July 29, 2021

‘Ratched’ Is Pretty, But Very Silly

Ratched is beautiful, but it’s really bad.

The messy eight-episode first season of the Netflix horror thriller (a second season is on the way) creates a backstory for Nurse Ratched, the heartless villain who has McMurphy lobotomized in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Created by megaproducer Ryan Murphy and newcomer Evan Romansky, Ratched succeeds as a compendium of stunning images, but that’s about it. As a story, it is nonsensical, self-indulgent and unsuccessful at saying anything about Ratched herself except something along the lines of “people do the darnedest things.”

This was probably a doomed project from the start, because Mildred Ratched doesn’t need a history and can’t be given one without breaking the character’s purpose. In Cuckoo’s Nest, she is the pitiless and relentless face of the institution and the state. She grinds her patients down simply because she does and because she can and because she believes in rules; that is what makes her frightening. She represents an inhuman and inhumane society in its crushing of the individual, really, so she’s not meant to be thought of as a realistic and nuanced person. “How did her childhood make her so mean?” is beside the point when a character represents the absence of individuality and frailty and the surrender of your unique soul. And Ratched does little to answer the questions it poses anyway, so confused is its presentation of the character.

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