'Ratched' Review: Ryan Murphy's Netflix retake is more 'American Horror Story' than Ken Kesey's original

Looks like Murphy just didn't bother reminding creator Evan Romansky that this was a story we have already been floored by — twice before


                            'Ratched' Review: Ryan Murphy's Netflix retake is more 'American Horror Story' than Ken Kesey's original
(Netflix)

This article contains spoilers for 'Ratched'

Ryan Murphy can get just as grand in reimagining the past, and as campy when it comes to slasher horrors. Over the years, his optimistic sashaying of the LGBTQ community reclaiming their rightful place within society have worked tremendously well for the maestro. Shows like 'Pose' and the more recent 'Hollywood' bear testimony to that. Murphy has met similar success by sticking to genre specifics in terms of horror too, but that perhaps further asserts there's no mingling the grandeur with camp and expect a similarly fulfilling outcome. Case in point here is Evan Romansky's reimagination of Ken Kesey's original story about the sinister nurse Ratched, directed and produced by Murphy himself.

The prequel to 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' arrives in the form of Netflix's latest addition 'Ratched', but all we get is a backstory that's no different from all of Murphy's cold, blood-curdling, shrewd women in institutional authority. Be it the conniving Sister Jude from 'American Horror Story' Season 2: 'Asylum', or Miss Vennable, from the anthology's eighth season 'Apocalypse', Mildred Ratched might have a new name but she definitely does not have a new story. The fact that Sarah Paulson plays both Ratched and Vennable, doesn't help either. 

Known for Louise Fletcher's glass skin, pink lips, and spine chilling aura, it's no surprise to anybody why the 1975 film based on Kesey's book of the same name ended up being such a gigantic success. Soaring to the heights of five stellar Academy Award nominations, the movie reigned the ranks as the only adaptation of the novel so far, without any contest, for good reason. The story was about the cruel nurse who ran a mental health facility, exercising ruthless control and authority over her patients and employees and retaliating with stern bullying to keep them in line. For the longest time, Ratched remained the sole emblem of the battleax personality and to see her broken down into a vulnerable woman with feelings is not just unsettling, but extremely difficult to welcome knowing it's old wine in new bottle.

We were promised a prequel to the journey of an antagonist whose imminent fate is already known to readers, or fans of the tale. What we got was an elaborate backstory trying to justify the nurse's actions and dispensation while getting farther and farther away from the source material. Not only is Ratched's arch-rival Randle McMurphy missing, but she herself is not terrifying even when killing in cold blood. Of course, Murphy's Ratched is a closeted lesbian who learns to open her wings and fly when she meets the lover of her life, in Cynthia Nixon's Gwendolyn. And without discrediting all Murphy does to imbibe the LGTBQ+ essence into the story, showing the harrowing encounters of lesbians and the constant chastising and chiding they have to suffer, it's just not enough. Ratched's story focuses more on her journey towards finding compassion and forgiveness than showing how she became the shrewd monster we met in Cuckoo's Nest. 

From a fake war-nurse trying to exact revenge on the system for locking up her mass-murdering foster brother Edmund (Finn Wittrock), Ratched learns compassion and kindness. She stands up for spiteful colleagues in their moments of misery and offers to kill her own brother in the end when the sexist pig of a governor plans on bringing the electric chair back into practice. If anything, poor Ratched's past, that sees her subjected to foster abuse ranging from beatings to forced voyeurism, propels her towards a murderous personality that grows into an actually kind woman. And that couldn't be more different than the Nurse Ratched we have known and have been terrified of. 

Murphy plays with solid color palettes and parallel narratives to keep things interesting. Paulson's immediate secondary star-studded cast is also brilliant, with Sharon Stone almost coming off as the replacement for Murphy's AHS muse Lange. And trust Wittrock to keep things interesting once again, reenacting his murderous character for AHS's fourth season 'Freak Show'. A few prosthetic penis shots here and plenty of sculpted posterior all over the show only adds to the viewing experience, but it is nothing compared to Judy Davis' Betsy Bucket - the head nurse that Ratched replaces. Bucket is never boring as the persistently in love head nurse, obsessing over with Jon Brionnes' Richard Hanover - another maniacal doctor who believes lobotomy is the answer.

If anything, the characters surrounding Ratched are far more appealing, with something new to offer at least, and if that isn't criminal towards the character, what else could possibly be? Albeit no collaboration of Murphy and Paulson could ever go wrong, this just does not seem deserving for fans whose expectations were through the roof. Evan Romansky, who reportedly wrote the script four years ago when he was just 25, does as best as he can to allow these characters to deliver. Looks like Murphy just didn't bother reminding him that this was a story we have already been floored by, twice before. 

'Ratched' is now available for streaming on Netflix.