Highly anticipated since its trailer release back in August as the newest entry into the Ryan Murphy-verse, Ratched certainly fits the doctor’s prescription as thrilling, grisly and daringly clever. Acquainted with the grim and gruesome from her time with Murphy as a series lead in American Horror Story, Sarah Paulson is perfect for the sharp unpredictability of Mildred Ratched as the series (an unofficial prequel to One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest) seeks to complexify the character in a different light.
Those, previously unknown to the events of Oregon State Hospital where Forman’s 1975 film originally takes place, need not panic. Murphy’s prequel, exploring events from a decade previous, has no bearing on future events. We see the emerging Mildred Ratched, born from the horrors of military nursing and through means of sharp wit and blackmail, secure a role at Lucia State Hospital. The hospital is under the management of the passionate, yet secretive, Dr Hanover – though struggling for funding, is finding ease in punishing rather than restoring his patients much to the liking of power hungry Governor Milburn. Infecting the hospital with her increasing authority, Ratched battles the morality of Hanover’s obscene treatments, as well as her own affiliations with evil and is hurled into a wave of regressed trauma whilst in constant confusion as to what she truly wants.
It’s twists, though arguably too early revealed, were satisfying and supported by stunning costume design and inventive use of colour. Ryan Murphy paints a delicious vision of horrors with Ratched always at the centre. The show’s only weakness lies in its potential; Ratched was bountiful in its wickedness, with every character in a constant fluctuation of trust with the viewer, however it would not wrong to say that there was definitely something lacking. Even with Murphy’s absurdly horrific violence, I was always in want of more. At times predictable, Murphy didn’t wholly grasp the notion of anticipation as he throws everything at us onto the screen – nothing is left to fester beneath the surface. I often found difficulty in separating it from his usual American Horror Story format. That is not to say however, that the series is not one of my favourites released this year. With its dazzling cast, Ratched’s flaws, though few and far between, are arguably ignorable. Alongside Paulson is a plethora of fascinating female characters, with Judy Davis and Sophie Okonedo as the iconic Nurse Bucket and Charlotte Wells delivering particularly striking performances.
Lesbianism, deemed contextually as a ‘mental constitution’, is involved heavily in the show. It is explored both through the absurdities of hydrotherapy and lobotomies as justifiable ‘cures’, as well as Mildred’s own unfolding relationship with it, her growing acquaintance with the Governor’s secretary Gwendolyn (Cynthia Nixon) encourages the exploration of her sexuality. The relationship between the two, progressing over the series, is the show’s most intimate exploration of Ratched’s hidden sensitivity, and yet was largely pushed in terms of its development by both Paulson and Nixon as they justifiably resisted what Murphy would’ve likely have limited to a mere narrative of queerbaiting. The affair’s slow burn due to Mildred’s own conservative rejection of her feelings, aligns itself much with Todd Hughes’ Carol and, as a whole, dominates the series with its depth and intrigue overshadowing the ‘secret sibling’ plotline that was intended to frame the series.
Culminating so nicely for Mildred and Gwendolyn’s hidden romance, viewers are forced to accept that it must in some way end in tragedy in order for Ratched’s decent into malicious evil to come into fruition. Audiences are left with much to expect, and with a relatively ambiguous final scene, we’ll definitely be seeing more of Nurse Ratched and her chain of terror.
Featured Image Source: Still via Netflix / Youtube