"Ratched is bursting at the seams with baffling decisions that reflect not only a blatant misunderstanding of the character and the world she inhabits but a profound mistrust in the audience," says Angelica Jade Bastién of the Ryan Murphy series created by Evan Romansky and starring Sarah Paulson. "It draws a harsh line between trauma endured in childhood and trauma inflicted as an adult, an insulting premise that deadens the experience of trauma rather than giving audiences a view into how the pains of our past shape our present. But that isn’t all that surprising since Ratched has nothing novel to say about any of the ideas it picks up and marvels at before throwing them out the window and turning its attention back to more visually rote, narratively hollow sex and violence. There is nothing redeemable to be found within the folds of these eight hours of television. Nothing! Please, do not let idle curiosity trick you into delving into this wretched enterprise. Haven’t we learned over the last six months how precious life is? Why waste it on a show that demonstrates such little interest in the interiority of its characters that you feel insulted on the actors’ behalf? The most glaring issue is the most essential: Nurse Ratched herself, an exceedingly confused character who becomes whatever a scene needs her to be with little internal logic to be found. Inspired, supposedly, by the character of the same name in Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel and Milos Forman’s 1975 film — which earned Louise Fletcher an Academy Award for the role — the Mildred depicted in Ratched is recognizable in name alone, a World War II nurse who forces her way into working at the salubrious-looking Lucia State Mental Hospital, run by Dr. Hanover (Jon Jon Briones) and housing Edmund Tolleson (Finn Wittrock), a famed serial killer with a deep connection to Mildred. It’s this connection that powers her wildly inconsistent decisions, sending us on a journey that balloons from a simple origin story to a wan, useless game between increasingly grotesque players."
Ratched is beautiful, but it's really bad: "Ratched succeeds as a compendium of stunning images, but that's about it," says Linda Holmes. "As a story, it is nonsensical, self-indulgent and unsuccessful at saying anything about Ratched herself except something along the lines of 'people do the darnedest things.' In Cuckoo's Nest, she is the pitiless and relentless face of the institution and the state. She grinds her patients down simply because she does and because she can and because she believes in rules; that is what makes her frightening. She represents an inhuman and inhumane society in its crushing of the individual, really, so she's not meant to be thought of as a realistic and nuanced person...Murphy's creative bond with Sarah Paulson, who has appeared over and over in his series (including American Horror Story and American Crime Story), fails them both here. As Mildred, Paulson seems adrift in a way she has rarely been as an actor, because the way Mildred is written is largely incoherent. At first, we think we are perhaps seeing a sadist in the earliest days of her reign — a woman whose opportunistic brutality isn't yet entirely funneled through her job. But then when the plot demands it, she becomes gentle and helpful, siding with patients in precisely the way she would never do in Cuckoo's Nest. The things that are meant to unlock Mildred's psyche — that she's a lesbian, that she suffered horrible childhood trauma, that she lost her parents very young — are baubles that dot the characterization, but none feel like insights into her behavior. This was probably a doomed project from the start, because Mildred Ratched doesn't need a history and can't be given one without breaking the character's purpose."
Ratched completely misunderstands one of cinema's most famous villains: "On paper, Netflix’s Ratched is supposed to be a prequel to the Oscar-winning film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a series dedicated to delving into the backstory of the woman who would eventually become one of the most iconic villains in cinema," says Lacy Baugher. "In reality, it’s something of a slow-moving car crash: Kind of entertaining to gawk at from a distance, but a big old mess up close. Part of the problem is that while there’s actually a surprising amount to enjoy about Ratched, it’s an utter failure as the prequel that was promised to us. This version of Mildred Ratched bears almost no resemblance to the character portrayed by Louise Fletcher in the 1975 film adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel. That woman—who didn’t even have a first name—represents the banal and ordinary nature of evil. She is terrifying precisely because she is so relentlessly normal, a rigid bureaucrat turned heartless by an oppressive system rather than a singularly monstrous horror. In Ratched that is … incredibly not the case. And honestly, maybe the joke’s on all of us for not realizing that this is how things would go from the start. Because Ratched is a Ryan Murphy series, and that means that it isn’t a character study so much as a bombastic combination of competing plots and themes, topped off with riotously bright colors and a heaping dose of gratuitous sex and violence. For those of us who’ve spent the better part of the last decade watching the increasingly decadent and self-indulgent twists that regularly pop up on his American Horror Story anthology—a series known for its bonkers plots, campy, lavish style, and frequently unsatisfying endings—this show will feel wildly familiar."
