A couple of months ago, Netflix released a new psychological thriller, Ratched, starring Sarah Paulson, Cynthia Nixon (a Barnard grad!), Sharon Stone, Finn Wittrock, and many more amazingly talented actors. Without spoiling the show, Ratched takes place in Northern California in 1947, and although it has many different storylines, it is mainly about Nurse Mildred Ratched, played by Paulson, and the murderer Edmund Tolleson, played by Wittrock. Tolleson ends up being admitted into the psychiatric ward that Nurse Ratched works at. The show has many twists and turns, and this summary is really just bare bones; however, I do not want to spoil anything about Ratched because I believe it is an absolute masterpiece that everyone must watch. So without going too much into the plot, I am going to convince each and every one of you to watch this show by discussing the incredible acting, some of the topics addressed, and the overall structure of the show.
If you aren’t familiar with Sarah Paulson, drop everything and go watch literally anything that she’s in; I promise you will not be disappointed. There’s something about Paulson’s presence when playing Nurse Ratched that is calm and yet utterly frightening. Paulson has a way of adding complexity to a character before the audience even knows the character’s story. Nurse Ratched is fierce, and although she does some questionable things in the show, it’s very easy to take a liking to her and root for her all the way through. Paulson is also a pro at playing scary roles; most well-known from her work in American Horror Story, Paulson gives us that psychologically eerie feeling that makes us want to keep watching. Ironically, Paulson herself is somehow very easily scared (check out these interviews with Ellen if you want a quick laugh before reading on).
Cynthia Nixon has many notable acting moments in the show, too. Nixon plays Gwendolyn Briggs, an associate to the governor, who gets close to Nurse Ratched through association with the psychiatric ward. Nixon gives her character, Gwendolyn, a very amicable persona; she shows kindness to many of the other characters, some of who definitely do not deserve it. The dynamic between Gwendolyn and Nurse Ratched is also very well-portrayed. I found myself rooting for both of them and found it amazing how the writers fleshed out their relationship so well in such little time. They complement each other very well, each helping the other with her flaws.
Another actor I find worth mentioning does not play a main character but her acting skills are so incredible I must make note of them: Sophie Okenado, who plays Charlotte Wells — along with many different people — plays a patient at the ward who has multiple personality disorder (this is what I meant by many different people). She shows up at the front door of the hospital, looking for help. Dr. Richard Hanover, who runs the institution, is constantly searching for admiration for his work, so he takes on Wells as a patient, hoping that if he can cure her, he will achieve the reputation he has been after for so long. Okenado takes on Wells’ role flawlessly, as we see her character change from Charlotte, a woman with a difficult past, to Baby Taffy, a child, to Apollo, who beat Adolf Hitler at his own Olympics, to Ondine Duquette, a first chair violinist, to, eventually, Dr. Richard Hanover. Somehow, although all played by Okenado, these characters were vastly different and it was almost difficult to remember that she was the face behind them all. Her performance was outstanding and frankly, unbelievable.
Outside of the acting, the writers of the show did a great job capturing life in the ’50s, highlighting the many odd beliefs people had about different “conditions” that warranted a visit to a psych ward. Evan Romansky, the writer of the show, did not hold back on gore or anything unpleasant to the eye in order to show the audience what life was like back then. Of course, some things are always dramatized for the Hollywood effect, but many scenes in the show offer a good depiction of thoughts on mental illnesses in the late ’40s and early ’50s. For instance, we learn that day-dreaming and lesbianism were considered mental illnesses and those who suffered from them had to be seen by a psychiatrist. We also witness the so-called procedures for these “mental illnesses,” as we watch many lobotomies, during which Dr. Hanover drills inside patients’ heads in order to alter their mindsets. Probably the hardest thing to watch is the procedure for lesbianism, which involves putting patients into a 117℉ bath for 20 minutes and then putting them in an ice bath afterward. These methods are clearly awful and irrational, but back then, these were standard procedures for these "illnesses."
Overall, Ratched highlights the differences in culture in the 1950s, gives us a heart-wrenching, terrifying, and binge-worthy story, and blesses us with unbelievably talented actors who live and breathe their respective roles. This show definitely has triggers, so if you have a hard time with gore or don’t do scary shows, it may not be for you, and that is OK! However, if this sounds like a good time for you, please watch it; you will not regret it!