Angels in Chains
The episode opens with a young woman, inmate Elizabeth Hunter, running for her life from attack dogs and shotgun-wielding guards. When she's discovered cowering in the bushes, the guards, instead of apprehending her, shoot her in cold blood.
When Elizabeth turns up missing after having been incarcerated in a womens'-only prison farm, her sister hires the Angels to find out what happened to her. Charlie makes arrangements for all three Angels to go undercover in the same prison, with sheriff deputy Dan Wilson as their only contact on the inside.
After ostensibly driving cross-country in the Pinto, they arrive in the backwoods of Louisiana and allow themselves to be captured by the crooked sheriff. The first to be nabbed is Jill, on penalty of hitchhiking, followed by Sabrina and Kelly for speeding. The Pinto gets a starring role when the sheriff plants a bag of weed in the hatchback and arrests the girls for possession. The girls are taken into custody and taken to the remote Pine Parish prison farm where they are subjected to a series of exciting/humiliating strip-searches, supervised group shower, and nude chemical spray delivered personally by their sadistic lesbian warden, Maxine (played by sadistic lesbian actress, Mary Woronov).
Kelly: "How long has it been since you've been sprayed?"
Finally, the three are herded to their bunks by Maxine's lackey, Fran, who informs them that wake up is 5 AM for work in the potato field. Sabrina cockily replies with a comment about sleeping in until 10, for which she receives an elbow to the kidney.
As soon as Sweetcakes leaves, Jill scolds Sabrina for being dumb. "Just making sure she bought the cover," Sabrina winces, curling up in her bunk for the night at about 2 PM. What cover?
The next morning, the girls are taken with a bunch of other female inmates out to a barren field to dig for potatoes. Sabrina continues to be harassed by Sweetcakes. Jill works alongside a tight-lipped girl who has information about Elizabeth Hunter, but is frightened to say much more than the fact that the missing girl had disappeared after being taken to the infirmary. Kelly teams up with Kim Basinger with complete disregard for the rape-guard's "No Talking" rule.
Back in the cafeteria, the Angels compare notes and Jill feigns stomach cramps in order to infiltrate the infirmary. Once inside, Jill takes advantage of a brief unsupervised moment to look through the file cabinet and find Elizabeth's records. Get this - the missing girl signed in, but never signed out.
Now "recovered", Jill returns to the barracks and fills in the other two. Maxine sidles up on their conversation and, after plopping down three evening gowns on their cot, informs them that they will be attending a mandatory party at the big house.
The Angels soon learn that the purpose of this party (and many others) is to schmooze prison suppliers via complimentary prostitutes played by unwilling Pine Parish inmates. Kelly shirks her prostitutory responsibilities and has a hushed "I'm-your-friend" conversation with a trembling Kim Basinger. Jill succeeds in finding a talkative, middle-aged supplier and a bedroom to take him to. Fortunately, Jill has an easy time eluding the sleepy drunk and escapes the room after getting the information she needs. Sadly, it seems apparent that Elizabeth is dead.
Eventually the wardens find it suspicious that all the Angels have done during the party is ask questions about Elizabeth. Concluding that they know too much, the warden deems it necessary to dispose of them "where they won't be found".
Back in their blue prison garb and chained to each other, the three girls are driven out into the wilds by the sheriff and deputy rapist. The conspiring backseat-Angels successfully derail the car by garroting the guards with their handcuffs, then fleeing their stunned captors, making their way through the Louisiana swamps and learning that Jill is not a yo-yo. Finally, they happen upon a deserted storage shed where they find bolt cutters and a set of wheels to escape in.
With the law in hot pursuit, Jill and Kelly provide a diversion by climbing out the window into the back of the speeding truck and hurling their potato cargo at the sheriff's pursuing car which somehow causes it to swerve down a gentle incline and explode.
Safely settled back at the office, Charlie congratulates the girls on a job well done. Bosley informs them that Kim Basinger is out of the pokey and interviewing for a position as the Townsend Agency's new receptionist.
Apparently she failed to measure up, as she is never seen or mentioned again.
• How are the prisoners magically harvesting potatoes from a barren dirt field? The plant is never removed without also digging up the potatoes; otherwise you don't know where to dig.
• Why is this whole place run by lesbians and rapists?
• When the Angels garrote their captors in the police car, watch the guard on the passenger side not even try to struggle. In long shots of the car, he isn't being garroted.
• Sabrina specifically asks Jill to run across the gas line to throw off the bloodhounds; how did she know it was Jill's shirt the dogs were scented with?
• The potato truck, oddly enough, is a Dodge. Funny how two of the most iconic moments on this Ford-sponsored show involved Farrah Fawcett making an unconventional escape from bad guys via pickup truck, and neither one was a Ford.
• Watch the top couple boxes of potatoes regenerate as Kelly and Jill throw it off the truck over and over without exposing themselves to enemy fire.
• What exactly about driving down that 10-foot grass slope made the sheriff's car explode? Especially considering the same car survived a stunt much more violent just minutes ago when the Angels made their escape from it - ramping off the side of the road (literally, you can see the ramp), sailing through the air at a good 6 feet high, and plowing into that cornfield or whatever.
BAD GUYS BEAT DOWN
SHOTS FIRED AT ANGELS
SHOTS FIRED BY ANGELS
DAYS TO SOLVE CASE
Pine Parish apparently does have a fashion coordinator, as the Angels' prison garb is more fitted and flattering than the other prisoners' outfits, even guest-star Kim Basinger. The evening gowns were a somewhat unexpected twist, but did they draw straws about who had to wear the red one?