Ratched is quality trash, allowing Paulson to partake in excellent fun: "Quality trash is our entertainment G-spot," says Lucy Mangan. "There is nothing else like it. Films rarely hit it because they are too big and expensive and the target is too small. They deal only in binaries: success or failure, prestige or crap. This is not what we seek for the particular itch we want to scratch. Books are better. There are more of them, and the genre we are looking for is better established. Bookwise, Jacqueline Susann can be counted on to bring you to ecstasies and Shirley Conran is your next best arch manipulator. But television is the most exquisitely attuned tool at your disposal, and Ryan Murphy wields it best of all. When he is on form, he cannot be beaten...Now, let your parasexual thrills be unleashed, for his superior Netflix venture is here: Ratched. It provides the backstory to the psychiatric nurse made into a byword for institutional abuse of power and individual monstrousness by Louise Fletcher’s magnificent performance in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the 1975 film version of Ken Kesey’s bestselling countercultural classic. Ratched, created by Murphy and Evan Romansky from the latter’s speculative script, is essentially a gothically grandiose instalment of American Horror Story. AHS: Lobotomy. Gird your loins."
Ratched isn’t the "Ryan-Murphiest" thing Ryan Murphy has ever produced, but it sure wants to be: "From a bloody opening scene in which a deranged man (Finn Wittrock) kills a rectory full of Catholic priests and their monsignor (which, frankly, feels like target practice at this stage in Murphy’s career) to the depiction of unsettling experimental treatments at a psychiatric asylum, Ratched can at times feel like the fullest expression of the television impresario’s high/low values, matched with a celebratory display of his prevailing art form: purposeful camp that flips the scripts on old references," says Hank Stuever. He adds: "Of course a lot of us will come here wanting to know what made Ratched into the sublimely vindictive control freak of the mental ward. Audiences have been wondering that for decades. 'That f---ing nurse, man,' Jack Nicholson’s character said about Nurse Ratched. 'She ain’t honest.' The answers provided in Ratched may or may not satisfy that curiosity, but fans of Murphy’s previous and provocative works won’t mind."
Even Sarah Paulson can't save a character that mistakes deviousness for emotional depth and never evolves beyond being a caricature: "The tone ping-pongs between Horror Story-style gore, with hacked-off limbs and people nearly boiled alive, and soppy melodrama with lots of theatrical yelling, blaring orchestral swells and comically hard-boiled dialogue," says Dave Nemetz. "At times, it feels like Old Hollywood cosplay; as fedora and trenchcoat-clad investigator Charles, Corey Stoll looks like he’s dressed up as a private eye for Halloween. Sure, the production design is typically impeccable, but even that backfires. I promise you’ve never seen a hospital as luxuriously opulent as the one in Ratched, which seemingly has more crystal chandeliers than patients. Murphy’s productions always tend to favor style over substance — aside from FX’s triumphant Pose, which finds the beating human heart inside its flamboyant characters — but this might be his emptiest effort yet. It answers a question that no one asked, and uses it as an excuse to pull all the usual Ryan Murphy tricks. Between this and the similarly disappointing Hollywood, I’m growing weary of this merry-go-round that keeps going around and around but gets nowhere."
Ratched is the worst season of American Horror Story: "By now it’s a tired observation to say that Ryan Murphy’s shows tend to start strong and fall apart somewhere in the middle, but Ratched breaks all previous Murphy records by lasting exactly thirty minutes before Sarah Paulson as Mildred attempts to seduce a pantsless Corey Stoll with a breathy monologue about her childhood abandonment issues as a prelude to threatening a nurse’s children and coercing a mentally ill man to slit his own throat," says Alexis Nedd. "The over-the-top violence, nonsense plotting, and straight up extraterrestrial behavioral choices that usually taint the later episodes of Murphy’s shows are all Ratched has to offer from the start. Murphyverse shows thrive on being off-kilter in some respect and his two previous projects for Netflix have played with that style in interesting, watchable ways. The Politician appeared to take place in a candy-colored alternate reality and kept the audience on their toes with its amusing strangeness; Hollywood ignored history to paint an intentionally subversive fantasy in which racial and sexual minorities won big when they really couldn't. Ratched’s off-kilterness neither serves its humor nor enhances a social message. It’s just weird and uncomfortable."
Ratched is a quasi-tasteful (read: more boring) remix of American Horror Story: Asylum, its most creative season: As Inkoo Kang points out, Asylum also marked Paulson's first starring role on AHS. "Gone are the alien abductions, Nazi death doctors, killer nuns and Oedipally obsessed serial killers that made Asylum such a gonzo delight," says Kang. "Though it occasionally mistakes 'scary' for 'hard to watch,' Ratched displays a lot more narrative discipline. And yet the whole feels lesser than the sum of its parts. But what parts! Production designer Judy Becker and costume designers Lou Eyrich and Rebecca Guzzi (all frequent Murphy collaborators) ensure there’s always something to admire, especially at the luxurious psychiatric hospital in California’s Central Coast where most of the series takes place."
Ratched is a steaming bag of garbage wrapped in Technicolor ribbons and bows: "This is an origins story about one of the most memorable movie villains of all time, but it doesn’t feel connected in any way, shape or form to that character — so why was this lurid gore-fest framed as a prequel in the first place?" says Richard Roeper, who adds: "All the characters in Ratched are so over the top we half expect them to start singing opera. Yes, the production design is breathtaking and the campy dialogue provides a few dark laughs, and the actors are clearly having a good time taking juicy bites out of the material, but the histrionics become tedious and there are far more gross-out moments than genuinely frightening developments. The end result is one big bloody bore."
