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Series / Ratched

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"You deserve someone to show you mercy."

Dr. Richard Hanover: I should never let you into this hospital.
Nurse Ratched: Letting me into this hospital was the best decision you ever made.

From the creator of American Horror Story, Ryan Murphy, comes the origin story of one of the most iconic characters of all time... Nurse Ratched, from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. A Netflix original series that premiered on September 18, 2020, Ratched follows the tale of a woman's journey from humble nurse to full-fledged monster. Although a second season was ordered, it was ultimately canceled in 2024, and no new seasons will be forthcoming.

In 1947, former Army nurse Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson) arrives at her new place of employment, the Lucia Psychiatric Hospital, and her experiences there will change her and the hospital forever.

Previews: Trailer, Final Trailer.

This series features examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: How Dr Hanover sees Nurse Bucket's infatuation with him. He flat-out turns her down several times and even attempts to hypnotise her out of asking him to the hospital dance, though it's not clear how much of her infatuation is genuine versus an attempt at power-playing and trying to outmanoeuvre Nurse Ratched.
  • Abusive Parents:
    • Good lord, Mildred and Edmund never, ever seemed short of these when they were children, to the point it got so bad that Edmund decided to kill the final set of foster parents they were assigned to because the couple forced them to perform sexual acts on each other in front of paying customers.
    • Dolly states her mother would repeatedly beat her as a child and called her a whore if she even looked at boys, leading to some deep-seated anger issues and an attraction to dangerous men.
  • Adaptational Sexuality: This version of Nurse Ratched is shown to be explicitly lesbian, whereas the book and movie never had any signs or hints of that. She had some sexual encounters with Wainwright, but those were manipulative ones and they were never told to be of true feelings.
  • All for Nothing: When Henry Osgood tells his mother he hates her and has her killed, it's then revealed in her will that half her riches will go to funding a well renowned art institute, and the other half to her pet monkey — and Henry will spend the rest of his life in a facility instead of in the comfort of his luxurious home with round-the-clock care. He doesn't take it well.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Dolly is quickly taken with spree killer Edmund and admits to having a long history of this.
  • Alliterative Name: Betsy Bucket, head nurse when Mildred Ratched comes in.
  • And I Must Scream: In 1x02 episode "Ice Pick". One of the four patients is still barely awake and conscious enough to try to move and being able to feel the lobotomy happen, much to the horror of those watching.
  • And Starring: Sharon Stone as a wealthy mature Hollywood celebrity In-Universe.
  • Artistic License – History: Racism appears to be a much smaller problem in this universe's version of the forties than in actuality, with a man of ethnic descent being an esteemed and celebrated doctor, two people of different races being legally married, and the mental wellbeing of a black woman being considered important enough as proof of the hospital's success. Almost no one actually bringing up the matters as strange or unorthodox. The only real moment of racism comes from a waitress mistrusting two characters of color, but she does not kick them out of the establishment or anything else that surely would have been acceptable back then, merely insisting they pay upfront.
    • It might help to see the series as something of an Alternate History in which discrimination, or at least racism, was not as vicious; prior Ryan Murphy production Hollywood (2020), set in the same era, also dialled-back the worst cases of racism and homophobia. (It's also helpful to note that even in Real Life discrimination could still be inconsistently applied and largely on a case-to-case basis; Disney animator Floyd Norman, for one, reported never having been accosted because of his race in 1950s California.)
  • Artistic Licence - Medicine: The show depicts hydrotherapy (aka heat treatment) as painful and barbaric, with water heated or cooled to intolerable temperaturesnote . In fact, psychiatric institutes were careful to keep the temperatures at a reasonable hot bath/cool bath level, specifically to make them relaxing.
  • Asian and Nerdy: Dr. Hanover is a medical doctor, proto-neurosurgeon, and psychiatrist, and regardless of whether his credentials are strictly legitimate, he appears to demonstrate actual serious expertise and passion in his line of work, even picking up radical new treatments (for the era) from as far as Switzerland. He's still bound by the limits of knowledge or socially-accepted theories of his time, though, like treating lesbianism as a mental illness that needs curing.
