Netflix’s ‘Ratched’ is a Visually Compelling, Chaotic Origin Story We Didn’t Need

Debuting Sept. 18 on Netflix, Ryan Murphy’s latest production Ratched is reportedly Netflix’s most viewed debut season of 2020. Created by first-time writer Evan Romansky, the drama series based on the character of the same name from the movie “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975), aims to explain how one of cinema’s greatest villains came to be just that. 

Unfortunately, it falls flat and the connection to its original inspiration, an Oscar-winning 1975 movie starring Jack Nicholson, feels tenuous. While the series zeroes in on social issues of the time, like homophobia and sexism, it utilizes them only as an excuse for more gruesome violence which mirrors Murphy’s earlier work.

From the offset, ‘Ratched’ feels like another installment in the ‘American Horror Story’ series, kicking off with the gruesome homicide of several priests, a heinous act perpetrated by one of Murphy’s favourites, Finn Wittrock. This lands his character, Edmund Tolleson, in a mental asylum, situated in a picturesque Northern California seaside town in 1947. It is within this asylum that Nurse Ratched (Murphy’s muse Sarah Paulson) manoeuvres her way into a nurse job, for reasons that quickly become clear. 

Ratched tries, for a while, and it looks good while doing it; but simply put, it tells a visually compelling, but chaotic origin story that we didn’t need. At the beginning, Paulson’s Ratched has a crueler temperament than we ever saw in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, and yet somehow, with each episode she is softened, humanizing the nurse into somebody multifaceted. 

Given her previous work which has even brought her critical acclaim, Paulson seemed the fit to play the determined, infuriatingly calm character that earned Louise Fletcher an Academy Award. She does her very best to connect the dots, but not even the Emmy Award winning actress can hold this poorly constructed narrative together. Most of the action takes place in a small Northern California town, where Ratched rapidly insinuates herself into the state psychiatric hospital headed by the overwhelmed Dr. Hanover (Jon Jon Briones), to whom Ratched has no problem making herself indispensable. 

The abuse of the mentally ill is an awful footnote of human history — one that Ratched happily exploits for multiple gory scenes. One patient diagnosed with “lesbianism” is sentenced to a lobotomy before being shunted off to a torturous hydrotherapy treatment, in which she is submerged in boiling water for half an hour before being forced into an ice bath. But in the same place we witness these therapies framed as cruel, they are then used for her personal gain. In the same breath that it frames techniques like hydrotherapy and lobotomy as awful, to which Nurse Ratched agrees, she then employs the same procedures to torture or kill an enemy. 

Simply put, Ratched is clumsy and exploitative, using violence to mask how little the show has to say; which only begs the question, what will the next 9 episodes that Netflix has greenlighted, have in store?

‘Ratched’ is available to stream on Netflix.

By Carly Pearce

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