‘Ratched’ on Netflix is the worst season of ‘American Horror Story’
Sarah Paulson can’t save Netflix’s “Ratched,” which contains all of Ryan Murphy’s showrunning flaws and none of the fun that usually outweighs them.
BY ALEXIS NEDD
It’s not always a bad sign when the credits roll on a television show’s season finale and the only question on one’s mind is “what?” In the best case scenario, that “what” is preceded by a cliffhanger and delivered with a mind-blown level of surprise. In the worst case scenario, the “what” is short for “what did I just watch?” and conveys dissatisfaction with the show as a whole. Despite Sarah Paulson’s herculean attempt to make the titular role of Ratched someone the audience might enjoy watching, the “what” that comes at the end of Ryan Murphy’s latest Netflix project is in the latter category. What even is this show?
By now it’s a tired observation to say that Ryan Murphy’s shows tend to start strong and fall apart somewhere in the middle, but Ratched breaks all previous Murphy records by lasting exactly thirty minutes before Sarah Paulson as Mildred attempts to seduce a pantsless Corey Stoll with a breathy monologue about her childhood abandonment issues as a prelude to threatening a nurse’s children and coercing a mentally ill man to slit his own throat. The over-the-top violence, nonsense plotting, and straight up extraterrestrial behavioral choices that usually taint the later episodes of Murphy’s shows are all Ratched has to offer from the start.
Murphyverse shows thrive on being off-kilter in some respect and his two previous projects for Netflix have played with that style in interesting, watchable ways. The Politician appeared to take place in a candy-colored alternate reality and kept the audience on their toes with its amusing strangeness; Hollywood ignored history to paint an intentionally subversive fantasy in which racial and sexual minorities won big when they really couldn’t. Ratched ‘s off-kilterness neither serves its humor nor enhances a social message. It’s just weird and uncomfortable.
Part of the discomfort comes from Ratched’s imperceptible ties to One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, the Ken Kesey novel and Miloš Forman film in which Nurse Ratched is the primary antagonist. The Mildred Ratched in this show is unrecognizable to previously portrayed versions of her character and waiting for the moment in which she “becomes” the Nurse Ratched of your nightmares is futile. They could have named the character something else, submitted the entire script as American Horror Story: Asylum But Not That One and no one would be the wiser.
The rest of the discomfort (assuming watchers are fine with typical Murphy touches like sexual violence, dismemberment, boiling people alive, and puppets) is rooted in the wait for anything on Netflix’s Ratched to make sense. Mildred herself has seventeen-plus motivations and very little in her dialogue or manner to clue the audience in as to which one she is pursuing at any given moment.
The rest of the characters are equally confused, with Cynthia Nixon’s Gwendolyn getting shot in one episode and begging Mildred for a road trip to a children’s theater the next, and Judy Davis’ Nurse Bucket swinging from being Mildred’s worst enemy to becoming her partner in dismantling the patriarchy of California’s state government in the span of a real-time bathroom break.
It’s a shame that Ratched is such a mess of plotting, since it does have other qualities that exist. The set and costume design are lovely, even if the show does rely too much on a so-silly-it’s-fun quirk that floods the scenes with colored light to…show emotion? Set a mood? Unclear, but it’s a laugh every time. The casting is also top notch, with Vincent D’onofrio, Sophie Okenodo, and Sharon Stone joining the Murphy regulars in recurring roles that are well-acted if not particularly well-written.
Best of all is Jon Jon Briones, previously seen in American Horror Story: Apocalypse and American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, and whose performance as Dr. Hanover in Ratched — righteous, frightened, occasionally dim, and oddly charming — makes up for the fact that the script has around five too many short jokes at his character’s expense. The scene in which Hanover breaks it down for a drug-fueled Charleston dance break in the middle of the staff-patient Spring Fling dance (yes, that happens) is the closest Ratched comes to being fun.
Ratched is bizarre even by Ryan Murphy’s standards and proves that his “more is more, than add some more” signature does not always work. People still need shows to have consistent characters, understandable plot beats, and the opposite of whatever Ratched tries to do with Episode 6’s out-of-left-field Bonnie and Clyde pastiche. It is an indulgent show that indulges no one, and should be consigned to its rightful place as a joke entry on the bottom of any future rankings of American Horror Story seasons by quality.
Ratched is now streaming on Netflix.
Originally published at https://mashable.com