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Ratched. Where do I even begin?

By Courtney Enlow

Actually, I know exactly where to begin. I hated this show.

Ratched is like being beaten repeatedly with a roll of beautiful floral wallpaper. Ratched is like being waterboarded with lavender-essenced spring water. Ratched is like being smothered with a truly sumptuous and well-tailored suit, if that suit was also delicately embroidered with all of television's worst and most problematic tropes.

Ratched is a bad, terrible, awful, no-good show. It's pretty, but hateful, confused, and messy. Ratched is the show 2020 deserves. Not us, the year itself. And hasn't "us" suffered enough?

Spoilers below for Ratched.

This show is a cacophony of mess and misery, like the vision board of a chaotic evil gremlin mixed with a fever dream AU fic of American Horror Story: Asylum. So even attempting to describe all the various goings-on and subplots and side plots, all riddled with holes and rips as though it's been attacked by the most enthusiastic of moths, is near impossible. AHS at its wildest and most ridiculous is streamlined in comparison. So I'm going to attempt to list what matters most:

Mildred Ratched is the titular Nurse Ratched of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. She is not a real nurse, she just really likes lobotomies. She is not evil except when she kind of is.

She hatches a scheme to become the head nurse of a mental hospital in order to free her brother Edmund (Finn Wittrock) who brutally murdered a bunch of priests (the first onscreen death is a Black man, giving the show its first of many problematic tropes). Her attempts are foiled by an ongoing subplot involving Vincent D'Onofrio as the governor who alternately wants to put Edmund to death or rehabilitate him using the institution and its head doctor, Dr. Richard Hanover (Jon Jon Briones).

The drug-addicted Dr. Hanover was once the doctor for Henry, the son of Sharon Stone's Lenore. Dr. Hanover, then known by his real name, Dr. Manuel Banyaga, attempted to give Henry a therapeutic dose of LSD to curb his violent tendencies but instead, Henry pours the rest of the drug into Dr. Banyaga's glass, so they both trip out. Henry, despite his lower dosage, cuts off the gardener's arms and then his own arms asking Dr. Banyaga to sew on the gardener's arms. The infection spreads to his legs so now Henry is a quadriplegic, and Lenore wants Hanover/Banyaga dead. She hires Corey Stoll to kill him. Corey Stoll has terrible and creepy sex with Ratched, then he gets boiled alive.

On that note, the patients of the hospital are horrifically mistreated as "treatment," which is the only thing this show shares in common with its film predecessor. A woman is trapped in a burning hot bath, then moved to an ice bath in order to cure her of homosexuality. An older man (played by Joseph Marcell, aka Geoffrey from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, making this extra devastating) undergoes a lobotomy while awake but lightly sedated and clearly in pain, unable to scream.

All of this happens in the first three episodes of the series. I have not gotten to the implied "Mildred is secretly gay which is why she's kind of evil" or the outright stated and performed by puppets sexual abuse Edmund and Mildred experienced as children. I have not gotten to Judy Davis and Amanda Plummer, who are clearly on an entirely different and way better show. I have not gotten to the blonde nurse who gives Edmund a hand job, then runs away with him, shoots a bunch of cops, and dies in a barn for no real purpose or payoff. I have not gotten to Sophie Okonedo turning in a stellar performance in a role that this show does not deserve as a woman with dissociative identity disorder. I have not gotten to Cynthia Nixon being shot and nearly killed, nor the half-hearted patient-of-the-week episode setup that the show does not give the slightest bit of time nor care toward. There is simply too much, but these events of the first three episodes really solidify what is so wrong with this show: it is ostensibly your classic Ryan Murphy camp-fest, but the camp is intermingled with genuine horrors and the two do not fit together, not this time. The pain in every character is so palpable, so when Davis and Plummer dance about screeching gleefully or Paulson fights with Davis about a peach, it feels so disjointed as to be physically jarring.

And — a point that cannot be overstated — none of this has anything to do with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. This did not need to be about Nurse Ratched. This could have been anything. The unnecessary and forced tie to an existing iconic character makes the whole thing even more... what it is. She is not the character from the film by a long shot — the series in no way explains how she became the casual bastion of cruelty, a human example of the broken mental health system. Instead, it both attempts to excuse and explain her while also having nothing to do with the character whatsoever. This Ratched at times cares deeply about her patients to the point of tears, deriding the evil of "hydrotherapy," while at other times gazing lustily at an ice pick to the frontal lobe. This character is all over the map but at no point does that map ever include the actual Nurse Ratched this is purportedly prequelizing.

But ultimately, even that doesn't matter. None of it does. A bunch of things happen, some connected, mostly disparate, none good.

Ratched is the meticulously applied red lipstick on a face that is cruel and confused and lost and messy. And we have enough of that in reality.

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