I’ll admit that I did not want to enjoy Ratched. I expected what I always expect from Ryan Murphy, a series with a promising, coherent first few episodes that then unravels into a tale so convoluted that it could be an entirely different show. Ratched is no different, but this time I think it is to the show’s benefit.
Created by Evan Romansky and developed by Ryan Murphy, the show begins with a Mary Poppins-esque iteration of Nurse Ratched (Sarah Paulson) going to all sorts of measures to find herself employed at the Lucia State Hospital under Dr Hanover (Jon Jon Briones) and Head Nurse Bucket (Judy Davis). Early episodes depict procedures like lobotomies and hydro-therapy which were frightening realities for many who underwent them, but are unfortunately at times trivialised in this series.
When I first heard about Ratched and that Nurse Ratched would be a queer woman, I had questions. Many questions.
Why choose to make a historically morally corrupt anti-hero a lesbian? Is that not problematic representation?
Because why can’t a lesbian character be problematic and flawed and morally corrupt? Would a heterosexual character or even a cisgender male character be held to the same standard? I truly doubt it.
It is also extremely significant that both Paulson and Cynthia Nixon, who plays Paulson’s love interest Gwendolyn Briggs, are both lesbian women. Whilst queer characters are becoming increasingly prominent in pop-culture, queer actors remain less common and it’s great to see two incredible actresses bringing to life a lesbian couple and exploring the challenges they are faced, in conjunction with acceptance from a few unlikely friends.
Women don’t need to be nice to be well-rounded. Nurse Ratched is morally corrupt, problematic and conniving. But there are reasons explored at length for why she does the things she does, what she is fighting for, and what she is running from.
The most powerful scene in the series was, for me, when Gwendolyn and Ratched both rush to the bathroom to comfort a heartbroken, crying Nurse Bucket. They’re not all friends, in fact some of them are enemies, but these women are quick to rush to each other’s aide. It’s an experience that most women, I’m sure, will recognise. It is an experience that clearly bonds these characters not only as women, but as friends and, in the case of Gwendolyn and Nurse Ratched, lovers, who respect one another.
I have many issues with Ratched including but not limited to the way mental illness is represented and depicted, almost all of Edmund’s dialogue and the entire character of Henry, but the diverse and clever creation of well-rounded female characters is not one of them.