Who is Nurse Ratched? Netflix show’s link to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest explained

Here's what you need to know ahead of watching Ratched on Netflix.

Ratched stars Sarah Paulson on Netflix

Ryan Murphy’s latest series aims to reinvent an iconic character from film and literature, shedding light on her troubled past for the first time ever.

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Nurse Ratched appears in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a novel by Ken Kesey which was later adapted into a critically acclaimed film starring Jack Nicholson.

While Netflix’s Ratched largely stands on its own, owing to the radically different direction that Murphy and creator Evan Romansky have taken their title character, it would still be helpful to have some familiarity with the source material.

Read on for everything you need to know about Nurse Ratched and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, before diving into the first season on Netflix:

Who is Nurse Ratched?

In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Nurse Ratched is introduced as the head nurse at Oregon State Hospital, who oversees a psychiatric ward with numerous patients.

In the 1975 film adaptation, Louise Fletcher takes on the role and gives a subdued performance, which serves to give the character more nuance than a bog-standard villain.

Over the course of the movie, Ratched does things that infringe on the freedom and comfort of her patients, seemingly taking some enjoyment in doing so.

Yet many have noted that she appears to genuinely believe that she’s helping those under her care, despite apparent evidence to the contrary.

What happens in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? **spoilers**

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest begins with convicted criminal Randle McMurphy being transferred from prison to Oregon State Hospital for an assessment of his sanity.

While there, he quickly forms a rivalry with Nurse Ratched, due largely to his outspoken personality, unwillingness to conform and tendency to embolden his fellow patients.

Ratched struggles to maintain the tight grip she once held over her ward, with an attempt to make McMurphy more docile through electric shock therapy proving fruitless.

Things come to a head when McMurphy throws a party at the ward one night, involving lots of alcohol and two women he knew from his days before incarceration.

The following morning, Ratched returns to find her ward trashed and one of her patients, Billy, in bed with one of the women that McMurphy had invited along.

Nurse Ratched tells him she plans to inform his mother, a threat that leaves Billy terrified and distressed, ultimately driving him to take his own life mere moments later.

A furious McMurphy strangles Ratched, almost killing her but ultimately being restrained before he can do so, although she is left with a serious neck injury.

As punishment, McMurphy is given a lobotomy, rendering him incapable of any independent thought or personal care, meaning he is entirely at Ratched’s mercy.

One of the patients that he had become friends with, a native American known as Chief, smothers McMurphy to prevent any further suffering, before escaping the ward which Ratched still presides over.

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Ratched is available to stream on Netflix from Friday 18th September. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our guide to the best series on Netflix and best movies on Netflix, or visit our TV Guide.