As one of the most evil movie villains of all time, Nurse Ratched from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” has haunted readers and film buffs for generations, giving nurses and psychiatric hospitals a bad name everywhere. Although it’s a work of fiction, the writings that brought Ratched to life first in the novel and then on screen are all too uncomfortably real.
Now, the infamous nurse is telling her origin story in “Ratched,” the latest miniseries from Ryan Murphy, best known as the creator and producer of the hit TV series “American Horror Story” and “Glee”. With most of his series known for their camp style and over the top, a prequel to a story as serious as “The Cuckoo’s Nest” doesn’t seem like a good idea.
But “Ratched” is not serious. It may be about mental illness, murder and the suffering of the human condition, but this miniseries thrives both as a homage and as a tribute to two narrative genres of its late 1940s setting: a Hitchcock-style noir thriller and a soap opera. of series B.
This ironic approach to making Ratched’s origin story so shoddy and excessive helps make a troubled and erratic storyline more bearable. With numerous storylines, each as ridiculous and politically incorrect as the last, this snapshot of an almost forgotten era isn’t the slightest bit realistic, but it can definitely be fun.
In 1947, Mildred Ratched (played by Sarah Paulson) arrives in Northern California to seek work in a major psychiatric hospital where shocking new experiments have begun on the human mind.
On a clandestine mission, Mildred presents herself as the perfect image of what a devoted nurse should be, but the wheels are always turning and she begins to infiltrate the mental health system and those in it.
As the weeks go by and the patients’ care becomes more atrocious, it turns out that Mildred’s elegant exterior contains a growing darkness that has long burned within, proving true that monsters are made, not born.
With a cast that also includes Cynthia Nixon, Judy Davis, Sharon Stone, and Vincent D’Onofrio, the actors behind the melodrama are the best thing about this series, led by Paulson who can chameleon herself in almost any role she takes on. Since its introduction, it envelops the twisted and almost sadistic nature that Ratched possesses in “The Cuckoo’s Nest”, all too simple and correct on the outside but ready to do anything to get revenge on the inside.
And thank goodness all the actors are so good because these plots are out of their mind. Rather than a more subtle, introspective story about the inner workings of Ratched’s psyche, this series is more like an R-class soap opera with each character’s twist on who they really are and why they’re doing what they’re doing more ridiculous than the last. .
On the one hand, the overblown meanness of it all works since I think the show is joking that it’s a bad soap opera. On the other hand, the more Hitchcockian aspects in the murder mystery and psychological thriller plots can be very chilling and kept me in suspense.
Perhaps the best element that pushes both the soap opera and the Hitchcock feeling up to 11 is that almost all the music is reused, scores by Bernard Herrmann, famous for his Hitchcock film compositions and thrillers like “Cape Fear” , widely used the show. His use of dissonant strings and repetitions to create suspense works wonders for many scenes on “Ratched”, but it also fits the era perfectly.
While the look and feel and performance make the show watchable and enjoyable as a giveaway, the storylines themselves don’t live up to what was promised. With a psychiatric hospital as a setting, we soon learn that every show character has some sort of addiction, addiction, or mental health problem.
But when you make every person look like a villain and don’t dive deeper, it can hurt a lot to frame mental illness as something to fear and stereotype. The performances are fun, the look and feel are nostalgic, and the music is iconic, but showing mental health nowadays as people thought about it back then is hard to overcome.