Ratched hits our Netflix accounts on 18 September and I’m so far past the edge of my seat I’m sitting on the floor.

First appearing on our screens in the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – based, of course, on Ken Kesey’s classis novel – Mildred Ratched is an administrative nurse in a mental institution wielding near-absolute power over the patients. 

When we first met her, she was locked in a power struggle with new patient Mac, who seems to be resisting her attempts to cow him. He eventually attacks her when she humiliates another inmate so much that he commits suicide. Ratched has Mac lobotomised, but his presence has loosened her control on the ward.

In this Netflix prequel, Sarah Paulson is Nurse Ratched, and the world is waiting to see if she can breathe the same horrific life into the character that Louise Fletcher (pictured left) did in the film.

It’s a tricky job because, although an icon of evil, Ratched is not obvious in any way. Fletcher played her with superb restraint – so much so that one could be forgiven for thinking her face was filled with Botox. To overdo Ratched would be to destroy the subtleties of the character.

The Perfection of Paulson

I have faith in Paulson, though. I’ve been fangirling about her ever since I saw her in Joss Whedon’s Serenity. She seems to bring a bit of stardust to everything she appears in – something Hollywood has recognised; she’s been nominated for both an Emmy and a Golden Globe.

The trailer for Ratched landed this month and has a delightful strangeness supported by hyper-real cinematography reminiscent of Edward Scissorhands. The quirky and highly colourful wardrobe supports the dreamlike quality to some of the scenes we get a peek at in the trailer.

Nurse Ratched shows her ability to be vile without changing her tone of voice. “You should bathe more often,” Paulson says drily to a gas station attendant, and then, as an afterthought, “your fingernails are filthy” – as if she was simply thanking him for his customer service.

The ghost of American Horror Story

Ratched is created by relative newcomer Evan Romansky and directed by the very able Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story, Glee, Pose, The Politician). Paulson is one of the producers.

There are shades of American Horror Story, especially season two’s Asylum which seems to be partly inspired by Ratched’s source material.  Paulson is one of AHS’s mainstays, and other AHS vets in the cast include Jon Jon Briones and Finn Wittrock.

I’m more excited, though, by the awesome women leading Ratched – including Sharon Stone, Cynthia Nixon, Rosanna Arquette and Amanda Plummer. The men simply don’t have the long list of credits that the female cast have (and some of them are just too pretty).

Origin stories aren’t just for the comics

What fascinates me most about Ratched is the possibilities it creates.  We are used to origin stories with our superheroes (Wolverine, Spiderman, Iron Man), with our science fiction (the Star Wars prequels, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and even with our animation (Monsters University) – but to have an origin story with a classic novel? That’s something we have rarely (if ever) seen.

Being able to find out what made a baddie evil is intriguing.  How did Ratched end up such an emotionally sadistic person?  There are hints in the trailer that are tantalising.  She says to one patient: “You deserve someone to show you mercy. How different I would be if someone had”.  Of course, monsters are made, and something must have happened to Ratched to make her the thin-lipped control freak that we all love to hate, but what mercy did she need?

It will be interesting to see if the central themes from Kesey’s book will be supported in the prequel.  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest can be seen as a critique of behaviourism and a tribute to individualistic principles.  Behaviourism was on its way out in the 1960s, and the book and film showed us the terrible effect bureaucratic power has on those who wield it (and those at mercy of it).

Ratched was a villain who was simply doing her job.  She cannot stand chaos, so she cruelly and intelligently uses her limited power to crush out any resistance to order – her order. When anyone steps over the line she would simply terrify the into stepping back behind it.

The terror of tantalising restraint

I’m in love with one of the scenes in the trailer:

Ratched sees another nurse eating her peach.

“Excuse me, you are eating my peach” she says, in all calmness.  The other nurse challenges her.

“I don’t see your name on it.”

“Who would do that?” asks Ratched.

“Do what?”

“Put their name on peach” 

I’m already feeling the tingles of rising tension when the other nurse asks Ratched what she is going to do about it.  Ratched doesn’t respond.

“What, are you deaf?” says the nurse, raising her voice.

“No,” says Ratched with the ghost of a smile on her lips, “Just thinking of all the things I’m going to do about it.”

There it is – I’m hooked.

Five other origin stories I’d love to see from the classics

Moriarty (The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Short Stories)

We learn a little from Arthur Conan Doyle about the fiendishly clever Moriarty, but I’d love to learn exactly how he came so close to killing Sherlock Holmes.

Mr and Mrs Bennett (Pride and Prejudice)

I want to know how and why Mr Bennett fell for Mrs Bennet, despite her foolish nature.

Mrs Danvers (Rebecca)

Why did this housekeeper become so dedicated to her ex-mistress that she tried to goad her new mistress into jumping out of the window?

Lady Macbeth (Macbeth)

Why is she so ambitious? How did she meet her husband and start to subtly control him?

Annie Wilkes (Misery)

We know she’s a psycho fan but why? She’s killed before and I would love to know what started her off in the first place!

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