The status quo has shifted but characters remain the same in Ratched‘s season one finale.
This recap of Ratched season 1, episode 8, “Mildred and Edmund”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Prisons, it is argued, were created as a way for the state to hide away dissidents. I’m butchering my Foucault here, but the basic idea is that hanging (which used to be the de facto punishment) was so public that it can cause citizens to turn against it. The violence of capital punishment can itself create popular support for its own removal.
And if you aren’t anti-capital punishment by Ratched’s finale, I don’t know what to say to do. In a prelude to Edmund’s own execution (this episode takes place a month after the previous one), the governor has switched things up and decided to demonstrate the electric chair. Things don’t quite go as planned, and we see the nurses listening on the radio in horror as the broadcaster translates the gruesome events.
Given all this, Mildred decides to give her brother an easier death; she concepts a plan to allow him into the barn (finally those animals will come into use) where she can discretely inject him with a dose of poison.
It really seems like our favorite monstrous nurse has moved on. In bed with an increasingly sickly Gwendolyn, she talks about how she sees that “this chapter of my life will have come to an end.” Despite their plea to the governor, they know there’s no way out of this: “He’s started frying people to win points with voters and Edmund is next in line.”
But Edmund doesn’t see his sister’s acts as kindness. When Mildred brings him a nice meal, he accuses her first of poisoning him, then of not loving him enough. Talk of the farm cools him down, but his inability to escape means that he now takes his anger out on his sister.
But as fate would have it, a means for escape miraculously arrives in the form of Charlotte, who returns to the hospital for seemingly no reason other than she believes herself to be Dr. Hanover.
First, she threatens Huck, who remains calm, telling of his time in the war. In a cruel blow, she shoots him in the head. Poor Huck! I had hoped we would have seen more of him in the next season (Ratched will supposedly run another after this one), but I guess the writers would rather have another shocking act of bloodshed.
Despite a string of murders, Lucia State Psychiatric Hospital continues to have the worst security. Charlotte pretty much just shoots a single guard and can break Edmund out. But before he leaves, he finds out from Nurse Bucket Mildred’s plan to euthanize him. It’s a stinging blow, but one that could easily have been avoided if Edmund knew anything about the plan to use the electric chair.
As Mildred drives to the hospital, she sees Edmund driving away. It’s moving to see her react to her brother’s escape; it makes me wish the show hadn’t spent so much time obfuscating their relationship We could have had a more emotionally rich first half of the season.
Despite the incredibly high fatality rate that occurred at the hospital, it is somehow still running two years later. In a sunny resort in Mexico, Mildred and a surprisingly healthy-looking Briggs are joined by a vacationing Betsy. “It’s so nice to be rid of them… men,” she says as if that wasn’t a status quo shift that happened two years ago when they fired Hanover, and just occurred to her now.
Of course, Ratched is still haunted by her brother. She has a vision of Charlotte and Edmund breaking into her suite to kill her. And she’s not far off; when she hears about an incident where nurses were massacred, she receives a call.
“It was a tribute to you,” her brother tells her. But Ratched is not afraid. She wasn’t in the first place, but the show seems to think that her becoming less afraid of her brother was her character arc, despite their power dynamic having not changed much over the course of the season.
“You are the one who should be afraid,” she states, in what the writers clearly intended to be their version of “I am the one who knocks.” But the speech rings hollow. As I’ve mentioned before, the show has made her arc a journey from ruthlessness to opening up while still being ruthless.
The idea of the villain origin story should be to tell us the journey they took to become the villain. Ratched begins the story as a ruthless manipulator, so there isn’t much way to go, except further away from her film (and book character), something I’m assuming the second season will correct. In that respect, her relationship with Briggs has been the real heart of the series, thanks in no small part to Cynthia Nixon and Sarah Paulson’s easy chemistry. All I can hope for is that the second season leans into that dynamic (and away from the freak show aesthetic).
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