Ratched is a Complete Fucking Mess

by thethreepennyguignol

Well, hey, there! Sorry for the radio silence over here at the Guignol; if you happen to follow me on social media, you may already know the reason, which is that I bought a house (!) and had to spend a lot of time pretending to be a real, functioning human adult instead of a Fall Out Boy fan with the hair and common sense to match. Oh, and, like, building furniture and stuff. You know how it is. Things will be a little slower over here for the next few weeks, probably, as I’m still painting and generally getting stuff set up, but spooky season is upon us and you know that I will not be passing up the chance to indulge myself.

Anyway! With that all said, I have been finding time to watch TV, and, specifically, the TV that I’ve been watching is Ratched. Look, as I’ve said many times before, Ryan Murphy will always fool me into watching his shows, and this one was no different – gay shit, period costumes, and Sarah Paulson chewing the scenery was all I needed to con me into this eight-episode prequel to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Folley’s iconic novel about living in a mental institution under the ice-cold matriarchy of the titular Ratched.

I didn’t really know what to expect from this show – though it comes under the banner of Ryan Murphy’s Netflix deal, it was created by Evan Romansky. The trailer seemed to offer something a little more serious than Murphy’s usual camp catastrophes, and, though camp catastrophes are what I deal in, who turns up a chance to watch Sarah Paulson for eight hours uninterrupted without the usual “Lou, you’re throwing your life away looking at Google Images again” commentary from people who claim to love us?

Anyway. All this to say: Ratched is fucking deranged. Look, I’ve watched some really bizarro television in the last few years – I’d go as far to say that it’s my genre of choice, if I have one – but Ratched might actually take the cake-that’s-actually-clearly-a-bomb on this one.

Where to even start with this? Stylistically, it’s Riverdale meets Hitchcock meets Nicholas Wendig Refn, stunning set design and costumery set against saturated, gory reds or cheery pastels with nothing in between. The dialogue moves into high-camp arch parody within the first fifteen minutes and stays there until the last; the direction, no matter which esteemed TV craftsman is behind the camera, is going to drag you down a back alley and beat you with a stick until you get it, alright? The cast is packed with women meal-prepping for the next ten months on the scenery – aside from Paulson, there’s Cynthia Nixon, Sharon Stone, Alice Englert, Judy Davis, Sophie Okenodo – with the brilliant JonJon Briones looking like a nervous badger as he’s pinballed around between them.

There’s not one thing about Ratched that is subtle; if you came to this expecting a spiritual successor to Folley’s sharp and observant novel, you’ve got another thing coming. I suppose the best way to describe it would be as a piece of high-prestige pulp fiction – one that comes with all the good and all the bad that notion promises.

On the plus side, you’ve got this gloriously camp, utterly sublimely gorgeous, superbly-acted show that packs stacks of silly plots on silly plots until they’re towering like a quivering trifle of ridiculousness on the horizon and you can’t tear your eyes away for an instant. On the other hand…

Pulp fiction is not exactly known for its spectaculr handling of serious issues, and Ratched is certainly in that bracket, too. Mental illness is probably the biggest Serious Issue that the show takes on, and it’s with wildly inconsistent results – at first, it manages to keep the under-developed and often-violent treatment of the mentally ill as the main antagonist, but slowly drifts into just using the mentally ill as that instead, featuring a central depiction of Dissaciociative Identity Disorder is one of the worst I’ve seen in years (and that’s saying something). Rape, violence, sex, sexuality are all tossed about with a cheerfully inconsistent understanding – for every careful investigation into lesbianism in the 1940s, there’s smash-cuts to Finn Wittrock raping his own father’s corpse.

I totally understand people for whom that is too much, for whom the camp value is outweighed by the garbage. For me, the balance comes just down on the right side, and I found myself really enjoying this total wreck of a show. It’s utterly unlike what I expected, and lands as one of the maddest, most compellingly watchable pieces of TV of the year. Let go of your expectations, set your phasers to daft, and enjoy this great, wobbling trifle of beautiful style and batshit insanity.

If you enjoyed this article and want to see more stuff like it, please consider supporting me on Patreon, or checking out my 18+ content on OnlyFans!

(header image via PinkNews)