding of what jail means to Piper because they also understand what experiences were like for her outside of jail and the change she is getting used to. Such utilization of cinematography to juxtapose the past with the present allows viewers to empathize with Piper and feel the same emotional toll that she does.