Review: Ratched, season 1

Sarah Paulson in Ratched

Ratched uses mind-altering saturated color and gorgeous visuals to tell the lunatic story of the murder and mayhem that created the horrifying nurse Mildred Ratched, played here by Sarah Paulson.

Ratched goes back to 1947 to imagine how the iconic baddie from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest came to be who she is. Louise Fletcher played the part in the 1975 film. In the hands of creators Ryan Murphy and Evan Romansky, and with a brilliant performance from Sarah Paulson, Nurse Ratched is both tender and terrifying. She murders and manipulates her way into her job, her life, and our acceptance.

Over nine episodes we see so many gruesome scenes. People are boiled alive. People cut off their arms with chain saws. Throats are slit. Ice picks are hammered into brains. Guns are fired. Hacksaws are put to use. Eyes are gouged out with scissors. Although the camera often looks away at the crucial moment, we still have this in our minds. It’s all swathed in bright primary colors – particularly green.

It really was a bit much. I didn’t actually want to watch it. Peer pressure made me watch. Everyone else seemed to be watching and I felt obliged to make some comment on the series myself. But by the end, I felt sympathy and affection for the complicated angel of mercy that was Mildred Ratched.

Judy Davis and Sarah Paulson in Ratched
Nurse Ratched and Nurse Bucket face off.

By the way, as I start describing the characters and players, please assume that every one of them gave an outstanding performance, even people I don’t mention by name here.

At the beginning of the story we meet Sarah Paulson as Mildred. She manipulates her way into a job at a California state mental hospital. The head nurse is Betsy Bucket (Judy Davis).

Judy Davis and Jon Jon Briones in Ratched
Let’s put a barn full of farm animals right here.

Dr. Hanover (Jon Jon Briones) ran the hospital. He wasn’t actually qualified for his job and had some strange notions about the proper way to heal the mentally ill. His backstory brings in the wealthy Lenore Osgood (Sharon Stone).

The new nurse, Mildred Ratched, intimidates and manipulates Dr. Hanover into doing whatever she wants almost immediately.

Finn Wittrock in Ratched
Chains and bars mean nothing when sis is helping out.

What does Mildred want? Why, to keep her foster brother Edmund Tolleson (Finn Wittrock) from being executed by the state of California for murdering a whole flock of priests. He’s being held in the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation by Dr. Hanover.

With the help of Nurse Dolly (Alice Englert) and Mildred, Edmund makes a run for freedom.

Finn Wittrock and Alice Englert in Ratched
Film as art as Dolly and Edmund run through moonlit meadows.

I mention Edmund’s attempts at freedom because I want to talk about the look of this film using the above frame. Every frame of this film is a work of art. The settings, the way the characters move through the space, the way the action is framed – it’s all consistently, astoundingly beautiful. The spa-like hospital is full of large rooms with many windows and gleaming hallways that all lend themselves to perfect images. A lovely looking horror.

I’ve seen many comments on the fashions the women wore. I don’t get easily impressed by fashion but I did notice the colors of the outfits as symbolic in themselves. What I really enjoyed were the cars. The beautiful cars from the 30s and 40s in this film were a treat! The soundtrack was a treat, too.

Sophie Okonedo in Ratched

We meet some of the patients in the hospital. Sophie Okonedo, who has been blowing my mind with her brilliance lately, plays a multiple personality patient. Sophie Okonedo just kills it. Several patients had their own story arcs.

When Mildred Ratched reveals herself, when she’s honest, we see how vulnerable and damaged she is. Her memories of childhood abuse are horrific. Her conversion to an angel of death during the war came from merciful intentions. Her hardness to save her brother is a product of love.

Sarah Paulson and Cynthia Nixon in Ratched

Mildred’s slow realization and acceptance of the fact that she’s “the kind of woman who enjoys the company of other women” as she falls in love with Gwendolyn (Cynthia Nixon) makes her wide open, even happy.

Sarah Paulson makes this strange and broken woman human.

I haven’t seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for a very long time. But I recall Louise Fletcher’s Mildred from that film as irredeemable in her cruelty. Louise Fletcher put the word ratched into the American vocabulary 45 years ago and it set up permanent residence. Such a useful descriptor.

We don’t see what happens between 1950 when this series ends and 1975 when Mildred becomes irredeemable in her cruelty. But season 2 is set to go, so we may learn that next season.

Women directed only 2 episodes – Jennifer Lynch and Jessica Yu. I’d like to see that number improve in the second series.

Poster for Ratched

Here’s the trailer.

Have you watched this series? What was your reaction?

Author: Virginia DeBolt

After many years as an educator and writer, Virginia retired from working life. She's always loved a good movie or TV show and wants to use her free time to talk about them with you now. She's Old Ain't Dead!

Comments are appreciated!