It’s not always a bad sign when the credits roll in at the season finale of a television show and the only question you ask yourself is “What?” In the best case, this “what” is preceded by a cliffhanger and delivered with an overwhelming surprise. In the worst case, the “what” stands for “what did I just see?” and conveys dissatisfaction with the show as a whole. Despite Sarah Paulson’s herculean attempt to take on the title role of Ratched Someone the audience might like to see is the “what” at the end of Ryan Murphy’s latest Netflix project in the latter category. What is this show anyway?
It’s now a tired observation to say that Ryan Murphy’s shows tend to start off strong and fall apart somewhere in the middle, however Ratched breaks all previous Murphy records by taking exactly thirty minutes before Sarah Paulson attempts to seduce a pantless Corey Stoll with a breathless monologue about her childhood abandonment problems in order to threaten a nurse’s children and a mentally ill man forcing yourself to cut your throat. The exaggerated violence, nonsensical conspiracy, and direct extraterrestrial behavioral decisions that usually affect the later episodes of Murphy’s shows are everything Ratched has to offer right from the start.
Murphyverse shows thrive on being out of whack in some ways, and his two previous projects for Netflix have played with that style in interesting, observable ways. The politician appeared to be set in a candy-colored alternate reality and kept the audience on their toes with its amusing strangeness; Hollywood ignored the story to paint an intentionally subversive fantasy in which racial and sexual minorities won big when they really couldn’t. RatchedThe off-kilterness neither serves their humor nor reinforces a social message. It’s just weird and uncomfortable.
Some of the discomfort comes from Ratched‘s imperceptible ties to it One flew over the cuckoo‘s nest, the Ken Kesey novel, and the Miloš Forman film in which Nurse Ratched is the main antagonist. The Mildred Ratched on this show is unrecognizable to previously performed versions of her character, and there is no point waiting for the moment when she becomes the Ratched Nurse of your nightmares. You could have given the character a different name and submitted the entire script as American horror story: asylum, but not that and nobody would be smarter.
You could have named the main character something else and submitted the entire script as American horror story: asylum, but not that and nobody would be smarter.
The rest of the discomfort (assuming the watchers are okay with typical Murphy touches like sexual violence, dismemberment, people cooked alive, and puppets) stems from waiting for anything on Netflix Ratched Make sense. Mildred herself has more than seventeen motivations and very little in her dialogue or her way of telling the audience which one she is following.
The rest of the characters are just as confused: Cynthia Nixon’s Gwendolyn is shot dead in one episode and begs Mildred for a road trip to a children’s theater the next, and Judy Davis’ nurse bucket swings from Mildred’s worst enemy to her partner in dismantling the patriarchy of the California government within a real-time toilet break.
It’s a shame that Ratched is such a mess of conspiracy as it has other properties that exist. The set and costume design are lovely, even if the show relies too heavily on such a goofy, hilarious quirk that floods the scenes with colored light to … show emotions? Set mood? Unclear, but it’s a laugh every time. The casting is top notch too: Vincent D’onofrio, Sophie Okenodo and Sharon Stone join Murphy’s regulars in recurring roles that are well-played if not particularly well-written.
Best of all is Jon Jon Briones, who was previously seen in American Horror Story: Apocalypse and American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versaceand his performance as Dr. Hanover in Ratched – fair, scared, occasionally gloomy, and strangely charming – makes up for the fact that the script contains about five too many short jokes at the expense of its character. The scene in which Hannover breaks it down for a drug-driven Charleston dance break in the middle of Spring Fling dance with staff patients (yes, that happens) is the next Ratched comes for fun.
Ratched is bizarre even by Ryan Murphy’s standards, and proves that his signature “more is more than adding more” doesn’t always work. People still need shows to have consistent characters, understandable plot lines, and the opposite of everything Ratched tries to do with episode 6 of Bonnie and Clyde Pastiche outside of left box. It’s an indulgent show that doesn’t spoil anyone and should be relegated to its rightful place as a hoax entry at the bottom of future leaderboards American horror story Seasons by quality.
Ratched is now streamed on Netflix.