Wardrobe Repeats All of the wardrobe that carries over from Hellride makes us wonder whether the filming time for these two episodes overlapped a bit: Kelly wears the same Grand Prix Monaco t-shirt she borrowed from Jill in Hellride, and in the office wrap-up, wears yet another top from Hellride. Sabrina wears the same yellow hoodie again in Lady Killer, and the same X-pocket jeans in multiple episodes including Hellride and Angels in Paradise.
Charlie’s out at the pool again and there’s a bimbo swimming toward him underwater, which it doesn’t seem like we’re supposed to notice. She’s recycled stock footage from Night of the Strangler.
SCREEN TIME ANALYSIS
This is it, kids. The high water mark of Charlie's Angels in terms of time and content. Let us tell you the ways.
- Excellent Angel balance, with only a few minutes' difference between the girls. It's the 4th-best-balanced episode.
- Excellent Angel content - they're only absent for a couple minutes of the whole show. It's the 3rd fullest episode.
- Jill's 39 minutes here are the most she ever spent in any episode.
- Sabrina's 36 minutes are the most she ever spent in a regular-length episode.
- Kelly's 38 minutes are just 1 shy of being her record for most time in a regular episode (that goes to Angel's Child).
- Such high scores for all three at once makes this the most Angel-rich episode in the series. That's nearly 40 minutes apiece in a 48 minute show. In later seasons, you're lucky if just one of them gets half that time.
- Something for Bosley, too: his 3 minutes here mark one of his shortest appearances ever.
- HOW MUCH OF THE EPISODE HAS AT LEAST ONE ANGEL/BOSLEY IN IT 94%
Besides their chained romp through the wilderness, this episode's other action highlight is the Angels vs. Badmen truck chase on the dusty backroads featuring flying potatoes, shots whistling through the air, Angels climbing outboard on speeding vehicles, culminating in a fiery explosion. What more do you want?
PLAYING (?) DUMB
Jill and Kelly have moments where it's unclear whether they're playing dumb, or are the genuine article - especially when speaking to the warden at the party. We like to hope it's the former. Most enjoyably, it's Jill (at the height of her early Season 1 dumb blondeness) who gets the only line ever scolding Sabrina (The Smart One) for being stupid.
THE AMAZING CROSS-COUNTRY PINTO
When the Angels get pulled over, the Pinto's license plate is 031NKB. Sabrina's plate is traditionally 846RUZ, although their license plates frequently change for no reason (sometimes within the same episode).
Tiffany did rent a nearly-identical Pinto while out of town in One Love...Two Angels, so is this another identical rented Pinto situation, or are we supposed to think they really drove all the way to Louisiana in that cramped little car?
The elusive Farrah nip-slip is often written off as an urban legend, but it's true, and it happens in this episode. Unless you're specifically treasure-seeking, odds are you've blinked and missed it - the show lasts for less than 1 second. See for yourself. (Slightly NSFW.)
ANGEL OF DEATH
This episode marks the first time that the Angels (Jill and Kelly, anyway) ever killed anybody. There’s no easing into it, either – none of them have fired a single shot yet in the series, or given anybody so much as a paper cut at this point. Their very first taste of death is to explode two (corrupt) law enforcement officers. Go big or go home!
The Angels’ appetite for human lives will last throughout their show, causing the team to kill at least 13 people collectively by the end of its 5-season run.
Kenny's Rating: This is my absolute favorite episode of the entire series. I love how the Angels work as a team undercover in a prison. You have the butch prison guard, the smarmy sheriff, a cold as ice warden. What's not to love. A defining episode and one that most people remember. Classic!
Greg's Rating: It's a classic for a reason. This ep is notorious for the Angels being chained together and all the innuendo in the prison scenes, but what makes it work is the chemistry and adventure that Sabrina, Jill, and Kelly have together. One of the best.
Holly's Rating: What's not to love! Chains has got to be the classic of all classics - you've got an unsettlingly corrupt backwoods prison, the Angels chained together and on the run, the chemical spray down, and the ever-present threat of prostitution. There's some great teamwork going on here (this episode is one of very few that were given a nod in the 2000 Charlie's Angels film when Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu recreated the famous "I am not a yo-yo" moment) - and also cool highlights for each Angel, like Jill's bellyache, Bri's leadership during their escape through the wilds, and Kelly's disturbing run-ins with the lecherous guard.
Anna's Rating: It don't get more classic than this. The Angels are looking great, operating in perfect coordination, and smart enough to play dumb (we think?). This hour is full of excellent lessons for viewers of all ages - you can dig potatoes without ruining a manicure, climb on top of a moving truck without getting shot, pretend to be a hooker without doing anything sketchy, steal cars, and murder law enforcement officers if they're misbehaving! And best of all, it ends with the Angels getting themselves out of their own jam without any help from anyone.
Brolly's Rating: Classic. This episode balances perfectly all the elements that made the show a hit. Plus, the viewer learns a new, deadly recipe for mashed potatoes.
Joshua's Rating: Seriously, this deserves five stars on the pure fact the Angels are put in a situation completely un-Angelic - prison - and to have the prison be a cover for prostitution ring. What?! Other reasons I give “Chains” its five stars this is the highest rated episode of the series. All the Angels are distributed equally difficult tasks. Jill utters one of my favorite lines - “I am not a yo-yo.” Not to mention the chase scene at the end is inspired - who else but the Angels would climb into the bed of a moving truck going sixty miles per hour (fast in 1970s terms) to throw mashed potatoes at the bad guys.