The doctor will see you now …
From Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan and created by Evan Romansky comes Ratched, an origin series based around the timelessly sinister character, Nurse Ratched from the classic novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Building a backstory for an already established and timeless character is no easy task, and the show itself shines in some areas, but falls short in others.
In 1947, a young, enthusiastic nurse named Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson) arrives in a small Northern California town, deceiving her way into a job interview at an asylum run by the frazzled Dr. Richard Hanover (Jon Jon Briones). Through some trickery that will become a steady theme throughout the series, Nurse Ratched secures a job at the institution, taking a special interest in a new incoming patient — a murderer named Edmund Tolleson (Finn Wittrock). As the series progresses, Mildred’s motives are revealed, and it’s evident she’ll spare no soul, crime, or evil deed to fulfill her quest.
While Mildred begins her journey steadfast and unbreakable, her foundation cracks slightly when she meets the Governor’s secretary, Gwendolyn Briggs (Cynthia Nixon). Mildred embarks down a reluctant road of self-discovery, and it brings welcome representation of the LGBTQIA+ community in a large-scale production. It also brings a haunting insight into how homosexuality was viewed back in this time period. However, that aspect of Mildred’s story does not define her or quest, yet serves as a great subplot that does make Mildred question herself and some of her future actions.
The highlight is incomparably the banter between Paulson’s Ratched and Judy Davis’ Head Nurse, Betsy Bucket. For a little while it would seem that Bucket herself is indeed Nurse Ratched, as her cold, heartless demeanor tries its best to defeat the drive and will of Mildred. She is cold and ruthless, yet lacks the cunning, manipulative edge to go toe-to-toe with Mildred, and it was a fascinating relationship to watch play out.
Ratched is complete with crunchy lobotomies and a window into the brutal and archaic treatments for a multitude of “ailments” including homosexuality and a wandering imagination. American Horror Story fans will find it to be reminiscent of the series’ second season, Asylum, with a little less grime and a lot more color and style. The costumes and set for this series are nothing short of pristine. Clean, bright settings are complete with bright, lavish costumes, but none stole the show as much as those revolving around Sharon Stone’s eccentric Lenore Osgood and her extremely talented pet monkey.
However, through the glamour and star-studded cast, the plot loses a bit of its punch along the way, watering down and focusing on some things that really don’t serve a greater purpose, and at times it feels a bit too revenge-fueled. With the focus being so heavy on vengeance by mid-series, it felt like we lost a few pieces of Mildred’s origin along the way. Through these shortcomings, it does stay on mainly course. If you’re looking for a show with jump scares and a heavy shock factor, this won’t be what you’re looking for. While it may feel like another series from American Horror Story, it lacks in grotesque, eerie imagery in favor of a more old school film style drama. Now, of course there’s violence and some gore, but it won’t have you peeking through your fingers, shrouding your eyes from what’s on the screen.
The end was enough to keep me interested in a second season. The final moments set up a classic cliffhanger that tips the storyline on its head, along with the promise of more screen time for Sophie Okonedo’s Charlotte Wells, whose traumas bore multiple personalities that are each wilder than the next.
Every performance in the series is strong. Where the story itself weakens, the stellar cast brings it back, including (of course) Sarah Paulson, who brings an allure and enchantment to every role she plays. Jon Jon Briones is perfection as the fraying and paranoid Dr. Richard Hanover, making it easy to sympathize for him, yet wonder his true intentions throughout the entire his performance. And of course, Finn Wittrock brought to life the deranged priest killer Edmund Tolleson, and played the many facets and layers being pulled apart by his past with absolute prowess. There was an openness in his character, and a vulnerability that took an understanding and empathy on Wittrock’s part to get right, and right it was.
Ratched may not be the perfect series, but its certainly not one to skip, particularly in these times where fresh, new content is a rarity. It’s a beautiful production that missed a few punches, but it keeps on swinging. You can watch all eight episodes now on Netflix.