‘Ratched’: what ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ fans should know about the Netflix prequel

Sarah Paulson

Ryan Murphy’s lavish new series delves into the origin story of cinema’s scariest nurse. It’s a bold move, however, to call Ratched One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest prequel. here’s everything fans of the 1975 classic need to know before watching…

The show is set in 1947

Taking place shortly after the end of the Second World War, Ratched is set 16 years before the events in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and comes with all the cigarettes, men’s braces, big hats and repressed sexuality you’d expect from the period.

Mildred Ratched could be around 24 in the show

Louise Fletcher, who played Mildred Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, said that she imagined the character as a 40-year-old virgin. If this is accurate then Ratched should be 24 in the Netflix series. Sarah Paulson, who plays the character, is 45, and seems to play Nurse Ratched as older than 24, but the character’s age is never specified. Incidentally, the action in the show would suggest that Fletcher was mistaken at least as far as the virginity goes…

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‘Ratched’ is streaming now on Netflix. Credit: Netflix

It takes place in Lucia, California

Whereas the psychiatric institution in the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is in Oregon, North America, Ratched sees the protagonist take a job at the Lucia State Hospital, an altogether more idyllic setting. Lucia is an unincorporated community on the coast of California, whose population in 1947 is said to be 985.

Ratched is a lesbian

Ratched’s sexuality is never specified in either the novel or the film, but Ratched casts her as a lesbian who ends up having a relationship with Gwendolyn Briggs (Cynthia Nixon), the press secretary for Governor Wilburn, a vile populist politician whose signature can dictate the fate of the hospital. Her lesbianism is an important theme in the show: being homosexual was illegal in the US in 1947 and Nurse Ratched is initially fearful and angry at the implication that she might be a lesbian.

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Sarah Paulson as the infamous Nurse Ratched. Credit: Netflix

Nurse Ratched was an army nurse before working in mental health

Though we learn that this is not quite what it seems, prior to working at Lucia State Hospital Ratched tended to wounded soldiers in World War Two.

Ratched has some serious style

The show couldn’t look much more different to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a series executive-produced by Ryan Murphy, the colours and clothes in Ratched are something to behold. The hospital is covered in mint-green furnishings, with the staff wearing turquoise uniforms; Ratched drives a mint-green car; and the protagonist gets to wear a never-ending supply of sublime outfits.

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Cynthia Nixon plays Gwendolyn Briggs, the campaign manager of Governor George Wilburn. Credit: Netflix

Ratched was abused in her foster home

Ratched‘s back story for the title character is that she was orphaned and sent to a series of foster homes with a boy called Edmund Tolleson. They were subjected to abuse in almost every home, and this abuse turned sexual with the final couple – forcing the pair to make an escape.

The show presents a much softer side to Ratched’s character

Though Ratched does some awful things in the series, the length of the show allows the viewer to see her in far greater depth than in the film. While the film depicts a character wedded to the rules, in Ratched we see a character who behaves in the very opposite way, constantly bending them to get her own way. Crucially, however, she almost always does so in an attempt to help people – notably her foster brother Edmund Tolleson, who is sent to the psychiatric hospital and expected to be executed after killing four priests. And, when she is witness to senseless suffering in the name of care, she tries to stop it.

Sarah Paulson
Sarah Paulson and Edmund Tolleson’s characters have a special connection in ‘Ratched’. Credit: Netflix

‘Ratched’ depicts the controversial practice of lobotomy

At the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Jack Nicholson’s character, Randle McMurphy, has a lobotomy performed on him. Lobotomies were fairly commonplace in the 1960s but in 1947, when the series takes place, they were less so – the first had been performed 11 years earlier by Walter Freeman and James W Watts. Dr Hanover, the head of Lucia State Hospital, tries to perform four in 15 minutes on patients who are still awake, though slightly sedated. When this goes horribly wrong and a patient swings his arms about mid-surgery, Hanover demonstrates how to perform a transorbital lobotomy on a dead patient by hammering an ice pick through the top of their eye socket. This gives Ratched an idea…

‘Ratched’ is streaming on Netflix now

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