With Halloween right around the corner, there really isn’t a better time to settle down for a viewing of Ratched, a psychological thriller heavy on gore but offering plenty more narrative layers to those with a strong enough stomach. With Ryan Murphy’s premier series American Horror Story delayed this year due to the ongoing COVID19 situation, Ratched offers viewers their fix of twisted Machiavellian storytelling and one of AHS’ most beloved actresses.
The series serves as a prequel to Ken Kesey’s ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1962) to explain how Nurse Mildred Ratched became the renowned character she is. Sarah Paulson is almost transfixing as the brusque but kindly matron running from a difficult past. The late 1940s setting is made more convincing by the delicately constructed wardrobe and set pieces; vast American convertibles, diners and wooded motels adorning a California-esque seafront. The juxtaposition between a pleasant mind-century hospital setting and defunct medical tools, such as hydrotherapy and
lobotomy equipment, makes the series’ darker moments all the more unsettling.
Murphy plays to his strengths with a mixture of intense but bearable gore – perhaps not as violent or deliberately unnerving as AHS, although this helps the Ratched universe to feel like its own entity. The background the series builds around Nurse Ratched, diving into her sexuality, lust, inner torment and demons, definitely adds dimension to the character later encountered in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s quite easy to find yourself quickly immersed in the universe and accidentally binge watch the whole show in one sitting.
‘Ratched’ follows the titular character fudging credentials to a nursing job under the kind-hearted but deeply disturbed Dr Hannover (Jon Jon Briones) at a psychiatric hospital. The two are set to welcome a serial killer who has brutally murdered four priests in cold blood and is awaiting a declaration of his fitness (or lack thereof) to stand trial. Mildred battles with her childhood trauma and aspirations to a
traditional life throughout, whilst also dealing with her conflicting lust for a female politician (Cynthia Nixon.)
The author of the original book, Kesey, claims to have based the character off a real life nurse whom he met in Oregon during the night shift at a psychiatric hospital. Though he later admitted to enhancing her cruelty in the name of theatrics, this prequel series does more than enough to justify how Mildred comes across in the text.
Murphy not only captures her intense nature in the performance, but you also find yourself looking at her in a protagonist perspective. This is something that often isn’t achieved for characters with a sinister or manipulative personality, which speaks volumes for the writers. You lust for her to understand her sexuality, cry at her difficult past, laugh at her curt one liners and become entranced by her resolve to deal with any situation life throws her way. Which it often does.
As Netflix bought two series of the show upfront, we can eagerly expect a sequel to pick up where the first left off.