  • Battleaxe Nurse: The Trope Namer herself is featured as the central character, though it's more fair to say that the series follows Ratched as she becomes one.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Ratched gets a job interview at Lucia State Hospital by simply showing up with a transparently forged letter and bullying her way into a conversation with Dr. Hanover.
  • The Beard: Gwendolyn Briggs is married to a Camp Gay black man, so they are this to each other, and they divorce after her sexuality asserts itself powerfully, particularly after she gets infatuated with Nurse Ratched.
  • Bedlam House: Lucia State Hospital, where Ratched works at, is positively palatial, as befits a former spa and resort, but utilizes techniques and procedures that were considered revolutionary then, but archaic, barbaric, and bordering on torture in the modern age, like electroshock therapy and lobotomies.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: Edmund and Dolly get a big kiss (and have sex) during their segue as fugitives in a barn. Mildred ends up kissing Gwendolyn after paying the latter a visit following the entire hospital fiasco.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: In episode 1x02 "Ice Pick" it's demonstrated by a doctor that lobotomies can cure the human mind of four things in it's four patients: juvenile distraction (daydreaming), mania, memory loss and lesbianism.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: For Dolly.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Implied to have happened before between Mildred and Edmund. Edmund wonders what life is supposed to be like in the world for him. He blames Mildred for depriving him of the touch of a woman. He claims that he wants to be normal and wants to know love. He grabs her hand from between the bars and tells her that she’ll have to suffice. Mildred jerks away and tells Edmund that she will never do that with him again.
  • Bullying a Dragon: In the trailer, Betsy swipes Ratched's peach and acts non-apologetic about it afterwards, even after it's made clear that Nurse Ratched is on her way to become, well, Nurse Ratched.
    Betsy: What are you going to do about it? (beat) What are you, deaf?
    Ratched: No, just thinking of all the things I'm going to do about it.
  • Christianity is Catholic: What religion is shown on the show has to do with the lives — and shockingly gruesome deaths — of a bunch of Catholic priests in their home.
  • Closet Key: Gwendolyn for Mildred, since the latter is shocked to find herself fantasizing about the former during sex with a man.
  • The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: Mildred Ratched is a nurse at a psych hospital and it's implied that her time as an Army nurse (as well as her history of childhood abuse) has left her with PTSD.
  • Coitus Uninterruptus: Mildred walks into on a nurse having sex with someone in one of the rooms at the hospital.
  • Contrived Coincidence: On the day of her job interview, Ratched just so happens to discover one of the nurses having sex with someone in an empty room. This gives her the blackmail material she needs to steal the woman's job.
  • Corrupt Politician: Governor Wilburn cares about little more than his own re-election.
  • Crapsaccharine World: The show is filled with bright pastel colors and the hospital staff certainly looks nice and helpful...
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Wainwright is boiled alive and gruesomely disfigured, and after somehow surviving that, he gets shot in the face twice.
    • Rasputinian Death: If a heavy brick to the head and boiling alive didn't kill him, two gunshots certainly did.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • Lesbianism is considered by the characters as a form of mental illness that needs to be treated, which would've been a common mindset in the 1940s.
    • The men of the series, particularly Dr. Hanover and Governor Wilburn, are open to making sexist and derogatory comments towards the women of their lives. Wilburn even tries to grope Ratched during a photo session. Considering the era the show takes place in, it was much easier for men to get away with this behavior.
    • There's also a touch of racism towards the characters of color in subtle format. Ex. When Dr. Hanover is eating at a diner with Charlotte, the (white) waitress flat out tells them that they have to pay before eating.
  • Demanding Their Head: A big part of Hanover's Story Arc throughout the first season. Lenore Osgood hires Charles Wainwright to kill Hanover and bring her his head for mutilating her son, Henry. Nurse Ratched initially offers to help Hanover hide, but she later makes a deal with Osgood to have Hanover killed, and once that's done she collects his head to give to Osgood herself.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Several scenes are unnecessary recaps of the event we just watched happen play out. For instance, Ratched describes her abusive childhood in full, moments after we just finished watching a puppet show play out her abusive childhood in extended detail.
