Chains vs. Caged: A Scientific Comparison

Prison is no place for an angel. Yet Charlie’s Angels writers ventured there twice over 4 years. One episode begins with a break-in, the other with an escape; the result is the same, two young, (literally) innocent girls left dead. These intros, as well as other shared elements logically tempt comparison. Angels in Chains is a Season 1 classic and Sabrina, Kelly, and Jill running through a swamp chained together is one of the most recognized images from the show. By the time Kris gets to jail in Caged Angel, the perspective of the time had changed somewhat, as had the show itself. Kris goes undercover alone, and the tone is decidedly more serious. But relax; it’s still Cheryl Ladd…in prison!

So whose prison experience was worse? Looking at it from the surface, many would vote for Pine Parish as more hardcore. Yet, in Chains, the Angels have each other to rely on, whereas Kris’ circumstance in Calejo – that of isolation – leaves her completely cut off behind enemy lines.

Pine Parish prison farm is in Louisiana. That’s in the Deep South. I’m guessing it’s also a very rural area, remote enough to allow local officials to do as they please without any interference from the outside world. Here you can be arrested, charged, tried and tossed in jail in the bat of an eye, without any recourse from family, legal assistance, or anyone who might hear you screaming for help. It’s a place where you go in but don’t come out. It’s not a maximum security prison (Elizabeth Hunter climbs over a chain link fence during her escape), but the guards are ruthless and more than a little twisted. The inmates aren’t hardened criminals, instead doing time for infractions like hitchhiking and trespassing that would be paid for with fines anyplace else. Guards watch over inmates like overseers from feudal times, with punishment doled out in a similarly arcane way. The work detail is real and severe, and the side detail the girls are forced into performing makes harvesting potatoes the preferable back breaking chore. Did I mention the warden is in on it?

By comparison, Calejo seems like a country club (and the staff says so), but Kris is alone, and menaced by nearly every inmate she comes across. Probably located in California, Calejo seems a sort of prison halfway house before inmates reenter civilization. The administration seems outwardly friendly and helpful. But that exaggerated sense of ease seems eerily foreboding. Smaller and more compartmentalized, it feels claustrophobic and you fear for Kris round every corner. Here the inmates are allowed to run loose with keys in their hands. On her first night in before joining the general population, Big Aggie simply walks into Kris’ cell and lays down the law by threatening her with innuendo of physical harm.

So which lesser evil would you rather navigate in hopes of coming away the least unscathed? Let’s compare and then pick your poison.

BACKGROUND CHECK

Townsend Agency original article by Jo March 12, 2011

WHO HAD IT WORSE?

Whose prison experience was tougher?
  • 22.73%
  • 77.27%

GUARDS/ADMINISTRATION

Both prisons seem to be suffering from budget cuts, because security is woefully understaffed. Pines does manage a handful of male and female guards, but Calejo has only one guard given any lines, a Rhea Perlman lookalike, and she’s no more harmful than kvetching a little too much. There is a roving counselor, who speaks in sinewy tones which should peak our suspicion, and a warden who, as Kris points out, doesn’t know what’s going on outside her door.

But if you want to be scared straight (there’s a joke somewhere there) welcome to Pine Parish! Head guard, Maxine, could have been transferred from Cellblock H. When Jill, wanting to be a nuisance, drops a pencil to the ground on purpose, Maxine, who could break her arm, lets it pass. Meanwhile, Sweetcakes pushes and shoves, and punches Sabrina! Sheriff Clint’s dastardlier than Sheriff Bufrod T. Justice ever was, killing Deputy Winston, the Angels’ only contact on the inside. Warden Sorenson is the one with the sinewy voice here, speaking in hushed Bette Davis like evil grandmother tones. She does not offer comfort. Rounding out the carnival of the absurd is Big Karl (you knew someone had to be named “Big” in this), the resident sleaze ball, who hints at granting favors “for a price,” but even he doesn’t cut the mustard compared to Big Aggie. (More on her later). Still, at Pine Parish, there are guns and bloodhounds, and like a bad Stephen King novel, the entire town is in on it. They kill here.

Winner: Jill, Sabrina and Kelly had it worse.

FREEDOM

There’s no freedom in prison. That would be missing the point. Chains plays along these rules for the most part, except when the warden wants her inmates to make her some dough. Then they are loaned out to the “House,” where they are put to work at the oldest profession. There is a house in New Orleans. They call the Rising Sun…. (Apologies to Dolly Parton and The Animals.) Pine Parish is also a working farm. As such, there are trees (in prison) and lots of open land. But the reigns are held tightly. Girls gathering crops can’t as much as talk to each other without fear of retribution from the guards.

