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Ratched Review: Terrific Drama Hits a Nerve

Based on Ken Kesey’s legendary novel One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Netflix series Ratched comes out as a successful combination of cult characters and intricate plot with a drop of madness and a sprinkle of 50s aesthetics. 

This is a story in which everyone is insane, and that will absolutely drive you crazy (in a good way, of course). There’s no doubt about it, since the executive producer of Ratched is Ryan Murphy, the same person who directed American Horror Story, and both of these masterpieces embody a similar style and mannerism. Co-created and co-written by Evan Romansky and Murphy himself, Ratched serves as a prequel to Ken Kesey’s novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which also inspired Milos Forman’s beloved 1975 adaptation, starring Jack Nicholson. Ratched further develops the main character, Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson), a perseverant nurse who seeks a job at Lucia State Hospital, where one of the most dangerous patients is being treated. The initial concept of a psychiatric hospital seems already intriguing by itself, as it instantly creates quite a vivid picture in our minds. By adding rather unique characters, each with their own freakiness, Murphy elevates the show to another level. Even though there are lots of films whose narratives take place inside a hospital, Ratched stands out for numerous reasons. Let me tell you why.

If it bleeds, it leads. That is what journalists say about news stories. The blood, the screams of the mentally ill patients, the lobotomies – all these elements add up to the gloomy mood and atmosphere of the show and spice up the plot. However, this is not a horror show, and the director is very smart about the amount of brutal scenes he chooses to include. Ratched might be psychologically hard to watch, since the plot gradually applies a lot of pressure on to the viewers. So, if you are not particularly a fan of graphic bloody scenes, I would suggest you keep an open mind, sit back, and you will get immersed by the plot with its crazy twists right away.

Speaking of the plot – in 1947, nurse Mildred Ratched, being the intelligent and persuasive woman she is, finds a way to get a job at Lucia State Hospital, where notorious serial killer Edmund Tolleson (Finn Wittrock) is being treated. This hospital is run by Dr. Richard Hanover (Jon Jon Briones), whose reckless treatment methods are only crippling the patients instead of curing them. The doctor tries to cure lesbianism, which was regarded as a mental disorder back in the day, with rather absurd and barbaric treatments, like putting women into a locked tub of boiling water for 20 minutes and, right then, into another one with ice cold water for 5 minutes. As the show goes on, we gradually figure out the connection between nurse Ratched and inmate Tolleson, and that leaves us with more questions than answers. 


Everything in this show, from its fashion choices to the way cars and gas stations look, screams “good old 40s.” The show’s stylists deserve to get a raise for the immaculate elegance of the outfits and hairstyles. Sarah Paulson would be the best example to describe this – she wears smart blazers, graceful dresses, small fancy hats and purses that not only more than satisfy my retro style obsession, but, more importantly, also create a perfect image of a high class lady who “knows her way around the world” (ep. 5). An equally pivotal role is played by the use of music, sound, and pauses, which all together keep us in suspense and create a rhythm to the scenes. The film’s technical execution also contributes to the intensification of the characters’ emotions that, in return, helps us understand them better. Dr. Hannover’s emotions, for instance, are enhanced by the use of the score and by the movement of the camera towards his face. There’s a crucial moment when the doctor realizes that his treatments have finally helped a patient of his with multiple personality disorder, and his tears and his mixed emotions are highlighted by the scene’s uplifting melody.

If we wanted to fully analyse each and every character and really immerse ourselves into their life stories, a whole new article wouldn’t be enough. It’s surprising to see a show that revolves around so many complex, interesting characters at the same time. Clearly, the main character, charming ex-war nurse Mildred Ratched, grabs our attention and does not fail to fascinate with her ability to get out of seemingly hopeless situations. Sarah Paulson’s (American Horror Story, American Crime Story, Glass, 2019) type of look and charisma prove that she is a perfect fit for this kind of psychologically dramatic mysterious show. Her infamous character, Nurse Ratched, is a cold-blooded woman whose natural habitats are battlefields and hospital halls. This woman manipulates other characters to make them play by her rules. Nonetheless, Mildred is not the villain of the story. Everyone is free to make up their own mind about this controversial character, but, even though her actions are bad and brutal, her intentions are rather pure and good. Thus, the controversy of Mildred and some other characters adds unpredictability to the plot, making the show more compelling to watch. 

You know that kind of character that seems to be flat and predictable at first and then suddenly opens up and changes the course of events? In Ratched, that character is Nurse Dolly (Alice Englert), a pretty and naive trainee nurse at Lucia State Hospital. As she becomes Edmund Tolleson’s love interest, Dolly begins to unveil the other side of her personality. She becomes so much more relentless in her behaviour and actions that she even out-shadows Edmund (yes, the serial killer). Her character is significant because she serves as a foil character to Edmund. It is only when we compare Edmund’s behaviour to Nurse Dolly’s that the serial killer starts to become a rational human being in our eyes.

A scene where Nurse Dolly calmly kills a chicken and Edmund struggles even to take a look truly depicts the paradox of these characters that complete each other to a certain extent. Thanks to Dolly, we realise that Edmund has a soul and soberly thinks through his actions, even if they are simply atrocious. Finn Wittrock is startling as a serial killer who murdered four priests: his random gestures, pauses, glimpses, and ticks make him a believable and fascinating character to observe. It is quite tough to judge whether Edmund is a negative or positive character – most characters view him as a lost case and a mad murderer but some still see hope and sanity in his eyes. Most of the time villains are not evil, they are just broken by their past

My expectations for Ratched were pretty high, as Forman’s 1975 adaptation was a great success, since it won all five major Academy Awards and numerous Golden Globe and BAFTA Awards. Both versions are so different and incomparable but with its professional cast, mystical non-linear narrative, and unusual camera movement, Ratched has all chances to become as successful as Forman’s timeless classic. Following the fans’ huge demand, season two is being already planned, supposedly for the year of 2022. There are many unanswered questions, unexplained actions, nevertheless this does not make the plot too chaotic. There is a huge plot twist in the end that leaves us intrigued and excited for the next part of this story. There’s a quote from Emily Autumn that perfectly elucidates the essence of Ratched: “Some are born mad, some achieve madness, and some have madness thrust upon ‘em”. 

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