  • Drop Dead Gorgeous: The procedure for performing lobotomies is demonstrated on the topless corpse of a beautiful young woman.
  • During the War: Nurse Ratched initially served in the Philippines, specifically in Ormoc, Leyte province, in the midst of the Pacific theatre of World War II, presumably during the American Leyte landing.
  • Easily Forgiven: Betsy seems to have been forgiven without much ado by Mildred when she blabbed to Edmund that Mildred was planning on giving him a Mercy Kill to protect him from the governor, despite this leading to Edmund being supremely angry with Mildred. Probably because she give up this information under duress.
  • Enemy Eats Your Lunch: Bucket does this with Mildred's peach during a long scene where she's clearly trying to establish dominance. But Mildred still gets the last laugh when Bucket ends up vomiting during the lobotomy demonstration.
    Ratched: "Oh look, my peach."
  • Engineered Heroics: During a visit by the Governor and the press, Ratched feeds a patient some medication that triggers a cardiogenic shock right in front of the visitors. Since she knows exactly what is happening to him, she saves the patient's life and ends up looking like a hero in front of everyone.
  • Erotic Eating: In 1x02, Gwendolyn subtly demonstrates how to eat an oyster to Mildred. "It's like making love to an ocean".
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: She might be a cold, unfeeling psychopath, but Mildred obviously does love Edmund and he reciprocates.
    • Edmund did seem to genuinely grow feelings for Dolly, and her death leaves him devastated.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Despite seeing nothing wrong with administering lobotomies, Ratched is clearly horrified at a patient undergoing hydrotherapy and immediately tries to stop the procedure.
    • She's also disgusted when Governor Wilburn has a man killed via electric chair in front of a live audience full of members of the press. So are the audience.
  • Eye Scream:
    • Ratched is quite taken with the newly invented transorbital lobotomy, in which an ice pick is hammered into the eye socket. And of course, we get a POV shot of it.
    • Edmund stabbed out his and Mildred's last foster parents' eyes with sharp scissors. This was for forcing him and Mildred to perform lewd acts for an audience — and they were minors.
  • Fat Bastard: Governor Wilburn is rather portly.
  • First-Episode Twist: The first episode ends with the reveal that Edmund is Mildred's brother and that she plans to free him.
  • Forced Euthanasia: We are told a Dark Secret of Mildred Ratched's: that she was kicked out of the Army for euthanizing injured soldiers when she served as a nurse in the Second World War. She commits further murder and mayhem on the road to becoming the Battleaxe Nurse of the Oregon psychiatric hospital she runs with an iron fist in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
  • Gay Bar Reveal: Gwendolyn takes Mildred to one, and Mildred is stunned when she realizes Gwendolyn's intentions based on this.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Sharp, immaculate, shoulder-padded suits, fancy hats, and rigid outlines for both sexes, plus bright, jade-green nursing uniforms.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: For all the other deaths and horrific injuries on the show, Dr. Hanover's severed head is not shown on-camera when Mildred delivers it to the Osgoods, or when Lenore presents it to her son Henry.
  • Hanging Judge: Not literally a judge, but Governor Wilburn delights in frying condemned criminals on the electric chair (with full press coverage), and considers methods like lethal injection soft and weak. He wants to look the populist, hard-on-crime strongman for the public, and so attempts to bring back the days of Public Execution if it'll get him reelected. He even pulls the chair switch on one criminal himself and elbows the professional executioner out of it, and doesn't stop when the chair sets the condemned man on fire. And he of course wants this for Edmund Tolleson, but for better or worse, Edmund escapes.
  • Hidden Disdain Reveal: After Lenore Osgood finally gives her son Henry Dr. Hanover's head as promised, he tells her point-blank that he hates her and blames her for his accident, as well as accusing her of loving her pet monkey more than him. Then he has her murdered.
  • Immodest Orgasm:
    • A nurse's screaming is heard by Ratched from down a hallway in the hospital.
    • In 2x02, a female mental patient makes opera sounds as she is receiving oral pleasure from a woman before Ratched walks in.
  • Interrupted Intimacy: In 1x02, Mildred hears opera sounds and stumbles upon a one of the (female) patients being given oral sex from another woman. She immediately tells Ratched to get out.
