In September 2020, Ryan Murphy and company released their long-awaited limited series, Ratched. The show attempts to create an origin story for the iconic character, Nurse Mildred Ratched from Ken Kesey and Miloš Forman's One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. The show ended up being successful and even obtained three Golden Globe nominations. However despite the accolades, Ratched only has a score of 62% on Rotten Tomatoes and 50/100 on Metacritic. So why is this show so polarizing? Although Ratched has a lot of flaws I believe the origin of this disdain comes from a deep, fundamental misunderstanding of the title character: Mildred Ratched.
The character, Mildred Ratched first appeard in Ken Kesey's 1962 novel, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and was brought to life on screen by Louise Fletcher in the 1975 film of the same name. In the 2020 series, Ratched, the titular character is played by Sarah Paulsen, a frequent collaborator with the show's director, Ryan Murphy. After gaining prominence as creative partners in the television series, American Horror Story, it's safe to say that audience expectations were high for their next project. The limited series was finally released on September 18th, 2020 and received mixed reviews, leaving lots of viewers underwhelmed. The one thing people seemed to unanimously love was the production design by Judy Becker as well as the stylish costumes by Rebecca Guzzi. Other than that, the reception for the series was not met with the rapturous applause that people were expecting. Audiences harped on the excessive drama, obtuseness, and most importantly, the cardinal misrepresentation of Nurse Ratched as a character.
It's important to note that Ryan Murphy's campy, over-the-top series is nothing like the Miloš Forman film that so many know and love. Some of his work includes mostly TV shows like American Horror Story, Glee, and most recently, Netflix's The Prom. None of which share even remotely the same tone as Forman's One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. In an ambitious attempt to revamp the classic story, Murphy added a new, stylish color palette, another stark contrast to the film which largely consists of just white. However the changes that Ryan Murphy made to the classic story went much farther than just the visuals.
Artistic vision aside, I'm here to talk about how much Ryan Murphy and company completely mishandled the character of Nurse Ratched and avoided what made her so terrifying in the first place.
Ken Kesey and Miloš Forman's Nurse Ratched is a staunch rule follower, someone who will do anything possible to keep the subject of individuality out of her hospital. The audience learns to hate her not from pure fear but mostly frustration. Whenever the main character Randle McMurphy attempts to initiate an uprising or make any sort of statement, she keeps her composure and uses her power to make sure his visions are never realized. Randle McMurphy symbolizes divergence from tradition, rebelling against societal norms. In this case, he is challenging how the United States views and treats the mentally ill or criminally insane. Nurse Ratched on the other hand symbolizes the very society that's being picked apart but still manages to rule with an iron fist. Together, McMurphy and Ratched have one of the most iconic, seamless character dynamics in modern film.
Ryan Murphy's Nurse Ratched does not showcase any of the original character's qualities. Now, that's not always a bad thing, sometimes a revamp can be just what an old story needs to bring it back to life and make it more accessible for today's audience. However what Murphy's character fails to do is capture anything that made Ken Kesey's version so memorable. In the show, Ratched, the titular character is portrayed as some sort of angel of death. A stereotypical "girl boss" who wears designer outfits with a strict demeanor. The trailer for the series tries to showcase her as some kind of serial killer/slasher villain, a stark contrast to the character's original portrayal. Any hint of subtly is completely thrown out the window to make way for this alternate version that seems like it was solely made to sell merchandise.
Although it recieved mixed reviews upon its release, it could very well be argued that Ratched was doomed from the start. And that's for one specific reason...Nurse Ratched doesn't need an origin story. Normally origin stories are reserved for epic evil villains such as The Joker or Darth Vader, characters so irredeemable that the audience can't help but wonder how someone could possibly end up that way. Nurse Ratched is terrifying because we know exactly how she got to where she is, because she is an average product of the American healthcare system. Another thing that adds to the horror of Nurse Ratched is how unspecial she is, while the audience might despise her, the scariest part is that there are millions of her out there in every hospital in America. By rewriting her as an epic slasher villain, Ryan Murphy is robbing Nurse Ratched of everything that made her so distinctive and horrifying.
While I could probably go on forever about all the little microdetails that made Ratched good or bad, the fact is for the sake of the character, it should've never been made. With barely any artistic integrity to the original in mind, it's become blatantly clear that the series was made for some quick cash. In the end, Ratched didn't exactly "ruin" the story and/or the character but it did very little to add to Nurse Ratched's lore and believability.