Paul Asay

TV Series Review

We all come from somewhere.

Take Mildred Ratched, the tyrannical nurse made famous in One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest. She didn’t just materialize, fully formed, into the Salem State Hospital, doling out meds and food and toiletries with all the petty unpredictability of a petty dictator. Netflix tells us that she started her career at the superficially genteel Lucia psychiatric hospital.

But even this 1947 version of Mildred Ratched came from somewhere, as well. And her own origins are, in their own ways, as frightening as the care she provides.

Nursing a Grudge

Mildred wasn’t always a nurse, after all. She was a little girl once—one who, sadly, was given up by her parents and suffered many an abusive foster home.

But she did find a brother, if you will—a boy named Edmund who suffered shoulder to shoulder with her. Together, they survived the foster care system and made it to adulthood more or less intact. On the outside, at least.

But when Edmund kills four priests in cold blood (including his own biological father) and is sent to Lucia—a lovely little insane asylum headed by the ambitious, malpractice-prone Dr. Hanover—Mildred decides to help her brother beat the murder rap by coaching him a little.

And who better? As a military nurse during World War II, she’d seen her share of crazy. And when it comes to doing absolutely anything to help loved ones, few draw the line farther down the anything road than her. Poison a patient to get a job? Sure. Manipulate another to commit suicide? No prob. Lie? Steal? Blackmail? All in a day’s work for the good nurse.

But as scheming and conniving as Nurse Ratched may be, others in Lucia are following their own sordid agendas as well. And even though hospitals are, ideally, places you leave once you get better, more than a few of Lucia’s patients check out in other ways.

Crazy Like a Pox

Nurse Ratched is one of pop culture’s most enduring villains. Originally created by postmodern novelist Ken Kesey in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and further immortalized in the 1975 film (for which Louise Fletcher won an Oscar), Ratched became a metaphor for institutional corruption. And when the American Film Institute put together a list of cinema’s worst all-time villains, Ratched landed at No. 5—just behind The Wicked Witch of the West.

It feels as though in crafting this prequel version of Nurse Ratched, creator Evan Romansky and developer/producer Ryan Murphy might’ve skimmed over the first paragraph or two of the characters’ Wikipedia entry—skipping every other word or so.

Gone are the chilly grays from the original film, replaced with psychedelic color bombs of blood red and foam green. Gone are the more mundane (and thus all the more horrific) institutional terrors of Salem. The plot here feels like straight-up fever-dream horror, a ridiculous blend of Murphy’s own American Horror Story and, oddly, Saw.

Oh, it’s probably not quite as visually sadistic as Saw, which helped introduce the phrase “torture porn” into the pop-culture vernacular. But when you learn that a certain character hacked off both of his arms with a chainsaw while under the influence of LSD … well, you’re not talking about a story enamored with subtlety.

Ratched fills its own ward with erotic oyster-slurping and abusive puppets, unseemly exposition and unbelievable violence, sex and more sex and, why not, a little more sex: There’s even the insinuation of sex between children performed before a paying audience. While Murphy’s work has always felt a little like a box wrapped in bloody glitter with nothing inside, this work feels particularly vacuous. We learn that Mildred has a penchant for, to use a well-worn cliché, putting her patients out of their misery. If only Netflix would fire Ratched and, thus mercifully, put us out of ours.

Episode Reviews

Sept. 18, 2020: “Pilot”

In order to protect her murdering “brother,” Edward, Mildred Ratched gets a job at the Lucia psychiatric hospital, where Edward’s being kept to determine whether he’s fit to stand trial. But getting that job wasn’t easy.

Mildred lies to get her foot in the door. Then, when she comes across a nurse having sex in the hospital (we see the couple engaged in sex, the man’s exposed rear end facing the camera), she blackmails the nurse to leave town (with Mildred threatening to tell the nurse’s husband if she doesn’t). Once on temporary assignment, Mildred steals some drugs and gives one to a patient, triggering a medical emergency. (The man convulses and vomits on the floor.) And when the hospital’s doctor, Dr. Hanover, gets suspicious of Mildred, she manipulates a patient into committing suicide with a letter opener in Hanover’s office. (We don’t see the man kill himself, only the body and some bloody leavings afterward.)

Edward lies his way into a home housing several priests and kills most of them off. One he leaves in a bathtub for another to find. (The body is covered with blood, and it looks as though the man’s throat had been cut.) Another dies after having his head repeatedly slammed into a toilet. (We can see the skull eventually cave in.) Two others are stabbed, with Edward threatening to make one of his victims—a man Edward says is his biological father—suffer. We later hear rumors that one of the victims was nearly beheaded.

That priest admits to having sexual relations with a nun, who later ended up in a brothel and died from a morphine overdose. (“I’m a sinner,” the priest admits as he pleads for his life, though he also insists that it was more the woman’s fault than his.) Another scene with a soon-to-be-murdered priest suggests masturbation (though his back is toward the camera).

Mildred and a man staying at her hotel seem about ready to have sex. But Mildred insists that they pretend to be a husband and wife fighting over whether to have kids or not—a fight that ends up with the two divorcing and the “mom” leaving the unwanted child on someone’s doorstep—squelches the mood. A state governor makes lewd comments toward Mildred, and he touches her rear inappropriately. Mildred and a gas station attendance watch a couple make out: The attendant grabs at his crotch as he watches.

Mildred disposes of a corpse by throwing it in a hospital furnace. People smoke and drink alcoholic beverages. A priest gives a homily before heading home (and doing some ungodly things). When someone says that nurses are “God’s angels,” Mildred says, “Yes. Yes we are.” A doctor pops a pill, though we’re unsure at this point whether he has a prescription for it or not. Mildred talks frankly about patients who might hurl their own excrement or ejaculate. A woman fantasizes about a popular movie vampire. We hear three misuses of God’s name, once with the word “d–n.”

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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