‘Ratched’ paints the disturbing realities of early asylums

Ivy Secrest

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(Graphic Illustration by Charlie Dillon | The Collegian)

If you’re looking for a series so deeply dark and disturbing it makes our pandemic times look preferable, Netflix’s “Ratched” may be for you. Intended to be a prequel to “One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” this series contains its fair share of crazy. 

The original series, starring Sarah Paulson and Finn Wittrock, follows a nurse with murderous tendencies and a serial killer in 1947. On its own, this seems like enough trauma to introduce into one season, but creator Evan Romansky takes it even further. 


Ratched’ makes horror comprehensive and real rather than abstract.”

The show drapes its scenes in a dingy and demented reality that really brings it into the genre of horror. Not once is anything introduced that couldn’t happen in the real world. This allows the characters to truly terrify you yet draw on your sense of empathy. 

Romansky introduces a diverse set of characters with unique backgrounds and personal experiences and shows how these backgrounds, accompanied with the times, drives characters to lead twisted lives. “Ratched” makes horror comprehensive and real rather than abstract. 

The series brings light to the torturous practices in mental hospitals and the haunting failures in understanding the human mind rampant in medical history. Though historical inaccuracies litter the series, the desired eerie impact is certainly achieved.

Much like a Greek tragedy, the series lacks any comic relief to distract from the dark subject matter. The only thing that emancipates this show from a feeling of reality is the 1940s’ aesthetic accompanied by the dark and drab color scheme that sets the plot well in the past. 

Paulson slips seamlessly into the role of Mildred Ratched, an ex-military nurse who works her way into Lucia State Hospital. Paulson gives Ratched a cool and calculating demeanor that is subtly controlled by the underlying emotions of fear and anger as well as a warped sense of empathy.

Her compassion for the dying and those who accompany her in the lesbian community gives real depth to her motives. It is rare that you’ll connect with a killer on a moral level, but it’s hard not to cheer as she frees many from the brutal practices of conversion therapy. 

Paulson’s portrayal of Ratched compliments Wittrock’s unhinged and impulsive depiction of Edmund Tolleson, the infamous priest killer, perfectly. Both characters are morally complex; however, their motivations are completely opposed. The nature of their relationship leaves viewers constantly questioning if they’re friends or foes. 

Though the series closely follows these two and their twisted senses of morality, it also touches on very real issues relating to mental health through multiple other characters.

Played by Sophie Okonedo, Charlotte Wells is a young Black woman with a multiple personality disorder who comes to the hospital for help after being misdiagnosed with depression.

Okonedo showcases her acting talent by carelessly slipping between personalities, from a shy and jittery Charlotte to her more confrontational and passionate Ondine Duquette and more. Her characters appear to live within her, and the switch between them is even prevalent in her eyes. 


Many patients at Lucia have mental disorders, such as depression and schizophrenia. The characters are diverse in this way, dealing with individualized issues of mental health. But the hospital doesn’t only treat legitimate mental disorders, they also participate in inhumane conversion therapy treatments. 

Lily Cartwright, played by Annie Starke, is a young woman who is being treated for her “lesbianism.” She is treated with a lobotomy that ultimately fails. In order to “soak the sodomy right out,” Lily is subjected to a combination of boiling and freezing baths that are intended to cause permanent nerve damage.

When Lily and her lover are smuggled out of the hospital in the dead of night, with the aid of Ratched, the compassion between the two sends home an important message. No matter how bad one’s past may be, there’s always room for redemption.

Ratched’s warped sense of morality creates unnerving conflicts throughout the season. Her manipulative nature is heavily responsible for the fate of the hospital and many of her peers. Her connection to her patients, along with the pain of hiding her own sexuality and tragic childhood, makes Ratched someone you almost want to root for, but this intertwined with her violent and cruel actions leaves the audience torn.

Ivy Secrest can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter at @IvySecrest.