Episode 1 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 2 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 3 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 4 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 5 -| Review Score – 2.5/5
Episode 6 -| Review Score – 2/5
Episode 7 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 8 -| Review Score – 2.5/5
Ratched is the perfect example of a show personifying the old adage “as wide as an ocean but as deep as a puddle.” Despite a gorgeous visual design and some excellent set choices, the show stumbles over its own premise and tone, unwilling to commit to either drama or horror. The result is something that feels like eating two bits of bread without butter or toppings. Sure it may fill you up but it’s unlikely to feel very satisfying or leave you wanting to go back for more.
The other big problem with Ratched comes from the premise itself. In all honesty, who watched One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and craved a back-story for Nurse Ratched? Her whole character is a personification of the “by the book” nature of psychiatric care.
The film played on the idea of these places draining rather than gaining humanity. It asked big questions about the sacrifices we take for an idyllic society and the blind eye we initially give to dealing with mental health. Even after all these years, Jack Nicholson’s masterful performance holds up today making it a wonderful film.
Going into Ratched, it was always going to be difficult to produce a prequel satisfying fans of the original movie. Alas, Ratched fails to hit those highs. Some of this comes from Ryan Murphy’s “one trick pony” approach to productions of this nature which really don’t work with this sort of show.
There’s hints of American Horror Story but never enough desire to lean into horror. This is made all the worse by the usual Murphy trademarks showing up – including the forbidden lesbian love angle, evil male characters and paper-thin caricatures. All of this combines to create a tonally confused series that’s fine to watch but unlikely to be something you’ll return to in a hurry.
With 3 more seasons green-lit after this one, Ratched has quite the run ahead of it. Our story here though begins fresh off the horrors of World War II, with a delightfully twisted opening. Four priests are brutally murdered and the culprit – Edmund Tolleson – is brought to Lucia State Psychiatric Ward. Hot on his heels is no-nonsense Mildred Ratched who has her own reasons for appearing at the ward and getting a job.
As she starts to become accustomed to the hierarchy at play, she engages in a bitter rivalry with fellow nurse Mrs Bucket. All of this is overseen by Dr Hanover who Mildred sees as an easy target to manipulate. However, Hanover has his own problems in the form of the Governor and a distinct lack of funding for his ventures going forward.
All of this predictably sees Mildred caught in the middle between this tug of war for power while slowly descending into the woman she’s destined to become. This climaxes in the finale with a final scene that leaves more questions than answers. It also leaves the door wide open for the second season to follow.
Visually though the series looks fantastic. The scene composition is great and there’s some real nods toward The Shining and Hitchcock throughout the 8 episodes. Seeing Mildred driving her car across lush expanses of land or walking through eerily long corridors certainly exudes that horror vibe the show desperately needs.
By comparison, the musical score and various edits between scenes lean into those late 40’s, early 50’s horror. There’s a few teasing glimpses that this will fully embrace the visually deceiving terror later on, but ironically this is when the show falls apart.
Without giving too much away, the screenplay here really leaves a lot to be desired. The character development in particular (or lack thereof) really hurts the story trying to be told. Various supporting players change on a dime between good and bad, motivations are skewed and all of this capitulates into some pretty confusing narrative choices. While the show does have a few good twists along the way, they come at the expense of logical reasoning.
Despite its problems, Ratched will find an audience. Fans of Ryan Murphy will absolutely fall in love with this one and those unaware of the feature film will be in their element. There’s a light, breezy feel to this that makes it very easy to dip in and out of without feeling too strenuous. This series will also alienate a good number of people looking for something a bit different and more in the realm of horror.
Ratched isn’t a bad show per-se but it’s unlikely to be one released from the asylum any time soon. Ratched fails to find much of a voice amongst the other Ryan Murphy production inmates it finds itself alongside. As the first season bows out, Ratched leaves without so much of a whimper. Whether season 2 will see that evolve into a roar however, remains to be seen.