Needles, asylums disguised as hospitals, and the consistency of the color teal are all seamlessly embedded in the new Ryan Murphy show, Ratched. Famous for his previous works including Glee, American Horror Story, and The Politician, Murphy directs an origin story for a famous justified villain. For some context, Ratched is based on the cult classic movie and novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a story centered around the healthcare system in relation to mental well-being. Ratched takes place years before the film and attempts to detail why the infamous Mildred Ratched became a lunatic.
The original film follows a man through his journey in a mental hospital, which he was admitted to in order to avoid jail time. Head nurse Mildred Ratched is portrayed as cold and unfeeling with a sharp tone and harsh step. Her feminine force directly contrasts the free and loose nature of the leading man in the film. Ratched lends itself as an origin story for the wickedness of the head nurse. The character Mildred exists in the film to represent the concept of institutionalism; she, within herself, is not necessarily evil.
Slight spoilers ahead, beware. Murphy’s adaptation revolves around Mildred traveling to California to work in a mental hospital in order to attempt to free her brother held there. Along with this story, there are several other plot lines with their own characters and details. In summary, this show is about typical Ryan Murphy themes – sexuality, sanity, and the shenanigans that occur at mental hospitals.
For fans of Murphy’s style, this show is brilliant. The wit found in The Politician, the gore of American Horror Story, and the vintage mint hues of Hollywood are all confusingly battling for center stage. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore the costume designs in this show. I love Mildred’s dramatic dresses, I love the blazers, and I even love the teal nurse uniforms. As far as scenery goes, Ratched continues to amaze me. The hospital is all color-coordinated, shots of the ocean are naturally stunning, and everything looks cohesive and brilliant. The contrast of all of the lovely scenery and the horror that occurs in the hospital is well placed and easy to understand.
However, problems arise when Murphy pushes his limits. Fans of his work know that this man is obsessed with gore. He loves blood, he loves being provocative and cunning, and when he utilizes his eye for violence correctly, it is genuinely terrifying. But Ratched struggles to balance between too much and not enough. We watch people being practically cooked in steaming water, a live lobotomy, mutilation, and a variety of other unpleasant experiences that do not really feel necessary. Gore is fine and essential to portraying the blood lust of the characters. However, the placement and timing of this random gore feels messy and poorly planned.
Let’s take a moment to discuss the lovely, talented, and stunning actress Sarah Paulson. Sarah Paulson could play a brick, and I would enjoy her performance. She delivers cohesive and motivated characters time after time. Her understanding of dialogue timing never fails to amaze me. In Ratched, she does not disappoint. Her guard is always on full display, revealed through tight shoulders and a rod-like posture. Her voice never shakes even when she’s emotional. She moves sternly, quickly, and decisively. This casting decision was the right one and likely the only one Murphy would’ve made. Paulson is practically drowning in Ryan Murphy material. She has starred in multiple seasons of American Horror Story, and I’m convinced Murphy developed this show with her in mind.
The central flaw with Ratched is not found in the plot but the purpose. The show longs to be an explanation of why someone became so cold and unfeeling, but audiences of the original film and readers of the book know that is completely unnecessary. Our understanding of the nurse in the original movie is simple. She is harsh, cold, and stands in the way of those who oppose her. We have no desire to question why that is; she is cold because she can be. She is cold because the way mental healthcare systems functioned in the past were cold. Although Ratched is aesthetically beautiful, stacked with talented actors, and suspenseful, it lacks a meaningful purpose.