Call it Murphy’s Ice Pick. Much like Chekhov and his gun, if you see an ice pick early in an episode from the creator of American Horror Story, it will probably be driven into somebody’s eye by the end of it. What’s frustrating about the second episode of Ratched is how much it takes its time getting there. The episode introduces the concept of the lobotomy via ice pick and brings back the only survivor of the Clergy Killer Massacre, someone who could get Edmund Tolleson in trouble. Everyone knows where this is going.
With that in mind, the best scenes in “Ice Pick” are actually the ones that drift from the obvious plot, particularly the ones between Cynthia Nixon and Sarah Paulson that form the center of the episode. While these scenes are great, they almost feel like they come from another show altogether, one about a lifelong politician finding love with an icy nurse who can’t even admit her sexuality to herself. So, as fun as they are to watch, they add to the sense that this episode isn’t quite as accomplished as the premiere.
“Ice Pick” starts by revealing that Dr. Hanover’s breakthrough treatment is actually a very old one, the frontal lobotomy. Four patients come to Lucia to undergo the procedure for four different reasons, and Hanover is confident enough in the technique that he invites Briggs and the press to witness the lobotomies. It does not go well. The first patient struggles as Hanover drills into his brain, and the audience in the medical theater is generally disgusted. Well, not all of them. Mildred Ratched is fascinated.
She goes to meet with the only survivor of the attack of the Clergy Killer, a young priest named Father Andrews (Hunter Parrish). The young man who hid under the bed during the attack is in seclusion in a wheelchair, wearing sunglasses. Ratched tries to convince him she’s on his side, that she wants to cleanse the world of evil like Edmund Tolleson and she’ll need to hear Father Andrews’s story to make that happen.
Back at Lucia, Ratched has a fight with Nurse Bucket over a stolen peach. Ratched is totally going to kill Bucket, right? Probably brutally. Maybe with a peach or the felt-tip pen that Bucket claims she should have used to put her name on it?
Since the first lobotomy procedure didn’t go so well, Hanover has a new idea: the transorbital lobotomy. Ratched likes this idea even more than the first. As Bucket pukes at the sight of an ice pick going into the eye socket of a cadaver, Ratched realizes she doesn’t need Hanover to take care of Andrews. She just needs an ice pick.
Before that happens, “Ice Pick” takes an interlude for Briggs and Ratched to drive down the coast to Monterey and for the nurse to try oysters for the first time. Does Briggs sense that Ratched is closeted? Does anyone know why she would? As great as both actresses are here, it’s hard to see exactly what Briggs would see in Ratched, other than maybe her extreme confidence. Whatever she sees, Ratched rebuffs Briggs’s flirtation after the politician takes the nurse to a hidden “women’s club” and Ratched finally realizes one of them considers this a date. Again, these are great emotional beats for Paulson and Nixon to play, but they almost feel like part of another show.
Back at Lucia, Hanover wants to talk to Edmund, who rambles on and on about the antennas in his head and other things designed to convince the good doctor that his most famous patient is schizophrenic. At first, it feels like inconsistent writing until it’s clear that Edmund is playing up his mental illness to convince Hanover that he shouldn’t be subjected to the death penalty. Hanover sees through it but admits he doesn’t believe in capital punishment. He doesn’t want to kill Edmund; he wants to save him. Good luck with that.
Finally, Nurse Ratched gets to Father Andrews, convincing him to tell his story. They go to a hotel room, and he sits with a rosary in front of a recorder to tell the story of what happened that night, not offering much new in the way of detail beyond that Edmund saw him as he fled the scene. Andrews doesn’t realize that Ratched is drugging his tea. He passes out, waking up strapped to the bed. Ratched admits what we guessed at the end of the last episode — the Clergy Killer is her brother. But he wasn’t born a monster; someone turned him into one. The good nurse drives an ice pick into the eye of Father Andrews, leaving him a drooling shell.
• Did the score during the Andrews murder sound familiar? At first, I thought it was Vertigo, but it’s actually Elmer Bernstein’s score for Cape Fear. Why? Did Murphy just think it was cool? Or is he drawing a connection to another project about a sociopath? The track? Well, it’s called “Max,” after the film’s monstrous Max Cady.
• Where’s Corey Stoll? Just hanging out at the motel looking cool? Getting drunk with Amanda Plummer?
• I have to admit to intense jealousy during the trip to Monterey, one of the most beautiful places in the world. Check it out if you ever get the chance to leave the house again.
• Aw yeah, a title sequence! The first episode didn’t have one, but all Murphy shows have ambitious title sequences, and so it’s nice to see that return with the images of a woman pulling a red string through a series of horror imagery — the manipulative nurse navigating a world of violence.
• Last episode, Murphy would wash the screen green when Ratched was stressed, and he uses a similar technique here with Hanover getting high in the opening scene, but washes red instead. The color usage on this show is one of its most interesting technical elements.
• Any theories on why the piece is set in the real California oceanside community of Lucia? It means light. Is Ratched the light? Or maybe she’s the dark?