Updated: Sep 25, 2020
Sarah Paulson, Sharon Stone and Cynthia Nixon star in Ryan Murphy's glamorous Netflix show
Written by Katherine McLaughlin
Last year, the second series of Castle Rock shaded in the backstory of Annie Wilkes – an obsessive fan with violent tendencies - from Stephen King’s novel Misery. Annie was famously played by Kathy Bates in Rob Reiner and William Goldman’s film adaptation and Lizzy Caplan revived the role as a younger version battling an addiction problem while being a devoted mother to her teenaged daughter. With Ratched, Evan Romansky and Ryan Murphy take another iconic female monster, Mildred Ratched, from Ken Kesey’s novel and Miloš Forman’s Oscar winning One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and attempt to elicit sympathy for a character who is largely considered to represent corruption of institutional power. The show takes her evolution in a completely different direction.
In their original film incarnations both women have worked or work as nurses, are middle-aged and bitter, and are considered to be the villains of the piece. In fact, both Annie Wilkes and Mildred Ratched made it into the AFI 100 Heroes and Villains list ranking in the top twenty villains. Both these modern origin stories dig deeper into these characters, drawing out empathy for women who did not have it easy, or were abused and dismissed by society in their youth, searching for the moment or indeed the series of moments where misfortune struck and they began to crack. In Castle Rock Annie’s mental health is not treated flippantly and her decision to share her predicament means she gets the help she needs; of course, this is horror so things don’t run smoothly. Familial love and responsibility are huge factors in both shows, as is fear of the other.
The events of Ratched begin in 1947 with a grisly set of murders, and the show emulating famous noir, horror and melodramas. It’s part Sirkian and part Hitchcockian thriller, with Ratched shifting her values over the course of the show. The mash-up of genres and the lush production design and costumes are inviting and dazzling yet not always entirely serviceable to the plot. Still, between the many layers of chiffon there’s an alluring thread about the treatment of LGBTQ people to leaf through and Sarah Paulson in the titular role is perfectly cast as she switches between poised, sweet natured, devious and vulnerable.
Through Ratched’s narrative you meet a woman who served in the war, witnessed horrific things and is taught by society, and the mental health profession she chooses to work in, to hate herself. She also gets to fall in love, learns to trust and finds herself through an intense sexual odyssey. The murder and mayhem that surrounds her may be partly her doing, but there’s also the misogynistic, bigoted world around her that reinforces her manipulative behaviour. Though Mildred Ratched may be exaggerated, gruesome and a world away from the the self-righteous nurse from Kesey’s novel, she is depicted as someone filled with the potential to do good if afforded the opportunity.
It’s familiar territory for Murphy, rewriting history from a refreshing perspective, however the screenplay by newcomer Romansky leaves a lot to be desired and is muddled in its handling of themes, and in some cases thoughtless to the point of insensitive. It’s the great cast that makes Ratched worth watching, with darkly funny turns from the predominantly female cast. Judy Davis as a domineering head nurse, Amanda Plummer as a nosy motel owner and Sharon Stone as a wealthy diva out for revenge are all clearly having a hoot with their big performances and it's fun to watch them do their thing.
Ratched is available to watch on Netflix now.
Creators: Evan Romansky, Ryan Murphy
Cast: Sarah Paulson, Jon Jon Briones, Cynthia Nixon, Amanda Plummer, Sharon Stone
Episodes Watched: 8/8