Calejo is a day-o spa! Here Kris and her fellow cabin mat--, er, inmates, can lounge by an in-ground pool (in prison) surrounded by picturesque mountain (hills) vistas, take private showers with what appears to be NO supervision, enjoy the sporting facilities including a volleyball court, and first class inmates get to go out at night with not a lock or checkpoint in sight.

Winner: Jill, Sabrina and Kelly had it worse.

LABOR

At Calejo, Kris has to swab the floors. Two of Aggie’s flunkies, resembling female dumb and dumbers (or Teen Angels casting rejects), taunt Kris and spill her bucket of clean/dirty water.

At Pine Parish, potatoes are the picking, and it’s a far worse chore. Real dirt, real digging, really 5 a.m. wake-up calls, glove deprivation (it’s not what you might think), mandatory silence, and hoes for da hoes!

Winner: Jill, Sabrina and Kelly had it worse.

ESCAPE

Kris' incarceration seems very legit, and comes with a real sentence of 3 months, after which (given she's still alive) it sounds like she really will be released. Probably. We don't get the feeling that Jill, Kelly and Sabrina's imprisonment comes with an end date, suggesting the only release is that of death. Or finding a truck with keys in it.

But it turns out that in both setups the girls need to get out of Dodge fast. At Pine Parish, they are far away from home and any immediate law enforcement help. Kris, on the other hand, has Charlie, international man of mystery, who concerns himself with her most current movements. She has the possibility of being pulled out to safety sooner, but is pretty outnumbered in the meantime.

Stalling (a vital Angel skill) for time, Kris runs round the grounds, through the barracks, over the mulberry bush (there are bushes IN PRISON), into the engine room (say it, iiiin prisss…), and finally gets saved by Kelly and Tiffany. ASIDE: Kris does manage to push Big Aggie to the ground, which is really funny. Rewind it. Then go slow mo. Check out the stunt double.

In Chains, Sabrina, Kelly, and Jill run about some fields, back roads, swamps, cause the accidental death by potatoes of Karl and the sheriff, and drive off to freedom. In actuality, Pine Parish is worse to escape from because it’s no comfort to be together if your chance of dying is still greater. The Angels are chained, in the middle of nowhere, and the cavalry (Charlie) doesn’t know you’re in trouble.

Winner: The Chaingang had it worse.

STANDARD ISSUE

It’s 1976! At Pine Parish, high rise, bell bottom, camel toe jeans are standard issue. This is comparatively comfortable, and realistic prison wear. It’s also easier to run in pants, it’s warmer in pants, and it’s easier to protect yourself in pants. Dresses and gowns leave you exposed in more ways than one.

When Kris gets to Calejo (rapidly approaching the 80s), her arrival outfit (in prison from another prison) is a button down V-neck dress, accessorized by a maroon belt, and open-toe stiletto heel shoes. Once settled, the inmates wear dresses by day (albeit they look like leftover potato sacks from Pine Parish), and by night, everyone’s wearing flimsy hospital gowns. Big Aggie wears a tent. It’s scant. It makes Kris cry. Kris wears her hospital gown over a pair of pants (or pajama bottoms) making her look like she’s in a Mandarin film. When Aggie visits Kris, I want to cry too.

Winner: Kris. Spiritual and psychological intimidation is bad enough, but exposure leading to drafty parts is worse.

INMATES

Calejo has Big Aggie. Pine Parish could contain the entire population of Alcatraz. Calejo still wins. The End. There really isn’t much more to compare. The inmates that we get to see at Pine Parish are innocent and hardly a threat to the Angels. They’re subservient, mute and petrified.

Calejo has inmates convicted of serious charges, including Lonnie, in on an assault rap. The “bad” inmates, along with the “bad” guards and “bad” counselor, run the place. Big Aggie is the Head Hen, and has it out for Kris, who she dubs, “chicken.” Bad lesbian overtones, dialogue, and lascivious leering ensue in both prisons, but all the Angels get at Pines is a “sweetcakes” directed at Sabrina.

Back at Calejo (odl lay, odl lee, odl lay…), Aggie has access to anything and anyone she wants. She reads inmate files, finds their vulnerabilities, and takes their makeup and money. Apparently, at Calejo inmates get to keep their personal belongings. ASIDE: Considering they all have makeup, they still look crap compared to Pine Parish. Anyway, it’s the inmates that force other inmates to be accomplices in criminal acts, and threats from inmates that have easier access to you than guards must run deeper.

Winner: Kris had it worse. Big Aggie could have just sat on her while she slept.

