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The Lockdown List: RATCHED (2020)

Image Courtesy of Oregon Live

‘The Lockdown List’ is a new fortnightly feature on The Yorker whereby we share with you some of the best content to be watching during this isolation period – we do hope you enjoy.

After finishing it’s last episode, you could be forgiven for not quite knowing what Ratched (2020), the series recently added to Netflix’s ever expanding catalogue of titles, is actually about. 

The 8 episode story arc revolves around the relationship between the titular character, Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson), who is based on the character of the same-name in Ken Kesey’s novel ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’, and her brother Edmund (Finn Wittrock). But, in a semi-constant barrage of stomach churning information, that central relationship is often swamped by a monsoon of vague and never-quite-resolved plot points.

Assasination attempts, the genesis of the lobotomy, child abuse in the foster system, a governors re-election campaign, deception and betrayal, characters grappling with their sexuality, insitutional power struggles, practioner-patient romance, and a legal dispute between a child and a monkey – these are only some of the Pandora’s box of surprises that Ratched relentlessly confronts it’s audience with at real speed. What is even more of a surprise is that it works. 

That isn’t to say that Ratched is flawless. It feels, at times, that the creators were never quite sure whether or not Mildred Ratched should be a character to sympathise with, or to loathe. In one episode she will commit unquestionably awful (and on occasion unexplainable) acts, and in the next, in an act of heroism and mercy, she will save patients from what can only be described as torture. This inconsistency is the heart of Ratched. After many peeping-through-the-fingers moments of graphic violence, Ratched will treat it’s audience with injections of humour and romance; the intensity of a brutal murder will be punctured by a serene drive to bars which stand at the side of the sea; the sensitivity that is shown to cautious expressions of sexuality will be noticeably absent in sometimes clumsy depictions of mental illness.

Thankfully Ratched is consistent in one vital regard: it never takes itself too seriously. In an alternate universe, in the hands of a different production team, Ratched would simply be too depressing to enjoy; too dark, and too dour. But in our universe, Ratched’s darkness is peppered with unmissable moments of light. Period costumes, beautiful sets, and excellent use of lighting mean that Ratched remains undeniably bright even in some of its grimmest moments – and of these there are plenty. These successes are to a large degree a beneficiary of some genuinely inspired direction from creator Ryan Murphy, the mind behind American Horror Story. Stellar performances from an ensemble cast playing unforgettable characters also help to ensure that the story’s bumps are sufficiently smoothed over for Ratched to remain assuredly enjoyable. 

Ratched is occasionally light on substance, but it is dripping with style. Shocking and surreal in equal measure, this latest of Netflix’s offerings promises a wild ride for those willing to get on board.

Streaming now on Netflix.