If you’ve seen the Jack Nicholson film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, you’d be familiar with the character of ‘Mildred Ratched’ – a stone-faced nurse trying to get things in order, in an insane asylum that risks being run by the inmates.
Who would have thought, watching this callous woman, that she would eventually earn her own origin series? If 44 years later could be considered eventual.
Ryan Murphy – the genius behind such epic TV as American Horror Story, Nip/Tuck, American Crime Story, Pose and more recently, The Politician – has taken it upon himself to tell Ratched’s (rather riveting) backstory.
Sarah Paulson, who has featured in many a Murphy affair, stars as the titular nurse, and her story begins in 1947, when Mildred arrives in California to gain employment at a leading psychiatric hospital.
It’s the dawn of experimental psychiatry and hospital staff are using torturous tactics to supposedly ‘heal’ mentally ill patients.
Mildred presents herself as the optimum medical aid, dressed in neat uniform and ready to help – or in her own twisted way, better – the cause.
But behind her stylish exterior lays a growing darkness that underlies Mildred’s real mission: she believes that mentally ill ‘monsters’ are made, not born – arguing nurture is the primary cause of mental disease and disorder, not nature, and manipulates patient after patient to do her dirty work.
The series co-stars other Murphy regulars including Finn Wittrock (as serial killer Edmund Tolleson), Jon Jon Briones (of Apocalypse, as the hospital’s head doctor Richard Hanover), and newbies to the Murphy pantheon such as Cynthia Nixon – of Sex And The City, as a state governor secretary) and Sharon Stone – who plays an eccentric socialite with a literal monkey on her back and schemes of her own.
Australian veteran Judy Davis stars as Mildred’s rival nurse – the comically named Betsy Bucket – who will do anything to keep the new nurse on the block at the bottom rung of the corporate ladder.
While a lot of the time, Murphy’s attention to detail, heavy stylisation and use of technicolor takes the attention away from character pathos, viewers who are used to seeing such oversaturation ought to have an easy enough time concentrating and keeping up with the warping subplots.
Considering that much of the subject matter is of a delicate sort – use of lobotomies, abuse of medication, aversion therapy to ‘cure’ lesbianism – Murphy and Co. do a pretty good job in keeping a comical element just bubbling beneath the surface – even when critics might consider such subtle laughs sacrilege.
In a recent interview with The Advocate, Sharon Stone took things fairly seriously on the subject of mental illness, saying, “Institutionally, we need to stop having these kind of unilateral decisions made for us and start having more rounded logic-based, fact-based, science-based, community-based decisions made about what is more right for the greater number of people. Not just what’s right for the decision-maker.”
An allusion to the current head of US politics, I’m pretty sure.
‘Ratched’ is currently streaming on Netflix.