IF you’ve seen the iconic 1975 movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, which was based on the 1962 novel by Ken Kesey, then you know that Ratched is the tyrannical nurse who torments the patients in a mental asylym, including Jack Nicholson. Louise Fletcher won the Oscar best actress award for her role portrayal of Nurse Ratched.
When we saw the film decades ago, we never thought that there would one day be a series with Nurse Ratched in the lead. Now, Ryan Murphy (the producer of such award-winning series on O.J. Simpson and Gianni Versace) comes up with a series simply titled “Ratched”, and it’s meant to be a prequel, with Sarah Paulson (who won best actress Emmy for the O.J. Simpson series) in the title role.
“Ratched” quickly establishes its tone as a psychological drama in the pilot episode set in Northern California in 1947, where Edmund Tolleson (Finn Witrock, who’s in the Gianni Versace series), coldbloodedly kills four priests about to sleep in their rectory. One of the victims is the monsignor who he claims to be his dad.
Mildred Ratched is then seen arriving in the Lucia State Hospital, a mental asylum where the arrested Edmund is sent to be tested if he’s fit for trial. Ratched blackmails someone to get work there as a nurse. While Gov. George Wilburn (Vincent Donofrio) is visiting the hospital, Ratched puts up an act of ostensibly saving a patient in front of the governor and gains his admiration. She then convinces another patient to commit suicide right inside the office of the hospital director, Dr. Richard Hanover (Pinoy actor Jonjon Briones), so she can blackmail him. It’s later revealed that Ratched is doing all this as she’s the long lost foster sister of murderer Edmund Tolleson.
Briones was also in the Versace series as the Pinoy dad of killer Andrew Cunanan and in Ryan Murphy’s “American Horror Story”, just like Paulson and Witrock. It’s obvious Murphy loves working with his own stable of stars. The truth is we can’t fathom why anyone would want to make a back or origin story about Nurse Ratched.
But midway through the eight episodes of the series’ first season (yes, there will be a second season), it dawned on us that it’s primary reason is to be a sapphic love story, with Ratched falling in love with Gwendolyn Briggs (Cynthia Nixon), who works for the governor.
Gwen is in a marriage of convenience with a black gay man, but after meeting Mildred, she gets so smitten with her, takes her to dinner and to a lesbian bar, but is rebuffed by Mildred, who turns out to be just playing hard to get as she eventually accepts the love that Gwen offers to her.
This is the whole point of the show. All the other elements are just mere garnishings on the cake. And we’re sure it’s no coincidence that both Sarah Paulson and Cynthia Nixon are both admitted lesbians in real life.
Paulson used to be in a relationship with actress Cherry Jones, and now with actress Holland Taylor (“Hollywood”) who’s much older than her. Cynthia Nixon of “Sex in the City” also has a female spouse named Christine Marinoni. We just wish that Paulson and Nixon have more on-screen chemistry but even when they kiss on cam, they fail to ignite the screen.
In the show, Cynthia as Gwen gets afflicted with cancer and Mildred then takes good care of her. They’re still together in the last episode set in Mexico and the conflict now is focused on Mildred’s brother, Edmund, who’s out to kill her for allegedly betraying him. So in Season 2, we guess they will be focusing on that but, in all honesty, we’re no longer interested.
Everything in the show smacks of theatricality, from the gaudy, garish, glossy production design to the florid acting. The cheap twists and turns of plot in “Ratched” become more and more incredible as the series goes on, along with the very stylish and obviously expensive wardrobe that the glammed-up Sarah Paulson gets to parade throughout the show, which is surely not affordable for someone who’s just pretending to be a nurse.
The Ratched character is so over-the-top scheming, so manipulative that it’s hard to believe that the other characters are easily buying all her lies and deceits. And by the last episode, you get the feeling they don’t really know how to give the whole show a truly acceptable and satisfying ending that they even resort to that cheap trick often used in unimaginative horror flicks and thrillers.
The lead character is shown being stabbed by her pursuer then she suddenly wakes up and it all turns out to be just a nightmare. Ho-hum… Ryan Murphy must be running out of fairly decent tricks to entertain us, even if they used everything scandalous in the book to make it interesting: masturbation, fornication, lesbian love scenes, suicides, murders, tortures, mutilations, lobotomies, schizophrenia, amputations, decapitations, lots of skeletons in the closet. Name it, they have it, even pedophilia as Mildred and Edmund were exploited and abused by their foster parents who made them do lurid indecent acts as kids. It’s easy to get lost on ‘Ratched’, but only if you’re the type of viewer who’s willing to suspend your disbelief that easily.