SPRAYING

Kris gets to endure a skin search/spraying by herself, even though she was just bussed from another prison (*wink, wink*). It’s administered by Rhea Perlman, so I don’t see why she minds so much. Maybe Rhea was using Raid®, because it really upsets Kris. You’d think a thousand tiny bugs were crawling and grabbing at her. It’s a bit of an overreaction (not that I have been sprayed lately).

At Pine Parish, the guards seem to get off on the imminent spraying simply by mentioning it to the newcomers. The Angels, probably already seen one another buff at the Academy, don’t get too worked up about it. They seem more pissed that they practically strip at the entrance they just walked through and in full view of the sheriff.

Winner: Kris, because she's on her own. If you’re gonna get sprayed, do it with friends.

FRINGE BENEFITS

Fringe benefits can mean many things: evening gown style, having makeup in prison, or doing double duty whether you like it or not. Let’s start with sex. Any action in Calejo between Aggie and her minions and Kris would have needed serious coercion. She would have jumped in the pool with dumbbells tied on first. Big Aggie and her flaming Roman soldier plume (she'd have been great on Star Trek) intimidated, by sheer threat of contact, prisoners to do what the honcho inmates wanted.  The prostitution element of Chains was largely sugar-coated, kiddie-safe, all left to the imagination.

Caged went out of its way to hammer home the seediness. Though the most we were shown was personal space invasion and creepy hair-petting (still barf inducing), the dialogue spells out in uncomfortably plain English that, hey, by the way, Kris is gonna get 400 pounds of unwanted blaaaarrgh!

Pine Parish is a business and the warden (Bette Davis) takes care of her stable because she wants a profitable return. But the isolated and helpless girls (non Angel) have no choice but to entertain male guests of the House. It did get them out of spud detail, though.

Winner: Kris (I think.) She only had to do what they wanted and they left her alone, but what if she hadn’t? Not sure what Aggie held over other inmates (because we only care about Kris), but the confines are smaller and the baddies at Calejo seem more malicious than Pine Parish.

Summary

Seems cut and dry - Pines is the worse prison, right? As put forth, being alone and Big Aggie may help Calejo trump Pine Parish, but the farm work detail, the House, and violent, murdering personnel, do make Pine Parish the worse prison experience in terms of surroundings. There’s hard labor, whoring, and they’ll kill you. But I still feel the emotional ordeal Kris deals with made hers the tougher experience. Calejo serves up no less than the threat of rape, punishment (solitary), theft, intimidation, and assault. Calejo is as cliquish as high school, and Kris doesn’t blend into any group. Aggie makes sure of that.

And like high school, the way to survive is giving the bullies their payoff and praying they let you be…unless you leave the blueprints in the shower hamper. Even if Kris’ cover wasn’t as a diamond company employee, Big A. would probably still be in her business. You can’t be that pretty…in prison.

Big Aggie is such the aggressor, physically assuming, and smart enough to know which buttons to push. I sense she controls the entire yard (and has something on everyone), excluding a few inmates, like Lonnie, that are either too tough, or too crazy to harness. As a villain she is superb, and a lone Angel may have met her match against that.

What ultimately saves Kris is her often expressed good nature and good will, her uncanny ability to empathize with other people and their circumstance, even… in prison. Still, she cuts it pretty close.

“Well Jill, some things never change.”

There are lots of many other little, fun ties and disparities between Chains and Caged. In Chains, Jill, who must have trained Kris, gives Lauren Tewes a reassuring pat and a kind word. Caged Kris outdoes Jill in the niceness department by going it solo. In Chains, no one wants to go to prison. Not Jill, not Sabrina, seriously not Kelly. Look at their faces. Caged has Angels tripping over themselves to get into jail. Actually, Kelly doesn’t want to go back to prison. She doesn’t even sound like she really wants to get out of bed and go save Kris in the end.

The plausibility of either scenario borders on ridiculous, but that’s the best part of 70s television. Kris must be an electrical expert because she’s been rigging stuff since her maiden episode. Yet, how a manager at a jewelry company would know the intricacies of their security system, and the combination to the safe after she was put IN PRISON, feels a bit of a stretch. There is not one shred of believability about how the Angels got in, were kept in, or got out of Pine Parish.

Humor wasn’t encouraged in either detention center, both have secret Angel contacts to the outside that disappear after one scene, and inmates sleep in barracks instead of cells. Kris works as a masseuse, and Jill gives a Pines customer a massage that knocks him out and gets information out of him. Kris, typically, has her cover blown near the end, and Kelly, typically, practically gives herself away. Both feature inmates with hearts of gold that help the Angels, and both Linda and Lonnie get out of jail free for that. Some things will always change but many remain the same. Too bad they didn’t go to prison every season!