Read: sugar, spice and everything (not so) nice
In 1962, novelist Ken Kesey published One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, which centered on Nurse Ratched, a conniving villain who loved to torture and manipulate the patients she cared for as a night-shift nurse in a psychiatric facility. In 1975, a film adaptation was released under the direction of Milos Forman, and for which Louise Fletcher nabbed the Academy Award for Best Actress. And then in 2020, we have the villainess’ origin story in Netflix’s Ratched, created by Evan Romansky and produced by Ian Brennan and Ryan Murphy.
The series, which stars the brilliant Sarah Paulson (a recurring actress in Murphy’s projects) as Nurse Ratched, brings out an odd sensation while watching. Like seeing a bad accident on the highway. Or getting your teeth pulled. Or watching a horrific viral video of someone abusing his or her authority. You get the picture, but let me explain a little further.
In this origin story, we see the beginnings of Nurse Ratched. After a man murders several priests, we find her conning her way into a job, coming in with a forged request letter and somehow convincing the head of the mental facility to apologize to her and offer her a job. She afterwards presents herself as the perfect employee: supportive of Dr. Hanover’s new and unsettling experiments, helping him bury his mistakes and taking personal interest in the patients (including the murderer). She finds a connection with those who she deems important to her mission and her control of them proves her prowess for manipulation.
And while she’s doing all this, we see Dr. Hanover (Jon Jon Briones) carry out his medical practice. Get ready for some classic ice pick-in-the-eye and screwdriver-to-the-temples moments. Get ready for boiling water as a means to correct behavior (read: a “cure” for lesbianism). It gets a little sick but, like I said, you can’t keep your eyes away.
Sarah Paulson is supported by an equally great female cast: Judy Davis as Nurse Bucket, Cynthia Nixon as Gwendolyn Briggs, Sharon Stone as Lenore Osgood and Amanda Plummer as Louise. Then there are the male characters brought to life by Finn Wittrock as Edmund Tolleson, Jon Jon Briones as Dr. Richard Hanover and Charlie Carver as Huck Finnigan. It’s a great cast all in all and there really isn’t much room to complain in this department.
Another thing that Ratched does well is pacing its storyline. One episode will bright forth several questions, which are answered soon enough—but not before new questions arise. You do not need to wait too long before you are given glimpses of the whole answer and each sub narrative folds almost seamlessly into the bigger picture. It works to keep viewers entertained, hooked and wanting more. Surely I wasn’t the only one that binged this show, right?
Some will complain about the cinematography, how the color saturation was exaggerated and wardrobe was over-the-top. But I personally loved the contrasts and the scenes that threw me back to horror classics like The Shining and anything touched by Alfred Hitchcock. The disparity of the dreamlike state of that small town and the actual monstrosities it houses adds to that eerie feel you get while watching it.
So where does the fault of Ratched fall? At its core, really.
The antihero genre has grown tremendously over the years, with origin stories coming right and left to explain how a monster was not born one. They have pasts that pushed them to their limits and the method of survival they were left with only had so much space for humanity. Playing around with this isn’t a fault, really, but the telling of Mildred Ratched’s past and a sprinkling of Ryan Murphy leaves very little room for imagination. You pretty much know what’s going to happen.
Despite its gore and uncensored visuals, Ratched is still worth the hype and that Trending spot on our Netflix homepages. After all, what’s some eight hours in front of a screen worth these days?
Art Alexandra Lara