Minds open and close in the second episode of Ratched, “Ice Pick”.
This recap of Ratched season 1, episode 2, “Ice Pick”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
“There are worse things than simply feeling nothing,” a newly-hired Nurse Ratched says upon Dr. Hanover’s lobotomy demonstration. This is back when lobotomy was considered “humane,” and compared to the alternatives, I can understand why.
But the line of thinking sounds very much like the words of someone coping with trauma. Some experiences are so painful that we try to forget about them and shut ourselves out to emotion. If you’ve experienced a lot of pain, it can be easier to suppress everything and ice yourself from opening up to other people. So far we can gather than Mildred had, to put it mildly, a rough childhood, and has turned herself into a steely presence in response. Perhaps that’s why she is so entranced by the lobotomy. Perhaps she wishes she could numb her own mind. (Ratched episode 2 also introduces the show’s title sequence, which involves Paulson following a string until she cuts it; severing herself from her past.)
Unfortunately, most of the patients to whom Hanover performs a lobotomy are, for lack of a better word, fine. (Obviously, nobody should be having or performing lobotomies in the first place.) We have a man with delusions of grandeur, a daydreaming child, and a woman who is a lesbian (which her “facial structure confirms;” finally some phrenology on tv!).
Dr. Hanover gives the mid-20th century equivalent of a TED talk in front of the governor and his staff. He announces his plan to lobotomize “all four subjects in a quarter of an hour,” which seems… too fast (this is what I meant about it being like a TED talk).
It’s horrifying to watch, and that’s not before one of the patients begins convulsing, making me think that Hanover, like any good standup, should have practiced his routine a few times in private before doing it in front of an audience!
Of course, he tries again later, this time with an ice pick. The scene is so grisly it leaves Nurse Bucket, myself, and I’m sure many other viewers, rushing for the exit. Hanover is appalled that his top nurse has a normal human reaction, and looks to the only staff member who seems nonplussed.
Our protagonist, fresh off of arguing with Nurse Bucket over a mistaken peach (maybe that had something to do with Bucket’s reaction), acts like the teacher’s pet she is deep down. Her place in Lucia State Hospital is secure. “You’re not like those other women, you’re different,” says Dr. Hanover, like she’s a manic pixie dream girl who happens to be in a horror movie.
Later, we see the effects of the procedure; Peter, the child who has daydreams, says he has no thoughts at all. It’s heartbreaking. We also find that Ingrid, the woman who was to be “cured” of her “lesbianism,” has, ahem, relapsed.
And she’s not the only one! The rest of the episode takes a more scenic turn, as Cynthia Nixon’s press secretary Gwendolyn Briggs takes Mildred for a scenic drive up the coast.
She takes her to a beautiful oyster outpost after Ratched expresses her preference for baloney (because of course, it’s her favorite food). I’m glad the show has time to slow down and look more into this side of Mildred. Paulson and Nixon have such great chemistry, and I was getting a little exhausted with Ratched the cold-hearted manipulator.
Unfortunately, Mildred only leans so far into her feelings before reminding herself that she prefers to feel nothing. When Briggs takes her to what’s clearly a lesbian bar, she takes a while to figure it out, before abruptly leaving when she seeing a display of intimacy. When you’ve closed yourself off for so long, it can be hard to open back up.
Of course, as we learned at the end of the last episode, Mildred does have one person in her life she cares for, but that caring often takes the form of committing ruthless acts. She makes a visit to the sole survivor of Edmund’s rampage. She convinces him to tell his story, but only so that she can hear it. Finding it sufficiently damning, she proves herself to be a quick learner, and carries out a lobotomy on the priest, not before she lets out a tear upon hearing his story.
- Apparently the barn Hanover wants to build with the governor’s money will have animals! Exciting news!
- Edmund tries to prove his insanity to Hanover, in a wonderful scene where he talks of his “metal radio antenna” in his teeth. He overdoes it, and Hanover sees right through him, and there’s a brief moment where Edmund eyes a knife, before realizing that maybe Hanover could save him from the death penalty.
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