  • Karma Houdini: We never do find out if Governor Wilburn won his re-election.
  • Karmic Death: Dr. Hanover is stabbed to death by his patient Charlotte (or rather, her antifascist personality Apollo mistaking him for Hitler) after he forces her back into a closet in his fugitive panic, even after knowing her closet trauma had driven her to multiple-personality disorder in the first place. To be fair, he really felt in danger of his life, and was helping Charlotte escape into Canada to hopefully keep helping her from there.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Most of the so-far confirmed lesbians on the show present as this, though the soft-spoken, blonde, Lily seems one of the most femme in personality.
  • Love at First Sight: Gwendolyn and Mildred when they first lock eyes in 1x02.
  • Masturbation Means Sexual Frustration: Edmund is prescribed medication with, ahem, certain side effects. Nurse Dolly helps him out.
  • Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: Brown, in this case, and a Gender-Inverted Trope version of the usual dynamic, with Nurse Bucket being infatuated with Dr. Hanover, who however pointedly does not reciprocate.
  • Morality Pet: Huck is one of the very few people Mildred seems to genuinely like and she never manipulates him as she does with everyone else. She even lets him down as gently as possible when he attempts to ask her on a date and tells him he'll find someone worthy of him soon.
  • Multiple Gunshot Death: Dolly suffers this when she tries to single-handedly take on an entire police squad by herself with nothing but a shotgun in order to prevent Edmund from being recaptured.
  • Mythology Gag: According to Louise Fletcher, who played Nurse Ratched in the film, they had given the character a 40s-style hairstyle to represent her being stuck in the times. Here the series takes place in the 1940s and features Ratched's origin story.
    • Ratched seems almost mesmerized by the lobotomy demonstration, foreshadowing what she will do to McMurphy as a final revenge.
    • One of the first names spoken in the series is that of Father McMurtry. If you, like a lot of viewers did, had just watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, you will be forgiven for hearing it as McMurphy.
  • Never My Fault: Lenore and Henry Osgood blame Dr. Hanover for the incident that resulted in Henry losing all of his limbs, even though Henry's the one who drugged Dr. Hanover with LSD, killed the gardener, and chopped off his own arms.
  • Nice Guy: Huck Finnigan, an orderly at Lucia, is quite possibly one of the sweetest guys alive and easily the nicest person in the show. He is also shown to be accepting of gay and lesbian people, an extremely progressive stance in the 1940's.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: Part of what draws Dolly to Edmund is the idea that he might murder her.
    • Ratched herself enjoys taking part in lurid and violent sexual roleplay.
  • Off with His Head!: Fortunately post-humously, but Nurse Ratched delivers Dr. Hanover's severed head to Mrs. Osgood and collects the bounty.
  • Pet the Dog: Mildred uses the payout from Dr. Hanover's death (which she didn't cause, but opportunistically delivered his head to Lenore Osgood) to help Charlotte escape and find better treatment abroad. (Ironically enough, Dr. Hanover was himself trying to do exactly the same for Charlotte.)
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Though a Villain Protagonist, Nurse Ratched can also count for this, harbouring homophobic sentiments and a belief in Cure Your Gays (and she also thinks very lowly of potential recreational drug use, referring to Dr. Hanover as a "dope fiend" several times). There's also the scientifically-homophobic Dr. Hanover, who orders treatments like hydrotherapy and lobotomies for lesbian patients. To be fair, this is just a symptom of the times, in which homosexuality was culturally frowned upon to the point of actually being seen as a mental illness; Dr. Hanover genuinely wants to help his patients, and his poor diagnoses are simply a symptom of the aforementioned prevailing attitudes of the era and the general... well... incompetence of the mental health industry at the time.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain:
    • If Nurse Ratched herself is initially outwardly homophobic and raised into the belief that LGBT leanings are mental disorders that need curing, then all the more so applies for other, more antagonistic characters, like Nurse Bucket, who actually administers a painful hydrotherapy treatment to a lesbian patient, something even Ratched won't stand for (though Bucket gets Character Development later and mellows down, and Mildred gives in to Gwendolyn's affections).
