Series ‘Ratched’ Explores the Origin of Mildred, Touching upon Issues of Sexuality and Childhood Trauma

A still from 'Ratched'. Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson) is shown in close-up leaning over an ice bath with a female patient inside. Ratched wears green scrubs and hair hair pulled back into a net, she is very glamorous with a full face of make-up. The tiles behind her are also green, its a 1940s setting.

Her firm posture gives her dominance over everyone. The pristine-styled, auburn hair and burgundy lipstick are her hallmarks. Nurse Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson) is back. Ryan Murphy and Evan Romansky phenomenally examine the infamous One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest antagonist’s past, childhood, relationships, and the factors that lead her to become a woman we know.

California, 1947. An elegant woman sits in her pastel-mint car, waiting for it to be filled up at the gas station. She’s wearing big, cat sunglasses, bloody-red lipstick, and a dark red shawl around her neck. She’s cold and assertive, responding in a rather patronising matter. She tells the gas station employee that he should bathe more often because his fingernails are dirty. One thing is especially noteworthy: there it is on her ecru-colored coat, immediately resembling the Scarlet Letter — a big, red embroidered on her side. An aspiring nurse, Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson), crosses the halls of the Lucia State Mental Hospital with the dream of working with Dr. Richard Hanover (Jon Jon Briones). She manipulates her way to become a part of the staff under the watchful eye of the head nurse, Betsy Bucket (Judy Davis). 

While Mildred gets to know the hospital employees — including veteran Huck Finnigan (Charlie Carver) and nurse assistant, Dolly (Alice Englert) —, Ratched also has to face her dark past and Bucket’s doubts about her mysterious persona. At the same time, Dr. Hanover, the director of the hospital, is fighting for funding, which can be provided by Governor George Wilburn (Vincent D’Onofrio), who is seeking re-election with the assistance of his press secretary, Gwendolyn Biggs (Cynthia Nixon). Wilburn is greatly interested in the clergy killer (Finn Wittrock), who was recently brought to the hospital. Tolleson has to be evaluated by Hanover, and the decision has to be made whether the murderer is fit to stand a fair trial.

A still from 'Ratched'. The staff of the Lucia State Mental Hospital are lined up behind a help desk. Mainly consisting of female nurses, one being Ratched (Sarah Paulson) and 3 male attendants and a security guard. All the people bar the security guard are wearing minty green outfits in a 1940s style.

Even though all the story lines put a focus on Ratched and her actions, the creators also present many other, well-crafted characters that enrich the series. One of them is filthy rich, fabulous Lenore Osgood (Sharon Stone). The glorious woman, who travels with her loyal monkey and even more loyal decorator, seeks revenge on someone in Lucia. The mysterious and stylish drama — full of twists and turns, starts with a bang, and every single episode will have the audience on the edge of their seats. Although you may lose count of all the great characters at times, each story line and character have a fundamental purpose. Ultimately, they all intertwine and focus on the main character, creating a satisfying, refreshing — and ultimately, unforeseen ending.

Ryan Murphy was right when he declared that the role of the legendary Mildred Ratched would be the performance of Sarah Paulson’s career. Her portrayal of the titular character is outstanding, stylish and stone-cold. Her co-star in the series, Judy Davis, is utterly stunning playing Mildred’s nemesis, Betsy Bucket, as assertive and strong. The verbal skirmishes between the characters make it impossible to take your eyes off the scenes in which they appear. One scene in particular (yes, the fabled peach scene) is exceptionally well done and simply fun to watch. 

While we’re getting to know Ratched and see things done her twisted way, we meet Dr. Richard Hanover. Jon Jon Briones was a perfect choice for the role of an ambitious, extremely smart doctor who aspires to cure the human mind. Hanover desires to perfect the lobotomy to “correct, not penalise.” Hanover is exceptionally excited to treat Edmund Tolleson, who murdered four priests in a fit of rage. Finn Wittrock is fantastic, scary at times, and creative in this role. While giving off Mr. Jingles’ (from AHS: 1984) vibes, the actor showcases the true range of his talent in the second episode (Ice Pick) when Hanover is evaluating him. 

