Nurse Ratched is one of those literary characters that you read about in high school that sticks with you years later. Her cruelty is just that impactful. Ratched takes that unfortunate nurse and spins her an elaborate and quite unsettling backstory. This show has everything, a dysfunctional mental hospital, some serious torture, and of course, a priest murdering serial killer.
Ratched is stylistically very reminiscent of American Horror Story, another show created by Ryan Murphy. This could simply be because the show, like many seasons of American Horror Story, is set in the past. Several seasons of the iconic horror anthology are set in the early half of the 20th century, and this origin story begins in 1947. The similar vibes between the two shows could also be due to the fact that many staple actors from the American Horror Story series feature in this latest show. Sarah Paulson stars as Nurse Ratched herself, and Finn Wittrock plays the priest murderer.
While creepy and incredibly graphic at times, the show still manages to maintain a certain aura of over the top mystery and glamour reminiscent of an old school mystery novel. It is visually quite gorgeous. The sets and costumes are incredibly well done. The overall style of the show borders almost on campy, with its incredible twists and turns and intense plot lines. While there are moments of glamour, there are also full-blown, cringe-inducing, I-can’t-watch levels of gore and violence. Ratched is not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure.
Ratched manages to capture the same barbaric practices as the original novel, but not only does the show capture such antiquated treatment methods, but it takes the cruelty to a whole new level. Some of the supposed “treatments” explored on the show are far closer to torture than they are to anything approaching medical. Like I said, not for the faint of heart. I think I actually gasped out loud during a couple of the most truly gruesome scenes.
Nurse Ratched herself is a bit of an enigma for most of the season. This isn’t some humanizing origin story a la Joker, instead, it portrays a deeply disturbed woman. Ratched maintains no illusions on the questionable morality of his main character. However, that is not to say she does not have her sympathetic moments. Her inner conflict, potential trauma from her time as a nurse in World War II, deeply manipulative
One thing that makes Nurse Ratched briefly more sympathetic than sinister is her conflicted sexuality. Throughout the series, she fights her own impulses when it comes to her attraction to other women. She’s not the only lesbian character in the show. Two of the dysfunctional mental hospital’s patients are lesbians, who find themselves in the institution simply because of their sexualities. Most of the show consists of a horror-movie like entertainment in watching people commit truly evil acts. The humanizing portion of it, however, comes entirely from the way the show portrays LGBTQ+ characters, and sometimes even protects them.
The Final Thoughts
Ratched garnered mixed reviews from critics. But since the show is currently number one in the U.S. on Netflix, audiences are clearly responding to the stylized horror Murphy provides. If nothing else, Ratched provides something for viewers to watch while they wait for the next season of American Horror Story. More than that, however, Ratched gives us all a disturbing new take on an old story. It’s a new kind of horror television, which while similar to AHS, does depart from the aging anthology. Something new and different is something we can all use in the boredom of this ongoing quarantine.