New on Netflix, from Evan Romansky and Ryan Murphy (producer of American Horror Story) comes Ratched – a psychological thriller, unveiling the backstory of one of the most malicious, tyrannical villains of screen – Nurse Mildred Ratched, of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1974). It’s definitely an intriguing idea.
The main issue – unfortunately – is that it’s not very good.
There’s too much fundamentally wrong with Ratched to squeeze into this review, but the overwhelming issue is that its eponymous character (the scheming Nurse Ratched) is radically different from the antagonist of Cuckoo’s Nest that she is meant to supposedly become.
Louise Fletcher’s portrayal of a head nurse at a fascistic mental hospital won her an Oscar for her subtle malice, cold apathy and tragic estrangement from human feeling. By contrast, Sarah Paulson’s depiction in Ratched is not just unrecognisable, but a mess. Her character lurches from calculating murderess in one episode to romantic heroine in the next. By the first episode – during which she deliberately incites a vulnerable patient to graphic suicide – there should be no doubt that this person is an evil sociopath. Yet Ratched decides upon a redemptive character arc that begins long after Mildred is at all redeemable. It’s a confused slog that any viewer will have lost investment in after a couple of episodes. Why bother using the iconic Nurse Ratched, when the character presented is irreconcilable from the original?
The unnecessary identity theft doesn’t stop there. The soundtrack of Ratched inexplicably lifts from classics like Cape Fear (1991), among others. The misuse of classic film score jars horribly with the bright colours and cynically violent tone otherwise set by the series.
Ratched’s plot is a bad soap opera – characters race from one unbelievable decision to another without a care, mainly just to shock the audience. Subplots rise and fall with breakneck speed, the cast taking the depressing onslaught of revenge, torture, and corruption without so much as a hiccup.
The first four episodes are especially difficult. The story broadly follows Ratched as she schemes her way into a mental hospital, attempting to free her brother, a captive killer. The characters we are introduced to – the conniving Ratched, the neurotic Dr Hanover, and her murderous brother Edmund among others – are all unlikeable caricatures. They frequently commit remorseless acts of incredible brutality, making it impossible to care or relate to them, with any spark of intriguing behaviour stifled under a blanket of overwhelming melodrama thrown over the cast by the nonsensical writing. And despite this dark and brooding tone, Ratched’s production is painfully garish. Every scene pops with bright colour and maniacal intensity, which isn’t just jarring but nauseating.
Hope is not totally lost. The finale itself is tedious, the final 4 episodes tone down the brutality and show that, within the interactions between certain characters, Ratched has some potential. The other spark of hope lies in Sophie Okonedo, starring as Charlotte Wells, a traumatised woman with severe multiple personality disorder. She plays the part beautifully, with a tragic subtlety and understanding of when to put on the brakes and show the pain at the heart of her character. Her role is small, but scene-stealing.
Unfortunately, Ratched has none of the appeal of American Horror Story, but all of the possible downsides, throwing relentless violence and suffering at viewers without meaning or cohesion. Without extensive redirection, it’s difficult to see a future for this series.
Illustration: Eve Miller