Murphy has always been known for touching on controversial and/or taboo subjects, especially homosexuality, which was thought to be a ‘disease’ during the period of which Ratched is set. Romansky and Murphy, alongside Paulson (who co-produced the series), touch upon this subject and display yet another barbaric method used to “erase” homosexuality from an individual. This issue makes the episode Angel of Mercy one of the best out of the whole series. The subject, previously presented by Murphy in American Horror Story: Asylum, is heartbreaking, hard to stomach, yet very real; it showcases the actual methods used on people back in the 40s. The treatment has a significant influence on Mildred and is further multiplied by Gwendolyn, who spends more time around the main character. Ratched is extremely conflicted within herself and tries to reason with her ambivalent feelings. She’s torn between what she feels for Gwendolyn and social “norms” in the 40s. The suppressed sexuality adds to the list of factors that make Mildred closed off to people.  

A still from 'Ratched'. Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson) stands in the middle of a visitors room in the Lucia State Mental Hospital, we know this as their mint-green wearing nurses are amongst patients in the background. Many other patients sit around on scattered chairs around the room,reading newspapers and talking to visitors, most wearing their pajamas. Ratched stands out in the centre of the image wearing a black 1940s suit and black beret, with red hair and red lipstick.

Mildred is cold and her stoic attitude is simply terrifying. She doesn’t easily trust people, and there is a reason for it. Louise Fletcher (Ratched from One Flew Over Cuckoo’s Nest) and Sarah Paulson are not the same people when the audience meets them. If you expect to discover the eternal coldness, you won’t find it. Fletcher’s version was meant to showcase the abuse of power that we often see in mental institutions. In the series, we see a young woman with a soft heart hidden deep within herself who went through very brutal events — those events created a wicked, chilling psyche. But, at the same time, we discover that what she seeks, in her twisted way, is love, acceptance, and happiness.

Ratched has an exceptional atmosphere, from the introduction you are immediately transported into the Hitchock-like, 1940s setting. Many thanks go to Lou Eyrich and Rebecca Guzzi, the show’s costume designers, whose primary inspiration for the refined looks of Ratched was Hitchock’s Vertigo — full of a variety of green tones from the nurses’ uniforms to the green filters (symbolising envy, oppression, and lust in the series). 

But eye-catching costume design is not the only thing that manages to create the 40s horror film-esque atmosphere. The directors (Ryan Murphy, Michael Uppendahl, Nelson Cragg, Jennifer Lynch, Daniel Minahan, Jessica Yu) regularly use split diopter shots, split scene shots, and zoom-ins. The episode titled Angel of Mercy: Part Two, directed by Michael Uppendahl, wonderfully showcases the 40s horror film essence. We can experience the dramatic zoom-in on murder weapons and multiple split shots as the action tenses, and the intrusive music rises. The loud and rhythmic, almost interfering score created by Mac Quayle, becomes an integral part of Ratched. The music that accompanies the opening credits is especially noteworthy. The sequence itself presents its own kind of story in which the red thread symbolises Mildred’s life. Now, the nurse Mildred cuts herself off from her terrifying childhood and constant disappointment.

Ratched is, without a doubt, the best series of 2020. Extremely stylish, bloody and surprising, Sarah Paulson charms and shocks the audience as Mildred Ratched. The series talks about many important issues while also delivering top tier performances. Nurse Ratched is one of the most intriguing antagonists in the history of cinema, and as we get her backstory in the drama series, we can delve into and analyse her character in a new light. Ratched is an elaborate story about love, acceptance, and childhood trauma —  an emotional roller-coaster that everybody has to see. 

Ratched will be available to stream exclusively on Netflix from Friday 18th September

by Zofia Wijaszka

Zofia lives in LA and is passionate about pop culture, television and Stevie Nicks. She graduated from the University of Wroclaw, Poland with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Social Communication with Creative Writing. Her work revolves around women in television and film. She previously has written for GirlTalkHQ, Reel Honey and Polish film portals. She loves the Scream movies, Carol and Big Little Lies. She wants Sarah Paulson to be her buddy and go for drinks with her. Her Twitter – @zoshugrochu 

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