Written By: Maggie Warnick
“Ratched,” Ryan Murphy’s new Netflix series, delves into the backstory of Nurse Ratched, head nurse of the hospital in “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.” Murphy is known for hits such as “American Horror Story,” “Glee” and “The Politician.” Starring Sarah Paulson—who often appears in Murphy’s work— as the titular character, the show is set in the 1940’s at Lucia State Hospital in California.
Something that is immediately noticeable about the series is the manner in which each scene is visually crafted. The color scheme and costumes lend an opulence and beauty to each episode; unfortunately the character and plot do not always live up to this standard. Despite a strong cast— including Paulson, Sharon Stone, Finn Whitrock, and Cynthia Nixon—characters are often inconsistent in their behavior and the plot can feel a bit disjointed. Nurse Ratched quickly works her way into the hospital and makes her way through the ranks, all while given trouble by Judy Davis’ Nurse Bucket, the head nurse. For the most part, it is easy to feel sympathy for Nurse Ratched through a backstory consisting of an abusive childhood, a disturbed brother and repressed lesbianism, but it is difficult to understand her. She is at times concerned for the patients’ well-being but later shows nothing but contempt for them, she appears to be a stickler for the rules sometimes but has no trouble breaking them other times, all with no clear motive. Vulture describes the character as “an exceedingly confused character who becomes whatever a scene needs her to be with little internal logic to be found.”
Elements of gore throughout the series, which are often included in Murphy’s shows, work well, but at times the portrayal of mental illness seems insensitive and outdated, and the plotline of repressed sexuality seems stale and overused. Many storylines appear to lead to nowhere, with characters who make an appearance without anything coming to fruition, leaving the viewer confused. Audiences have come to expect a lot from Murphy, and sadly “Ratched” did not deliver.
However, the show cannot be fully discounted. The production is still stunning, described by NPR as “visually arresting.” NPR goes on to note that “The use of color, in particular, is as breathtaking and inventive as any design you’ll find in television or film…” Every scene looks like it could be in a fashion magazine. Additionally, there are some interesting plots, characters and twists that, if taken on their own rather than as part of the bigger picture, are very interesting and entertaining. It also needs to be taken as a separate entity rather than a prequel to “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” because viewers who expect a Nurse Ratched like in the film or book will be left disappointed. In order to enjoy any aspect of the show, it is best not to have very high expectations. The plot as a whole may not work very well, but it has some redeeming qualities that make it somewhat worthwhile to watch, just without thinking about it too hard.