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What We’re Watching: ‘Ratched’ Is Not About the Nurse You Remember

Sarah Paulson as Mildred Ratched in "Ratched" on Netflix

If you’ve ever seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, then you’re probably familiar with the name Nurse Ratched. That’s the whole basis for the new Netflix series Ratched, but I’m here to tell you: Forget everything you think you know about the original Mildred Ratched, because she doesn’t exist in this show.

Ratched is a new Netflix series from the mind of Ryan Murphy—the same guy who brought us American Horror Story. When you pair that with the fact that the show features Sarah Paulson as Mildred Ratched and Finn Wittrock as Edmund Tolleson—both very familiar faces to Horror Story fans—then you might as well consider this show to be American Horror Story: Ratched. Because that’s exactly what it feels like.

Really, it’s best to go into Ratched without really thinking about Cuckoo. And if you’ve never seen Cuckoo, that might be even better. Because you’ll never get to a point where you see a familiar Nurse Ratched—at least in the first (and only) season so far.

But that also doesn’t make it bad. It’s just different that what many people might expect it to be, and should be viewed as a new experience.

Before we get any further, a word of caution: This show isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s riddled with violence, blood, gore, sex, drugs, and a lot more. Its crudeness may offend sensitive viewers; some of the topics and treatments discussed and preformed—while appropriate for the time—may be equally as hard to watch for some viewers.

It’s edgier than anything Ryan Murphy has been able to do on American Horror Story because it’s not constrained by the same rating system. This is not “made for TV.”

If you’re cool with that, then by all means—watch it.

To Start, This Is Kind of an Origin Story

The show is set in 1947—a full 16 years before Cuckoo. It’s the story of how Mildred Ratched got her start as an asylum nurse. It paints a very different picture than you might expect, showing how far Nurse Ratched will go to get what she wants. I won’t give away any spoilers, but the first episode really sets the tone for the entire first season (and likely beyond).

The way I see it, Mildred Ratched has no official origin story. Canonically, we don’t know where she came from, how she got started, and what it took for her to get that “battleax” attitude. As such, this is a new take on what made her the way she is by the time we see her in Cuckoo. Whether or not you agree with how she’s portrayed in the show, well, that’s another matter altogether.

Sarah Paulson Is Fierce and Unrelenting

Because Ratched is so different than Cuckoo, I’m going to keep the comparisons to a minimum. In fact, what I’m getting ready to say might be the only direct comparison I make the entire time. Nurse Ratched is a straight-laced serious-as-a-heart-attack woman who takes no shit from anyone. And that’s exactly what you get from Mildred Ratched in Ratched, too.

Sarah Paulson is as fierce as she’s ever been on any season of AHS or otherwise as Mildred Ratched. But she takes the character to a new level—a level that many Cuckoo fans may not enjoy. Because she’s calculated, manipulative, and cold as ice. She’s a much, much darker version Nurse Ratched. Because she’s a new vision for Mildred Ratched.

As I stated earlier, the show starts with Mildred’s not-so-humble beginnings as an asylum nurse. She gets the job exclusively through careful planning and incredible manipulation—both of people and the situation. Sarah Paulson absolutely commands the screen any time she’s present in a scene, whether she’s speaking or not. And when she does speak, her dialog is sharp and calculated—she’s as quick as she is elegant, constantly plotting her next move.

But you might be asking yourself why she needed to manipulate the situation to get a job as a nurse. Well, there’s some backstory there, and it all has to do with the murder of four Catholic priests that takes place in the very first episode. Again, I won’t give away any spoilers, but it’s a big plot point that gets the show off to a strong start.

But It Also Has Typical Ryan Murphy Subplots, Too

If you’ve ever watched anything Ryan Murphy has done, you know how this works: There’s a main plot, then there are a bunch of small sub-stories being told along the way. Well, Ratched is no different.

There’s the subplot that I briefly mentioned earlier with the murder of the priests by Edmund Tolleson. Then there’s Dr. Hanover, the guy who runs the asylum. And the absolutely loathsome and pathetic Nurse Betsy Bucket. Each of these characters (and several others) have their own stories and subplots that weave in and out of the primary story in a very fluid and easy-to-follow manner.

If you’re a Horror Story fan, then you know that it’s often filled with subplots that never go anywhere, so I’m really hoping that’s not what happens in Ratched. At the time of writing, I have three episodes left, but so far, everything seems to be coming together nicely. I’m really hoping it doesn’t fall apart the way AHS has done so many times in the past.

But as of right now, I think Ratched might be some of Ryan Murphy’s strongest work to date. It doesn’t hurt that it’s already slated to get a season 2, so there’s plenty of time for the smaller storylines to get wrapped up in the future (unlike AHS, which is an anthology).

If You Watch It, Keep an Open Mind

The "Ratched" logo

Ratched isn’t for everyone. If you’re a die-hard Cuckoo fan, go into this with an open mind—or consider avoiding it altogether. If you’re not a fan of psychological horror, gore, overtly sexual scenes, or the mental health “treatments” of yesteryear (like lobotomies and hydrotherapy), then you might also want to avoid it.

But if that kind of stuff doesn’t phase you and/or you’re a fan of American Horror Story, then Ratched is honestly a must-watch.

Cameron Summerson Cameron Summerson
Cameron Summerson is Review Geek's former Editor in Cheif and first started writing for LifeSavvy Media in 2016. Cam's been covering technology for nearly a decade and has written over 4,000 articles and hundreds of product reviews in that time. He’s been published in print magazines and quoted as a smartphone expert in the New York Times. In 2021, Cam stepped away from Review Geek to join Esper as a managing Editor. Read Full Bio »