Fans of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—whether Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel or the 1975 Oscar-winning film starring Jack Nicholson—know that the sadistic, tyrannical Nurse Ratched is a crucial antagonist driving the story of a rebellious inmate in a psychiatric hospital. Now she’s getting her own back story in the form of a new prequel series, Ratched. Netflix dropped the first trailer for the series yesterday.
(Spoilers for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest book and film below.)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is set in a psychiatric hospital in Salem, Oregon, where Randle Patrick McMurphy is sent after faking insanity to escape a prison farm sentence. Nurse Ratched (aka Big Nurse) rules the place with an iron hand, systematically abusing the inmates under her charge. She maintains order by withholding basic necessities, medications, or patient privileges, but McMurphy’s rebellious nature challenges her authority, even in the face of shock therapy.
Their conflict soon escalates into all-out war after she drives another patient to commit suicide. McMurphy nearly strangles her to death in revenge and is lobotomized for his trouble. But Nurse Ratched’s hold on the inmates is broken, most of whom check out or escape. One of the inmates, Chief, discovers McMurphy in his now-vegetative state and smothers him with a pillow to end his suffering.
Kesey never revealed much about Nurse Ratched’s background, other than that she was deeply scarred by her time spent as an army nurse during World War II. So there was plenty of room for series creator Evan Romansky to creatively fill in the gaps. A recent film school graduate, Romanksy wrote the pilot script on spec, and it soon found its way to Emmy-winning producer Ryan Murphy, who managed to secure the rights to the character, as well as the screen rights to the Milos Forman-directed film. Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story franchise) signed on for the title role. The impressive cast also includes Cynthia Nixon, Sharon Stone, Judy Davis, Amanda Plummer, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Rosanna Arquette.
Per the official premise:
Ratched is a suspenseful drama series that tells the origin story of asylum nurse Mildred Ratched. In 1947, Mildred arrives in Northern California to seek employment at a leading psychiatric hospital where new and unsettling experiments have begun on the human mind. On a clandestine mission, Mildred presents herself as the perfect image of what a dedicated nurse should be, but the wheels are always turning and as she begins to infiltrate the mental health care system and those within it, Mildred’s stylish exterior belies a growing darkness that has long been smoldering within, revealing that true monsters are made, not born.
The trailer opens with Paulson’s Ratched being questioned by a young gas station attendant about why she’s headed to her destination. “That seems like a rather personal question,” Ratched replies, before admonishing him to bathe more often. “Your fingernails are filthy.” Extra props for using “Hey Big Spender” (from the Bob Fosse musical Sweet Charity) as music to accompany Ratched’s arrival at her new place of employment.
We get a brief glimpse of her life during the war. “We had a saying in the corps,” we hear her say. “Save one life and you’re a hero. Save a hundred lives, well, then, you’re a nurse.” The brightly colored palette on display here effectively sets off the body horror scenes of life in this facility, from popping pills, restraining troublesome patients, to administering bizarre “therapies.” There are hints that Ratched may have homicidal tendencies, masked as mercy. “You have been subjected to enough pain,” she says in a voiceover. “You deserve someone to show you mercy. How different I would be if someone had.”
The best trailer moment is when she confronts another nurse, Betty Bucket (Judy Davis) for eating the peach from Ratched’s lunch. “I don’t see your name on it,” Bucket retorts, daring Ratched to do something about it. Ratched stares at her calmly.
“What, are you deaf?” Bucket jeers.
“No,” Ratched replies. “Just thinking about all the things I’m going to do about it.” I’m not liking Bucket’s chances in this face-off.
Ratched premiers on Netflix on September 18, 2020.
Listing image by Netflix