Buried deep in the filing cabinet of questions we’ve never asked is this one: What is the origin story of Nurse Ratched, the mental-hospital tyrant played by Louise Fletcher in the 1975 movie One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest? It’s not as if she’s the Joker.
But producer Ryan Murphy has decided to answer the question anyway. The result is Ratched, which is possibly his most entertaining series since the first season of American Horror Story.
Set in California after World War II, Ratched is an intoxicating psychological thriller with luxurious sets, beautiful period costumes, reams of plot and quite a few moments of vicious gore — imagine a telenovela directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson) is a new nurse at a swanky institution. She can be compassionate with patients — her eyes shine in moments of pity — but she has a morbid interest in a new procedure called lobotomy, and she doesn’t get too worked up if a man she doesn’t like is boiled alive.
Mildred, you see, has a secret mission. We won’t tell you what it is, except that it provides the framework for a constantly surprising melodrama that manages to fit in Judy Davis as a nasty colleague named Betsy Bucket and Sharon Stone as a rich woman with a pet monkey.
Paulson, an actress who achieves her effects with fine, precise detail, somehow manages to acknowledge the camp value of all of this without playing into it.
Ratched is now streaming on Netflix.
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