One of cinema’s greatest villains, Nurse Mildred Ratched, receives a prequel spin-off in Netflix’s Ratched. Series creator Evan Romansky & executive producer Ryan Murphy takes viewers on a journey of the character first introduced in Ken Kesey’s 1962 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and later immortalized on film by Louise Fletcher in an award-winning performance thirteen years later.
Ryan Murphy pulls in his go-to actress Sarah Paulson for the lead role. Paulson adds another great character to her already impressive filmography. We first meet Mildred in 1947 as she attempts to seek employment after a military stint. After some initial hesitation, Dr. Richard Hanover (Jon Jon Briones) decides to hire Mildred. Along the way, Mildred comes into contact with numerous characters, including Governor George Milburn (Vincent D’Onofrio), the governor’s assistant Gwendolyn Briggs (Cynthia Nixon), a private eye by the name of Charles Wainwright (Corey Stoll), and socialite Lenore Osgood (Sharon Stone).
Given that the show is set in a hospital, the series creators throw in some peculiar hospital staff and patients as well. The patients include murderer Edmund Tolleson (Finn Wittrock) and Nurse Betsy Bucket (Judy Davis), serving as Mildred’s frenemy. It’s been years since I’ve seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. However, Louise Fletcher’s performance has always stuck with me with its personification of evil and fear. Series creator Evan Romansky & executive producer Ryan Murphy made a great choice in casting Sarah Paulson as Mildred.
Paulson is an actress who could turn a character like Betty Crocker into a detestable villain and win an award. One of the best things about her performance is that she refuses to imitate Fletcher and makes the character her own. With Paulson’s take on the villainous Ratched, the series writers initially allow the actress to bring a caring and friendly approach to the performance. Naturally, fans of the film One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest know what Nurse Ratched becomes. However, I was intrigued by the layers of the character.
One of Paulson’s strengths is having a chameleon Esque personality with the characters on screen. Her interactions with Corey Stoll, who portrays a mysterious private Eye with a soft spot for Mildred, was one of my favorite storylines. I also enjoyed Paulson’s dialogue throughout the show with murderer Edmund Tolleson (Finn Wittrock). Similar to Paulson, Wittrock is a Ryan Murphy regular, and his character Edmund Tolleson was my second favorite arc of the season.
It was also a joy to see Sophie Okonedo on series in a substantial role. Without going into spoilers, the places she takes her character are Emmy worthy in my opinion. Eighties babies also keep your eyes open for a surprise cameo during Episode 2 from one of the cast alums from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
While I generally enjoyed Ratched, there was a plot point involving an African American character that I disagreed with. The character’s fate and the actor both deserve better than the typical sacrificial lamb trope that Ratched gives it. After the event happens and the consequences that follow, I almost felt that one of the actors broke the fourth wall. When they tell another character, “you didn’t have to do that.”
Prequels can sometimes have a reputation as nothing more than a cash grab. The creators could have easily renamed the character and had no connections to the source material and the show would still be binge-worthy. The series writers keep Ratched moving along a great pace throughout its eight episodes as the puzzle slowly comes together. I will give a fair warning that after the first episode, viewers may have some initial confusion. However, stick with the series, particularly if you’re a fan of Ryan Murphy’s other work.
Final Grade B+
Season 1 of Ratched will be available for streaming Friday September 18 via Netflix at www.netflix.com/Ratched