Ratched: Who Is Edmund Tolleson to Nurse Ratched?
Nurse Ratched and Edmund Tolleson's Backstory Seems as Scary as Their Real-Life Inspirations
Watch out! This post contains spoilers.
Netflix's Ratched kicks off the first season with two main plot lines featuring Nurse Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson) and a serial killer named Edmund Tolleson (Finn Wittrock). Early on, we see their paths converge when Nurse Ratched, who manipulates her way into working at a psychiatric institution called Lucia State Hospital, visits Edmund in the basement of the facility, where he's being held after murdering several priests. The two share a tender moment, though they don't explicitly say how they know each other. It's eventually revealed, however, that Edmund is the adoptive brother of Nurse Ratched. So how exactly did they end up in their truly unfortunate situations? Well, it's a very grim backstory.
After Edmund's biological mother is sexually assaulted by a priest, she becomes a sex worker, which leads to her death. This makes Edmund an orphan who is forced to endure a series of abusive foster homes with Nurse Ratched. (This is also what prompts him to later murder the priest who assaulted his mother, as well as other priests living in the same clergy house.) At their last foster home, Edmund kills his cruel parents, allowing him and Nurse Ratched to escape and set on different journeys. Sometime after carrying out his clerical vendetta, Edmund is locked away as a prisoner underneath Lucia State Hospital. Nurse Ratched, therefore, begins working at the hospital and makes callous, underhanded moves to help free Edmund.
But things take a turn when Nurse Ratched realizes that there's no saving her brother, who will be executed by electric chair. She plans to euthanize him as a warped measure of mercy, but Edmund ends up breaking out of jail, thanks to Charlotte Wells (Sophie Okonedo), who frees him during a dissociative identity disorder episode. Upon his release, he learns of Nurse Ratched's euthanasia scheme and turns on her, but Mildred is able to flee to Mexico with her girlfriend, Gwendolyn Briggs (Cynthia Nixon). At the end of the season, Nurse Ratched sees a news article detailing a massacre of seven nurses in Chicago. Edmund calls his sister to confirm that he's the culprit and vows to get revenge on her. Nurse Ratched doesn't back down, though, and says that he's the one who should be afraid. Needless to say, we'll have lots to explore in season two.
As many viewers know, Ratched is a prequel to Ken Kesey's 1962 book One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and Nurse Ratched is based on the head nurse at the psychiatric ward where Kesey once worked. Edmund isn't a character in the original novel, but it's possible that some of his actions were inspired by actual events — notably his Chicago killing spree, which parallels a similar 20th-century occurrence. In 1966, a man named Richard Speck did in fact murder eight nurses in the same city. Edmund's inhumane act on the show takes place in 1950, so he's not totally based on Speck, but perhaps his murders are simply a chilling allusion to the real-life happening.