Serving as an origin prequel for the tyrannical nurse in Ken Kesey’s novel/ Milos Forman’s film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, this new, eight-part Netflix series, set in 1947, introduces stern, sharp-tongued Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson), who oozes calculating, condescending control over those she encounters.
When her story begins, former WWII nurse Mildred is applying for a job at Northern California’s luxurious Lucia State Hospital, where the notorious killer of four priests, Edmund Tolleson (Finn Wittrock), is to be held before facing trial.
There she encounters snippy head nurse Betsy Bucket (Judy Davis) and secretive, drug-addicted, ethically-challenged Dr. Richard Hanover (Jon Jon Briones). After deviously securing a night-nurse position, Mildred Ratched quickly asserts her manipulative authority.
Meanwhile, Mildred also spars with a private detective (Corey Stoll) in the employ of eccentric heiress Lenore Osgood (Sharon Stone), whose deranged son lost his arms and legs after a terrifying LSD trip with his doctor.
There’s a patient (Sophie Okonedo) with multiple personalities, along with the boorish, vote-seeking Governor (Vincent D’Onofrio) and his press secretary Gwendolyn Briggs (Cynthia Nixon), who reveals that she’s a lesbian at a time when homosexuality was considered sinful mental illness.
Deliberately Hitchcockian, the lurid, pulpy melodrama is filmed in eye-popping, candy-colored Technicolor with stylish costumes and extravagant production design.
Series creator Evan Romansky and developer/director Ryan Murphy (“American Horror Story”) envision a four-year run, the final season featuring conflict between Mildred and Randle McMurphy.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest won Best Picture in 1976 with Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher nabbing Best Actor and Best Actress as Randal McMurphy and Mildred Ratched, respectively.
“There’s so little known about Mildred from the film. So everything was open for interpretation…and because it’s Ryan, he went to some very extreme places,” says Sarah Paulson, who appreciates that that Mildred is “really, really defined and multidimensional – with a real shape and a real life.”
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, Ratched is a sinister, sadistic 7, riddled with explicit depictions of bizarre sexual behavior, punishing hydrotherapy and grisly lobotomies.