Netflix’s new original show, Ratched, has certainly caught the attention of many of the platform’s viewers. Boasting an all-star cast with the highly acclaimed Sarah Paulson in the lead, as well as the familiar names of the creators of the already popular American Horror Story, Ratched is a beautifully crafted blend of both fast paced and slow-burn storytelling that will captivate viewers through each of the eight episodes.
The story of Ratched is based upon the 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, as well as the 1975 movie adaptation directed by Miloš Forman. The original novel and movie are centered around Randle McMurphy (famously portrayed by Jack Nicholson), an unsettling man who is accused of assault and imprisoned within a mental hospital. Nurse Mildred Ratched plays the primary antagonist, a tyrannical nurse who uses her power within the hospital to abuse the patients.
While Nurse Ratched is clearly a villain in both versions of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the Netflix show, which serves as a kind of origin story for her, is much more diverse in the way it portrays her character. One of the best components of the show as a whole is how it keeps you guessing with each and every character. Who is good and who is evil? Who should the audience be rooting for? Who has committed the greatest sins? Each episode takes the viewer further into a twisted maze of the characters’ various backgrounds, intentions, and the acts they have committed in order to survive.
Nothing about Ratched remains one-sided throughout the duration of the show. The pilot episode opens with the brutal murder of four priests, with the demented Edmund Tolleson at the center of it all. As a viewer, it is easy to jump to conclusions that Edmund is the central villain of the story, who lives without a semblance of morality. However, what is great about this show is how it keeps you second guessing your first impressions of the characters with each succeeding episode. Edmund Tolleson may be a murder, but it is revealed later that he is also a victim of the abusive foster system, and suffered greatly during his childhood. As Nurse Ratched points out later in the series, “[he] wasn’t born a monster… somebody made him that way.” In a sense, all of the characters are monsters; they have secrets, haunting pasts, and sins that constantly seem to follow them. The captivating character development present throughout the show is what makes Ratched stand out from the rest.
The cast is full of talented actors that manage to bring fascinating characters to life. There is Dr. Richard Hanover (Jon Jon Briones), the head doctor and Director of Lucia State Hospital, which is the central setting of the show. Dr. Hanover wants nothing more than to help people and cure them of their mental ailments, and he will do whatever it takes to heal them, even if it involves shoving an ice pick through their skull. Although his intentions appear good, his life is overshadowed by a past crime that eventually leads to his demise. He is one of the best examples of a character that keeps viewers on their toes, unsure if they should root for him or not.
Head Nurse Betsy Bucket (Judy Davis) is another highly entertaining character. Although she may not quite be on the same level of evil as the others, she is no angel. For much of the show she is rude, demanding, and also willing to go to great lengths in the name of “curing” people, such as locking a woman into a boiling hot tub in order to rid her of her “lesbianism” (it’s true, people really thought that was a disease back in the day). She feuds with Nurse Ratched often, and tries to scheme her way into the favorable arms of Dr. Hanover; however, her actions are never quite enough to keep up with the clever and quick-thinking Nurse Ratched.
Nurse Mildred Ratched, who single handedly keeps the plot moving with her various tricks and schemes, is definitely the most confounding character of them all. If you leave your impressions of her from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest behind, then you will find a fresh, compelling character whose clever mind is always stirring up something behind the scenes. Consistently well-dressed in bright colors, with her hair pulled back in a neat and tidy bun, Sarah Paulson brings an organized and composed character to life on the screen. Although she appears relatively pleasant and agreeable at first, Mildred Ratched always gives off the impression that she is either a.) hiding something or b.) planning something. Throughout the show, we see her deceive and lie to all of the people in her life in order to get what she wants.
Nurse Ratched’s intentions are clear from the very first episode of the show; she wants to save Edmund Tolleson, who is later revealed to be her brother (a twist that was honestly a little too easy to predict). She lies and blackmails her way into Lucia State Hospital, where Edmund is being kept, eventually even overthrowing Nurse Bucket and taking her position as Head Nurse. Nurse Ratched is continuously creating new lies and schemes in order to get her way around the hospital, while simultaneously trying to figure out how to save her brother from a certain death penalty for his crimes. Her efforts to save Edmund show that some parts of her are not villainous at all; at the center of it, she is deeply caring and devoted to a brother that helped her survive a difficult childhood.
Nurse Ratched’s plan to save Edmund evolves constantly over the course of the eight episodes. While her intentions are clear at first, they become more and more muddled as Edmund acts out. He sabotages a plan she made for him by killing a hospital guard and running away with his newfound nurse sweetheart, only to get caught and return to Lucia once again. Mildred seems to grow more and more exasperated with Edmund as time passes, and her focus shifts to other problems occurring at the hospital. From Dr. Hanover’s drug abuse problem to the horrible “treatment” of the lesbian patients, there is always something else requiring Nurse Ratched’s attention (and her abilites to quickly problem solve, no matter what it takes).
With every twist, turn, and new revelation, the show remains constantly exciting and new, while also retaining consistency with its characters and storytelling. With bold colors and lighting, striking scenery and imagery, and stellar acting performances, Ratched will keep you interested from start to finish. The show’s disturbing and often gory undertones echo the essence of what made past seasons of American Horror Story so successful; people love a chilling story (it is Halloween season, after all), especially when it’s based on real-life atrocities, like the horrific lobotomies that were so popular back in the early 1950s.
Season 1 of Ratched wrapped up nicely, but the creators were careful to not put a definitive conclusion on the story. Edmund is back on the loose, and he’s not targeting priests for his murder sprees anymore… he’s targeting nurses. With a split personality disorder-ridden patient and wicked motel owner in tow, he’s coming for Mildred. Will she be ready for him? The announcement of a renewal for Season 2 couldn’t come soon enough.