Ratched Season 1 is a fascinating look at mental health monstrosities

Ratched Season 1 is terrifying when you realize how far-fetched it’s not

Ratched Season 1 is sure to be yet another winner for Netflix. The series stars Sarah Paulson as Mildred Ratched. And if the character’s name rings a bell, that’s with good reason: She’s inspired by the nurse by the same name in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Because of the iconic book-turned-play-turned film, the name of Nurse Ratched has become a fixture in our pop culture references, even for people who never interacted with the source material. But what exactly caused her to become a stand-in for every nurse who (to say the least) didn’t fit our standard, warm-and-fuzzy idea of what a nurse should be?

Ratched Season 1 takes a deep, dark look at the character’s background. It boasts exactly the quality of character work you’d expect from Sarah Paulson, as well as amazing chemistry between Paulson and costar Cynthia Nixon. The pure genius of the series—at least so far—comes from a completely different place, though.

Ratched Season 1 is a horrifying look at ordinary monsters

A fair warning to our readers, if you’re trying to decide whether or not to watch Ratched Season 1 by first reading early reviews: This is not something to binge on a full stomach. Some of the most revolting scenes come from the archaic medical procedures performed on mentally ill patients.

Ratched Season 1

RATCHED (L to R) SARAH PAULSON as MILDRED RATCHED in episode 103 of RATCHED Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2020

Supposedly, the procedures are for the patients’ own good. But there’s a reason a Nurse Bucket (Judy Davis) becomes physically ill when watching a lobotomy. It’s downright awful; and while there’s definitely something to be said for medical professionals’ ability to disassociate in order to get the job done, human beings have our limits with what we can stand being done to other human beings.

It’s not as if creator Evan Romansky or executive producers Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan exactly needed to reach very far to create this sickening effect. The lobotomy was, in fact, popular in the 1940s—and, had Nurse Bucket been a real person, she would not have been alone in objecting to it.

As recounted by BBC News:

Despite opposition from some doctors – especially psychoanalysts – it became a mainstream part of psychiatry with more than 1,000 operations a year in the UK at its peak. It was used to treat a range of illnesses, from schizophrenia to depression and compulsive disorders.

The reason for its popularity was simple – the alternative was worse.

But it gets worse: In Ratched Season 1, we see patients “treated” for mental illnesses that don’t even exist. One little boy gets lobotomized for “daydreaming,” while two women undergo multiple types of treatment for the supposed disease of homosexuality.

Homosexuality wasn’t removed from the DSM until 1973; and America’s current Vice President included “an approving reference to conversion therapy” on his website when running for Congress as recently as 2000. And yes, hydrotherapy of the type shown in Netflix’s Ratched absolutely existed.

It is not remotely difficult to believe in a Nurse Ratched or a Dr. Hanover (Jon Jon Briones) as seen in Ratched Season 1 because, when it comes to mental health, the helpers have historically been the hurters. Mental institutions used to be abusive abominations.

Given the time setting and given the journeys that brought Ratched and Hanover to their positions, their actions make a scary sort of sense.

Ratched Season 1

RATCHED (L to R) FINN WITTROCK as EDMUND TOLLESON in episode 102 of RATCHED Cr. SAEED ADYANI/NETFLIX © 2020

Aside from the abusers masquerading as doctors and nurses, the downright creepy serial killer, Edmund Tolleson (Finn Wittrock), is one of the most intriguing characters on the show.

His backstory, and its ability to create a monster, will ring familiar to anyone who ever watched Criminal Minds. But while we can have empathy for what happened to Edmund, we should never lose the chill that runs down our spines whenever he appears on the screen.

Probably the scariest thing about Edmund is how he softens around animals. He temporarily seems so harmless, even though we’re well aware that he’s not. It’s yet another reminder that the ordinary can be extraordinary—in a very bad way—with just the wrong push.

We’re frequently warned that we should be able to spot monsters, that they’ll definitely have a history of mistreatment of animals to make them instantly recognizable, but that’s just simply not always true.

Ratched Season 1 forces us to learn the hard way that people who seem gentle like Edmund when he’s in the barn, or things that seem beautiful like the scenery and visual effects, can have an underlying violence.

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If there seems to be just a little bit of something unnerving in Sarah Paulson’s eyes in her first appearance as Nurse Ratched, even set against the gorgeous scenery, pay attention to it.

Should the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end when you hear Vincent D’Onofrio’s Governor George Wilburn discuss his “law and order” stance, trust your instincts. And whatever you do, remember that one person’s idea of showing mercy might just be another’s worst nightmare.

Ratched Season 1 is now streaming on Netflix.