    • Averted with Wainwright, the assassin sent to kill the actually-Filipino, and obviously brown, Dr. Hanover, on Lenore Osgood's orders, but it has nothing to do with Dr. Hanover's ethnicity. (Wainwright did refer to him as a "dirty Pinoy" at one point, but that was it.)
    • Governor Wilburn is very much a misogynistic, Weinstein-esque creep always just one gesture away from groping women (including both Gwendolyn and Mildred), even though he claims to show sympathy when he finds out they're both gay.
  • Prequel: The series takes place in 1947, approximately 16 years before One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, because a line in the movie during the World Series established it occurred in 1963.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: Camille Saint-Saëns' Danse Macabre is used as theme music.
  • Raging Stiffie: Edmund Tolleson gets one as a side-effect of his meds in this pre-Viagra era. Dolly the nurse-trainee… helps him loosen it.
  • Rape as Backstory: Mildred and Edmund were forced to perform sexual acts on each other by their foster parents, in front of a paying audience.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Most men in suits in this era would count, but Dr. Hanover in particular stands out with his three-piece suits. (Truth in Television: Filipino men on the West Coast were known to be fastidious dressers even when they largely came from working-class origins — which would apply even more to someone like Dr. Hanover, who's a medical professional.)
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Before working at the hospital, Nurse Ratched was an army nurse during World War II, and it's implied to have had a negative effect on her.
  • The Sociopath: Mildred Ratched and her brother, Edmund. Ratched is a calm, patient, and calculating schemer who kills in a methodical way; on the other hand, her brother is a spontaneous and impulsive murderer.
    • Ultimately subverted for Mildred, as while she does have sociopathic traits, she is shown to possess genuine attachment to Edmund and later Gwendolyn, and remorse for her some of her actions in the series.
    • Henry Osgood is a Psychopathic Manchild who routinely abused his mother's staff, even killing one and hacking off his arms and demanding that Dr. Hanover attach the severed arms to his, which resulted in him going septic and requiring his legs to be amputated too.
  • Split Personality: Charlotte Wells has this, and Dr. Hanover diagnoses her correctly (for the time); among other personalities, she has Ondine (a classically-trained violinist with a mile-wide arrogant streak), Apollo (essentially her version of Jesse Owens, the anti-Nazi Olympic sprinter in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, who believes that Hitler faked his death and is hunting her down), and Taffy (a young girl). She also incorporates Dr. Hanover's personality as one of her own after she (or rather, Apollo) kills him in a panic.
  • Split Screen: Some scenes are split in two, like some of the interactions between Dr Hanover and Edmund Tolleson, or Mildred's reactions during the puppet show Gwendolyn takes her to.
  • Spoiled Brat: It never seems to occur to Mrs. Osgood that her son's violence isn't just because he's mentally ill, but because he's extremely spoiled and mollycoddled — she doesn't even discipline him when he repeatedly abuses the household staff and he continues to treat everyone around him horribly even when he depends on them for every little thing, since he has no arms or legs.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Dr. Hanover, knowing Charlotte's backstory very well, decides to shut her in the closet while on the run with her and the police knock on the door. The predictable happens when Charlotte's other personalities come out to protect her, and Apollo ends up stabbing Dr. Hanover to death and leaving a terrified Charlotte with no memory of doing so.
    • Dolly goes out guns a blazing against a troop of police officers. She does get a few guys down, but... Yeah.
  • Villain Protagonist: Nurse Ratched herself is the main character who manipulates everyone in order to release her violent brother.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: A mortally wounded soldier under Ratched's care vomits from the pain.
  • Vorpal Pillow: Mildred mercy killed a wounded soldier with a pillow. She was apparently in the habit of doing this to the point she was dismissed from her role as military nurse.
  • The War Just Before: Clearly her experiences as an Army nurse in World War II continue to affect and colour Ratched's personality and actions into the present.
  • When You Coming Home, Dad?: Dr. Hanover is revealed to have a young daughter he ended up neglecting because he was so busy with his research, to the point his wife divorced him on the grounds he was never around for his family.
  • Where Everybody Knows Your Flame: Gwendolyn takes Mildred to a secret lesbian bar hidden in the woods in 1x02.