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Ratched review: Does the Netflix series fly over the cuckoo’s nest?

Sarah Paulson as Mildred Ratched and Alice Englert as Nurse Dolly
Sarah Paulson as Mildred Ratched and Alice Englert as Nurse Dolly. Pic credit: Saeed Adyani/Netflix

When one looks back historically on the most unforgivable character depictions in film, television, and novels — It’s hard not to have Nurse Ratched in the conversation.

Her character from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is ruthlessly realized and realistic. And Louise Fletcher brilliantly brought this vile person to life.

Now, Netflix and Ryan Murphy have unleashed the magnificent Sarah Paulson to take on the character. This time with an origin story to show the evolution of this formidable nurse.

But is the Ryan Murphy take on Nurse Ratched worth a stream? Here is our Ratched review, and whether Netflix viewers should binge the series.

Ratched review

The series centers on Mildred Ratched, who travels to Northern California to seek employment at a psychiatric hospital with experimental forms of dealing with mental health.

These innovative (and inhumane) procedures are run by Dr. Hanover (Jon Jon Briones), who uses intense conditioning methods such as throwing patients in scolding water baths to deprogram sexual urgers, and even worse, the lobotomy.

As Mildred attempts to make her entrance into employment, she sees both hostility and warmth by potential colleagues. The hostility is from a ruthless head nurse named Betsy Bucket, and the warmth from Gwendolyn Briggs (Cynthia Nixon) — an assistant to a governor (Vincent D’Onofrio) seeking reelection.

The series takes a pretty aggressive glance at some controversial subjects. The biggest is LGBTQ orientation, and how it was (and by some terrible groups still is) seen as a mental disorder needing a cure rather than an aspect of human behavior. The writers are trying to send a shotgun blast to the community that believes in conversion therapy.

The series also possesses an endearing subplot involving an LGTBQ relationship that anchors most of the show.

Furthermore, the cast features a wide array of actors of many ethnicities, which is noteworthy for its much-needed inclusivity. That said, given the politics of the period, some of this can be distracting. For example, the show includes a gay white woman and a gay black man posing as a straight couple to avoid backlash in their careers. The problem is that this was during a time where interracial marriages faced extreme backlash.

Cynthia Nixon as Gwendolyn Briggs and Michael Benjamin Washington as Trevor
Cynthia Nixon as Gwendolyn Briggs and Michael Benjamin Washington as Trevor. Pic credit: Saeed Adyani/Netflix

This is far from being a major hindrance to the experience of Ratched because it’s apparent Ryan Murphy and Evan Romansky were aiming for a heightened version of this period.

But outside of a few great performances from Sarah Paulson as Ratched, and show-stopping multiple personality performance from Sophie Okonedo as Charlotte — Ratched is a wild mess of a series.

As incredible of an actress as Paulson is and always will be, the writing in Ratched does her a disservice. It’s hard knowing whether this is an issue of a show attempting to find its rhythm and voice. But the actions of Ratched are wildly inconsistent. In one moment, she is willing to inflict a lobotomy on an innocent victim and burn bodies without even flinching. The next moment the show is trying to convince the viewer she has a misunderstood heart that shows mercy.

The writing gives motivation for both decisions, but it feels like two different versions of a character that a writer’s room could not agree on — so they used both.

To give an example, with Better Call Saul, Jimmy McGill in Season 1 would never behave like the Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad. But with Ratched, it felt like they wanted both Jimmy McGill and Saul all at once without the natural progression to Saul. And it kept switching back and forth to both extremes.

Sarah Paulson as Mildred Ratched
Sarah Paulson, as Mildred Ratched. Pic credit: Saeed Adyani/Netflix

Ryan Murphy also tends to get in his own way, adding the strangest elements for unclear reasons. He is very similar to Tim Burton, where some weirdness serves a purpose, and sometimes it’s just overkill.

An entire subplot of this show revolves around a woman who has a son with no arms and legs. She has a pet monkey with her at all times? Why and how does this serve any narrative function for the story of Mildred Ratched? It doesn’t. And it screams, “we were on performance-enhancing substances at the time.”

Ratched will be hit-or-miss, depending on one’s expectations. Fans of American Horror Story might eat this up with that show having frantic subplots every season. For example, Asylum randomly threw aliens into the mix, because why not?

Those who were fans of the book and film might long for a more subtle exploration of the intense Ratched herself. While Sarah Paulson owns most of the show’s runtime, an audience hoping for a more nuanced dissection of Nurse Ratched will not find it here.

Overall Thoughts

Ratched contains a stellar cast with some solid performances — especially from Sarah Paulson and Sophie Okonedo. The series also has solid social commentary about the treatment of the LGTBQ community and contains a romance with this orientation that is the heart of the show.

Unfortunately, Ryan Murphy’s approach does not blend well with this character. Hardcore fans of the American Horror Story series might get some enjoyment out of Ratched if viewers expect the same over-the-top nature. But for those desiring a coherent dissection of Nurse Ratched might be disappointed.

Be sure and check out our reviews from other Netflix shows such as The Devil All the Time and Rising Phoenix.

Ratched is now streaming on Netflix.

John Dotson is a film and television reviewer and commentator from Texas. His favorite part of what he does is getting to discuss film and... read more
John Dotson

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