“Ratched” Explores The Harrowing Backstory of Ken Kesey’s Villain

Sarah Paulson stars in the Netflix original “Ratched.” (Courtesy of Facebook)

Sarah Paulson stars in the Netflix original “Ratched.” (Courtesy of Facebook)

Vanessa DeJesus, Production Editor

Ryan Murphy’s latest brainchild, “Ratched,” reached the top spot on Netflix in the U.S. shortly after it was released on Sept. 18, and I expected everyone to be talking about it by the time I finished it this weekend. But I found myself raving about a show that few of my friends had started and none had finished. 

“Ratched” is a prequel series that follows the infamous Nurse Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson) in her early days as a nurse in the fictional mental institution Lucia State Hospital. Ratched is the main antagonist in Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and is known for her unrivaled cruelty and her blisteringly chilly demeanor. 

Paulson plays this role to a tee, but she adds an air of unpredictability to the character with her classic “I know something you don’t know” look. This carries into real life, as Paulson has done multiple interviews in which she teases the plot of the second season of “Ratched” and beyond. 

As a longtime fan of Kesey’s novel, my head immediately began trying to think of a way that the novel’s protagonist, Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), could be worked into the “Ratched” timeline. In a Harper’s BAZAAR video Paulson confirms that “If we make it all the way to season four, provided you guys give a shit about it, we will ultimately end up in the era of Cuckoo’s Nest, but perhaps not in the hospital.”

As for the show itself, the plot is admittedly a little silly. But the score, primarily composed by Mac Quayle, and the costumes by Lou Eyrich and Rebecca Guzzi, are absolutely divine. The show itself is one of the most aesthetically pleasing things I have seen this year, and given the amount of Netflix I watched over quarantine, that’s high praise. The Pacific Northwest landscape shots, the lighting and the shots from inside the hospital itself are absolutely stunning. 

Fans of body horror will sing Ryan Murphy’s praises. However, those looking for a redeeming backstory to the iconic villain of Kesey’s or Forman’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” might be a bit disappointed. As far as season one of “Ratched” has shown, Nurse Ratched’s backstory is indeed tragic and humanizing. Still, it is the outcome, the culmination of her tragic past that makes Ratched so nefarious. Ratched is ruthless and manipulatory. 

Paulson’s co-star Jon Jon Briones plays the head of Lucia State Hospital, Dr. Richard Hanover, who is seen shooting and huffing various drugs from the hospital’s pharmacy while on the job. He is likely high when he performs four lobotomies in 15 minutes in front of a crowd of nurses and nursing assistants, which somehow makes the scene even more harrowing. 

Nevertheless, between the sociopathic Nurse Ratched, the crooked Dr. Hanover, the meddling Head Nurse Bucket and Ratched’s nosy ex-flapper landlady, this is a show I didn’t ask for but didn’t know I needed so much. 

Netflix ordered two seasons back in 2016, but with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forcing production to be slow and many of Murphy’s other shows set for a new season, we shouldn’t expect season 2 of “Ratched”  for a couple of years.  

Here’s what we do know about “Ratched” season 2: “What you’re probably going to see is a Mildred who has now become even harder … I don’t know who she’ll become. But further and further away from her heart and her humanity, I can be pretty sure about that,” Pauslon said.