We're happy any time that Sarah Paulson is on our screens, and according to Variety, we're going to see a lot more of her— and we're getting the female villainess action that we've dreamed of.
Paulson and producer Ryan Murphy have not one, but three projects in the works together. Murphy produces American Horror Story and American Crime Story, both of which have starred Paulson in the past in their anthology formats, and are coming back with Paulson as part of the main cast.
She'll also be starring in Ratched, a drama being pitched as the prequel to the novel and film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. As Nurse Ratched, Paulson will play a cruel, results-driven nurse at a mental hospital. In the film and book, Nurse Ratched viciously restricts patients' access to food and medication, and humiliates them into submission. It's a harrowing account of life in mental institutions before reforms were enacted, and reminds us how far mental health treatment has come today.
If you've ever seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, you know that Nurse Ratched appears to have no moral dimension beyond keeping her patients in line at any cost. That is what makes her so sinister — like Walter White, another results-driven antihero, she stops at nothing to achieve her means. Antiheroes, or the bad guys we root for, tend to be parts for men. And when a female character is inherently unlikeable, like Cersei from Game of Thrones, she is generally reviled. Why don't we root for evil women?
Part of that is because it's a side of the female villain that just hasn't been explored. There's the evil female who is just misunderstood, like Elphaba in Wicked. Or the calculating villain who stumbles on her lust and passion, like Rosamund Pike's Amy Pike in Gone Girl. Even female villains who exhibit zero human traits are just antagonists, like Ursula and Cruella de Vil. But a female who is inherently evil, for no discernable reason, who we see doing evil things without any moral compass, as our main character? We feel comfortable in saying that it's a novelty in television and film.
Villainesses also tend to get caught in a web of salvation, as if they must necessarily be saved in order for the story to end, like the Scarlet Witch from Avengers. They aren't allowed to be evil and remain evil, they have to be cured of their evilness, because we are not used to seeing women just be plain bad.
Assuming the show is a prequel, one thing we won't see is redemption. We know what she's like by the time that One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Tree takes place; instead, we'll see her slow descent into moral ambiguity, and finally, into an amoral being who inflicts terror on her charges.
Paulson's Nurse Ratched is going to do some very violent things. We may even learn why she became violent. Was she under undue pressure from the hospital's bureaucracy? Was she corrupted as she gained power? Is there a prior event in her life that destroyed her sense of humanity? Is she just reacting to the ruthless mental institution conditions of the time? Or was she just born that way? We're hoping these are questions that Ratched will answer.
We're ready for our first woman antihero. We want to feel that disconnect with liking a woman character in spite of how brutal she can be, because that's what made watching shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men so exciting. We tuned every week just to see the bad guy do bad things, and it's beyond time to see a woman in this role.