Ratched is more unsettling than truly frightening: "The show’s angular directing style, set by Murphy in the first episode, deliberately evokes Hitchcockian horror, though it rarely displays any of that director’s subtlety or intrigue," says Caroline Framke. "Each of the many interlocking plot threads has some catastrophic climax, raising the stakes with slashes of gory violence rather than solid story beats. Not even the likes of Sharon Stone guest starring as a furious heiress with a glamorous monkey sidekick can lift Ratched out of its confusing narrative mire (though in fairness to Stone, she’s fantastic nonetheless). There will undoubtedly be enough viewers who just want a quick dose of creepy body horror this autumn without thinking too hard about What It All Means. But the series’ inability to sell its most personally devastating moments keeps Ratched from ever being as effective as it could be."
Ratched barely works even if you've never heard of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: "The more fundamental problem with Ratched isn’t that it’s an unnecessary, ill-fitting origin story for a formerly iconic character," says Alan Sepinwall. "It barely works as a story even if you ignore the name and consider this the first adventure of a brand-new character." He adds: "At times, Ratched seems to owe as much to more optimistic Murphy series, like Hollywood and Pose, as it does to his more cynical and garish productions like AHS. Amid all the scheming, torture, and homicide, the show also has an odd, Pollyanna-ish streak of believing any action, no matter how heinous, can be forgiven if one’s intentions are pure enough. Some of the later character turns — meant as commentary on prejudice and self-loathing, particularly in and around the gay community — are more jaw-dropping than the most extreme acts of murder, because they make so little sense with what’s gone before."
In typical Ryan Murphy fashion, Ratched is dark and psychological, overwrought with aesthetic affectations and still watchable in spite of itself: "Murphy has always loved to externalize emotions and mental states with striking color palettes, and it’s no different here," says Brandon Katz. "Forest greens on deep blacks, traffic cone oranges against egg shell whites. The staff of Lucia State Hospital, which emanates its own Overlook Hotel vibes, are decked out in Listerine strip aqua colors for a mix of soothing unsettlement. Throw in camera angles akimbo and combine it with the post-war, mid-century period setting, Ratched absolutely looks like a million bucks (which would be $11.6 million in 2020 money). As with most Murphy productions, Ratched is charmingly eccentric to a point, solidly seductive before brazenly spilling over the line and needing a moment to collect itself. It is eight episodes of stylish carnage both psychological and physical and mileage may vary on what viewers can and cannot stomach (a nascent lobotomy procedure had me watching through clenched fingers)."
By now, you know what to expect in a Murphy-verse production, and the engrossing Ratched has those hallmarks in spades: "Lush visual treats, occasionally off-the-wall antics from some truly batshit characters, heightened drama, sex, and blood," says Malcolm Venable. "Soaked in the seductive look and feel of film noir flicks, Ratched does less to explain how Ms. Ratched, played with cool detachment by Sarah Paulson, becomes the way she is than it drops us into her world where blackmail, secrets, and mind control serve as currency. But that's OK. After adjusting to the peculiarities of this dark fantasia in the beginning and then, traversing a few bumpy plot moments here and there, viewers will likely find that Ratched is one of the more tightly structured, easy-to-follow, and grounded works from the House of Murphy."
Cynthia Nixon on playing Sarah Paulson's character's love interest: “If you think back on the movies in the middle part of the 20th century, there are so few gay characters of any kind. And when we exist, we exist as terrifying perverts and pedophiles and cold villainous malevolent women,” says Nixon. “To actually get to see a couple played by two women who are themselves gay, it’s a big deal.”
Sarah Paulson sees Ratched as a plea for proper mental health care: “I remember when I first saw the movie, years ago, thinking that she was absolutely a villain,” she says. “Then, when I watched it before we started (filming), I thought, ‘You know, this is a woman who’s sort of a victim of a patriarchal infrastructure in this hospital.’ Some people might (push back on that) and get fired, and other people might think ‘I better toe the line.’ The ramifications and the consequences were devastating to many of the men under her care, but I had to believe, if I was going to play it, that she did it because she thought she was adhering to some kind of rule that she thought was most right.”
Sarah Paulson divides her career into two eras -- Before Marcia Clark and after Post-Marcia Clark: “In terms of the public response to me or awareness of me, it became very different,” she says of her Emmy-winning The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story performance. Ratched, she says, was her most daunting "Post-M.C." role yet. When Paulson inquired about the role, Ryan Murphy asked her to think long and hard about what the part would mean for her career. “In many ways, this is the hardest part that she’s ever had to play because she couldn’t resort to the thing that she loves to do,” says Murphy. “Sarah always says, ‘Give me a black tooth and an accent and I’m in heaven.’ But I was interested in what happens if she is required to do something that she’s never done, which is absolute feral stillness and lethalness.” Accepting and embracing the challenge, Paulson signed on. “No one could deny the multifaceted, multidimensional aspects of this role,” Paulson says, “and that there are not a ton of them just hanging off trees that are for women my age, that are this complicated and this nuanced and this rich.”