Review: Netflix's 'Ratched' showcases unique, stylish, examination of iconic character
Courtesy of Netflix
Say what you will about Ryan Murphy, he’s a workhorse and has been churning out major products for his new partner, Netflix. For the most part, they’ve been massive hits commercially but not so much critically. I fall in the middle camp, I enjoy his characters in something like “The Politician” but even his whimsical and colorful style eventually wears on the eyes. His dialogue often bounces all over the place, and the editing on his shows are paced in such a way that you almost get whiplash.
So it’s obvious from the first frame of the new Netflix series, “Ratched” that this is, indeed, a Ryan Murphy production. If the wide angle close-ups, period piece costuming or “Willy Wonka” color palette doesn’t give it away, the casting of Finn Whittrock most certainly will. But there’s something about the examination of the iconic “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” villain that lends itself to Murphy’s textbook presentation. It almost works like a spiritual companion to his “American Horror Story: Asylum,” and gives those fans something worth talking about. It’s the best thing he’s done in quite awhile with Sarah Paulson giving one of the year’s most diabolical performances.
Created by Evan Romansky and Murphy, “Ratched” seeks to explain and take liberties with who Nurse Mildred Ratched was long before she became a staple of pop culture. Set in 1947, right on the cusp of Nurse Ratched starting to scheme and manipulate her way into a psychiatric hospital in Northern California, over the course of the season’s eight episodes, the showrunners can’t seem to decide if this strange figure is the hero or villain of her own story. But watching Paulson try to piece that together is quite invigorating.
At the start, we don’t see the wickedness of this character, instead we see a woman struggling with her own inner dimensions. Though she comes into the hospital with the mission of helping her patients (that is a nurse’s job after all) it’s not long before her ploys and mischievousness comes into focus. One second she’s your best friend and the next planning a calculated attack because you decided to eat her peach.
However, it’s these inconsistencies and mood swings that give “Ratched” some flavor of unpredictability. She doesn’t have a clue what exactly is the endgame, but that won’t stop her from getting her way and achieving whatever goal is on the horizon. Except, for Jon Jon Briones’ Dr. Richard Hanover, that includes some illicit and borderline horrific behaviors, including murder.
The way “Ratched” presents her unstable point of view and wide set of emotions fuels a good portion of the series, which in turn creates some meaty exchanges and tension filled scenes. Whether it’s secret love affairs with women or performing a lobotomy with an icepick, the tonal shift that occurs throughout the series could be tough for the casual viewer to latch onto, but it fits the consciousness of the character and therefore, it’s actually a benefit.
Every action that Mildred takes in the series is related to some form of internal struggle that’s plagued or haunted her in the past. And though Murphy unravels the secrets to her troubled childhood in an effort to humanize the character, it doesn’t make her heinous actions any less forgivable. But like Murphy’s previously produced shows - notably “AHS” - “Ratched” is a visual delight, filled with frames upon frames of delicate colors, and gore. Lots and lots of gore. It’s a shame Netflix is releasing this in the middle of September, because it has all the torture devices and creepiness to make any Halloween fan go nuts.
Of course, we know and understand where Mildred will end up: drugging patients and depriving them of bare necessities and Paulson walks a fine line between maniac and sweet, which suggests a healthy Emmy nomination could be in store. Plus watching her duke it out with the great Judy Davis, who plays Nurse Betsy Bucket, on screen is exactly as rewarding as it sounds.
There is a suggestion here of another season, signaling that Murphy didn’t want to wrap up our time with these characters just yet, but if the twists and turns that populated this season are of any indication, then audiences should be eager to see where this series is headed and the continued formation of this eccentric character.
All episodes of RATCHED will premiere September 18th on Netflix.