We learn Nurse Ratched’s sordid backstory in an otherwise engaging episode.
This recap of Ratched season 1, episode 6, “Got No Strings”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
That was my reaction to this episode’s big reveal. When Gwendolyn and Mildred sit down to watch a puppet show, and we see through Ratched’s eyes the origin of her trauma, I felt exhausted. Maybe it’s because there’s so much violence and bad stuff happening in the world currently, but I felt tired.
Did Romansky & co just try to brainstorm the most shocking backstory they could? I don’t think the story has any thematic connection to their characters; it’s just a shortcut of saying “Hey, this is why they’re ****** up.”
But the end result is trauma ****. And the problem with trauma **** is it becomes fixated on the horrific acts themselves, offering them up as spectacle rather than grounding us in emotional pain. And the end result is numbing. We begin to emotionally detach ourselves from the situation (ironically just as Ratched has done). The show wants to combine shlock with a story of overcoming trauma, but the former relies on a heightening that undercuts the latter.
There’s something here about how violence begets violence, and how traumatic experiences can themselves desensitize you. But none of that is realized within the text of the show itself. Rather, what the show actually ends up saying (whether intentionally or not), is that victims of abuse go on to become murderers.
And it’s a shame the show drops the ball at that moment because the remainder of “Got No Strings” is pretty great. The reveal comes after several wonderful scenes between Mildred and Gwendolyn—who miraculously recovers from being shot in the chest (which I’m not going to question, seeing as it gives us the chance to have more Cynthia Nixon).
At Briggs’s bedside, Mildred confesses her relationship to Edmund. Briggs seems weirdly intent on driving to a puppet theater, despite Ratched’s hesitation. “We’re not children” she snaps, to which her confidante responds, “sometimes I wish we were and I had known the Mildred Ratched… before she had built a wall around herself.” I kind of wish we had too, or at least the show had decided to tell that story, rather than dramatizing her journey from being closed off to… more closed off.
The show itself (or the show we see) tells the story of Edmund and Mildred’s bad experiences with foster homes, resulting in them staying with a wealthy couple who made them perform sexual acts upon each other in front of a live audience (the couple in question are depicted as obese perverts, a stereotype I thought we had done with a long time ago, but alas).
Before they escape, Edmund decides to gouge their foster parents’ eyes out, because apparently Ratched believes itself to be a greek tragedy. The most significant aspect of the story is that Mildred left Edmund behind, which I’m not sure works logistically, but at least somewhat grounds the narrative that drives the entire series.
Later, she tells the whole story to Briggs, which; a) makes the whole puppet theater section seem contrived and purposeless since we could have learned it here, and, b) seems like a weird thing to tell someone you’ve had maybe three dinners with.
It also seems odd that Mildred would take a couple of days off while her brother, who she has apparently spent years searching for, is the subject of a statewide manhunt. But “Got No Strings” more than makes up for that oversight with the depiction of their Bonnie and Clyde adventure.
The most exciting aspect is the role reversal; Dolly is now the bloodthirsty outlaw, while Edmund only wants to escape. No longer performing, Edmund is cool and rational. Dolly is the opposite; she doesn’t care about the cops, just wants to sleep with her attractive partner in crime and maybe kill a chicken or two. The dynamic shift allows Dolly to live her fantasy, but for Edmund, survival is the only goal.
When they do find themselves surrounded by cops, Edmund plans to turn himself in and claim that he kidnapped Dolly. Dolly, however, would rather go down in a hail of bullets, leaving Edmund to be returned to the hospital alone, albeit in Hannibal Lector cosplay.
Ed wakes up — they overslept “We don’t got anywhere to be.” “On the move is where we gotta be.” Police are there. He wants to turn himself in, tell them he kidnapped her. Dolly instead runs out and shoots them, and is gunned down herself. He’s returned to the hospital with a Hannibal Lector mask
Upon Edmund’s arrival, the governor coerces Dr. Hanover to turn him over. There will be no rehabilitation, only execution. Worse, the governor reveals that he lied to Hanover; he plans to cut funding to the hospital anyhow, and then he fires Briggs for questioning his choices. Sometimes, everyone loses (except for the governor who seems to be having quite the time screwing everyone over).
- “I have been shot, I don’t recommend it,” announces Briggs on her hospital bed.
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Cole Sansom is a writer, filmmaker, and photographer based out of Philadelphia