The eagle-eyed amongst you may have realised that Netflix’s Ratched is a prequel series that follows the story of the iconic nurse of the same name. Mildred Ratched has been an infamous villain on page and screen since Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was published in 1962. Just over a decade later, the tale was reimagined by Miloš Forman in his 1975 adaptation where we got to watch the portrayal of ‘Big Nurse’ (Louise Fletcher) on screen for the first time. Psychological manipulation paired with the threat of various procedures and her arguably horn-like hairstyle resulted in one of cinema’s most loathed characters. Netflix’s new series, however, sees Ryan Murphy and Sarah Paulson explore a younger Ratched that, unfortunately, doesn’t quite hit the mark.
The more tragic side of the nurse’s backstory is one of the more creative things to come out of this series, as Murphy decides to play Ratched’s trauma out for the audience via the medium of a chilling puppet show. This scene is particularly poignant because watching Ratched tremble throughout a show that children all around her are enjoying, signifies how her childhood was stolen from her. Having said this, the exact same backstory is re-told later in the series which not only makes for a repetitive watch, but also wastes time that could’ve been used to progress the plot.
The problem with prequels is that we already know where the characters are supposed to end up and despite this, one can barely imagine Paulson’s Ratched turning into Fletcher’s. That being said, Paulson’s Ratched is still without a doubt manipulative. She is a force to be reckoned with and is relentless when applying for a job at the institution that is the backdrop for most of the series, even breaking many rules in the process. This creates another contrasting dynamic to Fletcher’s Ratched due to her famously being a stickler for the rules.
Nevertheless, Paulson delivers a convincing performance (as always) but this just adds to the problem; her interpretation is too emotional, and although it could be argued that the formidable nurse wasn’t always as we see her depicted in the film, Kesey himself has previously described her as a ‘machine’. The author on the other hand, has since spoken of how during his search for the perfect actress to portray the nurse, he realised it would be more effective if Ratched herself didn’t know that she was evil, yet instead merely believed that she was helping people. This is one of the few correlations between the two pieces of work as every decision Ratched makes in this series is done with the belief that she is helping someone; whether that be an escaped convict or desperate soldier in pain.
Another plot point that is followed through is the lobotomy. It’s interesting to see an action that is so pivotal to the plot of the film being included in the prequel through the audience viewing how Ratched was first introduced to the procedure. Aside from this detail, there isn’t much to please fans of the original as, quite frankly, Ratched would’ve been just as successful if not better as a stand alone series rather than a prequel. The cast, while predictable, all do a great job of delivering such varied roles and the set, wardrobe and visuals do make it very pleasing on the eye.
Intertextuality is also a common theme for Murphy in most of his work. In Ratched alone there is a Bonnie and Clyde feel to the relationship between Dolly and Edmund, a Green Mile-esque execution that unfortunately takes place, and of course, the air of ‘American Horror Story’ that Murphy seems to have a habit of leaving behind on all his work is undoubtedly obvious. This isn’t helped by the fact that, whilst they are all good choices for their characters, the number of AHS cast members who are actually in Ratched makes it difficult for the viewer to separate the two from the very start!
Sophie Okonedo plays a patient with multiple personality disorder and whilst she does this convincingly, it is easy to see why some viewers are complaining about the gaudy nature and insensitivity of her character. Ratched does not portray an honest or respectful depiction of mental illnesses and, for that reason, is definitely more catered to Murphy’s natural style. With season two having already been confirmed by Netflix, let’s hope it takes a more convincing turn as we continue to follow the story of Mildred Ratched.
If you are a fan of American Horror Story you’ll love this, however if you’re looking for a prequel to the much loved movie that explores the many problems with institutions and power, unfortunately you’ll have to look elsewhere.
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