Ratched: Stunning Cinematography, Unsuccessful Storyline

Jessica Buttell

One of the co-creators, Ryan Murphy, was also the creator of hit shows such as American Horror Story, Glee and American Crime Story.
Photo: indiewire.com

On October 16th, Netflix revealed that Ratched, which launched in September, hit 48 million viewers in just 28 days, making it the streamer’s “biggest original season one of the year.” 

Created by Evan Romansky, Ratched is an origin series inspired by Ken Kesey’s infamous novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Actress Sarah Paulson takes on the role of Mildred Ratched joined by Cynthia Nixon as Gwendolyn Briggs, Sharon Stone as Lenore Osgood and Jon Jon Briones as Dr. Richard Hanover. 

Many critics have struggled to get behind the project, noting that the villainess from Kesey’s novel has no need for a backstory. 

What makes Mildred Ratched such a well-known figure in popular culture is the psychological trauma she inflicts on her patients. She rules the ward with an iron fist and tears apart the confidence of the mentally ill not because she has to, but because she simply wants to. In short, she represents the oppressive force and dehumanization of today’s society. 

In truth, Ratched does little to shed light on Mildred’s psyche. As we get immersed into the plot, we are under the impression that we are to view her passive-aggressive tyranny.

And yet, there are many instances throughout the series where Mildred shows small acts of kindness, going out of her way to help some of the patients under her care. Mildred often detests against certain tortuous ‘treatments’ and often shows sympathy for her patients. Such behavior was never present in the novel. 

As we dive deeper into Mildred’s past, we learn that she suffered greatly from childhood trauma and from being a closeted lesbian, neither of which offer much insight into her behavior.

“Many critics have struggled to get behind the project, noting that the villainess from Kesey’s novel has no need for a backstory.”  

While I agree that childhood trauma can contribute to cruelty, I am not sure that being a closeted lesbian incites violence. It is hard not to draw that conclusion knowing that the trope plays a predominant part in the storyline. 

Speaking of violence, the series includes elements of horror, gore and vulgarity. Part of what makes Mildred one of the greatest literary villains of all time is her cold, controlling personality. 

As mentioned earlier, the Mildred from Kesey’s text engages in psychological violence. In Ratched, an overwhelming amount of blood is shed at Mildred’s hand. 

The explicit images are uncomfortable at times and make a spectacle of the atrocities the mentally ill faced in the past. I believe this exaggerated use of violence in the Netflix series takes away from Kesey’s well-crafted depiction of Mildred’s psychological cruelty in his novel.

With that said, it is not hard to see why the show has attracted so many views. 

As a whole, the series is visually appealing and uses color to its advantage. The color green often overtakes the screen whenever Nurse Ratched taps into her darker personality. The institution itself has bright white walls and many of the nurses stand out with their bright blue-green uniforms. 

The locations used to create Lucia, California are absolutely stunning and costume designers Lou Eyrich and Rebecca Guzzi did an impeccable job creating the looks for each character. 

While I feel that Ratched takes away from Kesey’s excellent depiction of Mildred Ratched, I did find the Netflix series entertaining in and of itself. In my mind, I will keep the two Mildred Ratched’s separate.

Ratched is available now on Netflix and has been renewed for a second season. 

Rating: 3/5