By Laurie Coker
I taught the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as a senior English teacher and many of my students agree that Nurse Ratched is one of the most interesting antagonists ever written. In the 1975 film version of the novel, Louis Fletcher put the perfect pursed puss on the meanest nurse in the asylum business. Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan bring Ratched, an origin story of sorts, to Netflix, starring Sarah Paulson as the titular character.
Taking us back to 1947, the story begins with the murder of multiple priests by Edmund Tolleson (Finn Wittrock). Soon after, we watch as Mildred Ratched stops at nothing to land a job, including lying about having an interview, at California’s Lucia State Mental Hospital, where Tolleson is imprisoned for the massacre. Soon we learn that the hospital’s director and lead doctor is conducting inhumane and twisted experiments in the name of “curing” such ills as attention deficit, lesbianism, and forgetfulness.
Paulson manages an impressive blend of compassionate and cunning. She cuts though scenes with power and a sense of purpose and the actress commands attention. Ratched’s wardrobe rivals the famous stars of the 40’s and she demonstrates a single-minded determination to land a job working for Dr. Hanover (Jon Jon Biones), who promises to fix minds. Biones feel miscast – more simpering than strong and his character is in desperate need of mental health care himself. Recognizable faces show up throughout the season and provide for many twists and shockers in the storyline.
Written by Evan Romansky and directed by Murphy, the pilot truly amazes – colors, music, sets, costumes, all mesmerize. Ratched captures viewers with gory murders, multiple scenes of patients receiving lobotomies, vivid characters, and a stunning color pallet. Lucia’s halls and rooms look more mansion than madhouse and seem highly unlikely but somehow it fits. The whole affair looks and feels vintage – like old Hollywood – classy and classic. But there is also creepy and crazy.
Ratched is binge worthy and thankfully there are 18 full episodes over two seasons (eight in the first and ten more in the second). While it might not be the expected origin story, Romansky’s Ratched does feel connected to Ken Kesey’s head nurse. There is a taut, terseness to both versions of the ice lady in the nest. Kesey would be delighted, too, at the psychedelic imagery and awe-inspiring cinematography. As the series progresses, however, Mildred becomes less like Kesey’s nurse and more an independent character, but perhaps she will swing back to the story’s source material. Ratched earns a B+ , and as noted, B here stands for BINGE worthy.