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Ratched: Sarah Paulson plays the iconic Cuckoo s Nest villain in Ryan Murphy s gory Netflix prequel. - Slate

Ratched: Sarah Paulson plays the iconic Cuckoo s Nest villain in Ryan Murphy s gory Netflix prequel. - Slate
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Ryan Murphy’s Ratched doesn’t start well—and not just because of the priests graphically bludgeoned, stabbed, and raped in the series’ opening minutes. Like a musical act whose sound barely changes, Murphy puts out the same record over and over again, and how much you enjoy it depends on how many of the previous songs you already know by heart. With its bubblegum-tinged, glammed-up superviolence, where a soignée bathrobe and a nearly decapitated man in the bathtub are both just a bit of mood-setting, Ratched seems like American Horror Story: For Netflix. The handsome murderer is even played by Finn Wittrock, a Murphy regular who has killed, tortured, and eaten someone in various AHS installments. He’s mysteriously connected to the title character, nurse Mildred Ratched, played by Murphy muse Sarah Paulson, whose career leveled up with AHS: Asylum and now finds herself scheming in another mental health facility.

Nurse Ratched is one of the fictional characters who have made asylums such a ripe setting for horror. As played by Louise Fletcher in an Oscar-winning performance in 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ratched was an angelic-looking authoritarian, calmly controlling, the personification of a cruel and rigid system, who used electroshock and lobotomies when she couldn’t keep her wards inline with a bit of psychological manipulation. Ratched purports to tell her origin story, although as it begins, she’s a nightmare almost fully formed. In the opening episode, Mildred deftly insinuates herself onto the staff at California’s Lucia State Hospital, where Wittrock’s Edmund Tolleson will soon be moved. To do this, she blackmails and poisons, while occasionally being filmed in an emerald green light that visually underscores her kinship to the Wicked Witch. (You can track the amount of green in Paulson’s every outfit as a kind of barometer of her mental state; the nurses’ outfits are a deep sea foam.) She ingratiates herself with the head of the hospital, the ambitious Dr. Hanover (Jon Jon Briones), who hopes to make Lucia a beacon of humane care, a place where patients are healed, not penalized, using a powerful new technique: the lobotomy.
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