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I know that I fucked up, Mildred. But you know what happened to me in that place, because it happened to you, too. I want to be normal, Mildred
— Edmund Tolleson

Edmund Tolleson is a main character in the Netflix series Ratched. He is Mildred Ratched's foster brother and a convicted mass murderer. Known publicly as the "Clergy Killer," Edmund was convicted for the murder of four priests before being incarcerated at Lucia State psychiatric hospital. He is portrayed by Finn Wittrock.

Biography

Early Life

Edmund was born in California in approximately 1911 or 1913.[1] His mother was a nun, Sister Margaret McGuire, who lived at St. John of the Cross Rectory in Fair Oaks, California. While living there, Sister Margaret was raped by one of the priests, Joseph Sullivan, and became pregnant. Because of her vow of chastity as a nun, she was likely forced out of the Catholic church due to her pregnancy. She began working in a brothel and became a drug addict. She died of an accidental overdose of morphine administered by one of the other sex workers at the brothel, leaving Edmund an orphan.[2][3]

After her death, Edmund entered the foster system, where he met his foster sister, Mildred Ratched at one of the foster homes. Their foster families were physically and emotionally abusive, leading to them falling under the care of Anna, a kind caseworker who became a guardian angel figure to the children. Anna saw how Edmund and Mildred had bonded during their time with the abusive foster parents, and falsified their paperwork so that they were listed as biological siblings to keep them from being separated in future foster placements. Sadly, each subsequent foster placement was more abusive than the last, coming to a head when on one occasion Edmund was beaten so badly that Mildred feared he might die.[4]

Adoption

After Edmund's beating, Edmund and Mildred ran away to Anna, who found what she believed to be a "forever family"; they were to be adopted by a well-to-do couple who lived in a mansion-like home. Initially the parents were kind and generous, giving them presents, candy, and all the ice cream they could eat. This was a grooming tactic, however; in reality, the couple had adopted Edmund and Mildred in order to sexually abuse and exploit them. The couple had an oversized version of a marionette puppet theatre in their basement, where they forced Edmund and Mildred to perform sexual acts on one another for the entertainment of paying clients who would watch from the audience.[4]

Edmund and Mildred decided they had to try and escape, but Edmund insisted the couple had to pay for what they had done. He went into their bedroom while they slept and gouged out their eyes with a pair of sharp scissors, ultimately killing them. Witnessing this act of violence, Mildred begged for him to run, for them to escape together, but he told her to leave on her own. Despite having told her to run, he developed a deep resentment of Mildred for having abandoned him.[4] Edmund was apprehended and after the murders were deemed justifiable homicides, sent to Hale House School for Boys, a juvenile detention facility, where he would remain until he turned 18. Mildred remained in the foster system for several years until she aged out, after which she spent two years trying to locate Edmund, eventually locating him while he was still in Hale House School. The two were reunited through the facility's fencing, with Mildred excitedly stating that they could go live their lives together now that they had found each other. Edmund shyly admitted he was looking forward to such a thing, but lied and told Mildred he was being released the next Wednesday, when his released was for the next Tuesday. Mildred swore that she would be there, but when she arrived he had already gone, disappearing once again.[3]

Clergy Killer

Edmund spent much of his adult life hunting down his father, the priest (now Monsignor) Joseph Sullivan. In 1947, he successfully located him. He conned his way into the rectory under the guise of his car having broken down and asked to use their phone. He slit the throat of the priest who had let him in, and hid in one of the bathrooms while he waited for the rest of the priests to return. After they returned, he killed three more priests in turn; the second, by repeatedly smashing his face into the toilet, and the third by repeated stabbing. The fourth priest was Monsignor Sullivan, whom he confronted, telling Sullivan than he was his father. Sullivan initially denied the claim, only admitting to raping his mother after Edmund kicked him and threatened him with a knife. Edmund tortured Monsignor Sullivan through rape, mutilation and ultimately murder, unaware that the whole event was witnessed by Father Andrews who was hiding under the bed.[2][5]

Lucia State Hospital

After the murders, Edmund was on the run for six months before being apprehended by police. He was temporarily incarcerated in San Quentin State Prison before being transferred to Lucia State psychiatric hospital into the care of Dr. Richard Hanover in order to assess whether he was mentally competent to stand trial. Soon after his arrival, he was surprised to be reunited with his foster sister Mildred Ratched, who had infiltrated the hospital and been hired as a nurse to try and help Edmund escape. California Governor George Wilburn visited the hospital at the behest of Dr. Hanover and Wilburn's secretary and campaign manager Gwendolyn Briggs. Wilburn was unsympathetic to the hospital but was convinced by Gwendolyn that publicly increasing funding to the hospital would improve his public image and improve his chance at re-election. However, his opinion of Edmund was extremely sour, determined that his re-election hinged on seeing Edmund face the death penalty, and he planned to leverage Dr. Hanover with continued funding in exchange for deeming Edmund fit to stand trial and face execution.[2][6]

Because he was under maximum security, Edmund initially spent all of his time locked in a jail cell in the basement of the hospital under armed guard where he ate and slept. The only time he was permitted to leave the cell was for showers, for which he was stripped, shackled, and cleaned by the guards with brushes and a hose. Mildred began systematically chipping away at the high level of security around Edmund by manipulating Dr. Hanover's sense that patients should be treated humanely. Not long after being admitted to the hospital, Edmund had his first assessment in Dr. Hanover's office, where he feigned symptoms of schizophrenia in such a textbook way that Hanover immediately saw through his act. Mildred, who had witnessed a lobotomy procedure performed by Dr. Hanover and learned how to perform it herself using a readily accessible household tool (an ice pick), reached out to Father Andrews, the only witness to the crimes Edmund had committed at the rectory and was set to write a witness testimony for Edmund's upcoming trial. She convinced Father Andrews to meet her at a hotel for an interview that would be used as evidence in Edmund's trial. Instead, Mildred performed a deliberately botched lobotomy on Father Andrews, putting him into a semi-vegetative state where he was no longer able to communicate and could no longer provide a witness testimony.[5]

Dolly

Edmund's meals were typically brought to him in his cell by Dr. Hanover, however on one occasion, Dr. Hanover asked Head Nurse Betsy Bucket to deliver it, who then delegated the task to nurse trainee Dolly. Dolly was an undiagnosed nymphomaniac with a fetish for dangerous men, and was immediately attracted to Edmund, with the two quickly beginning to flirt back and forth. The niacin Edmund had been prescribed had the side effect of causing erections, and while flirting, he convinced Dolly to "help" him by masturbating him though the jail bars. They were witnessed by Edmund's guard, who informed Huck, who in turn informed Mildred. Mildred was repulsed by this, thinking that Dolly was beneath him, and so tried to dissuade Edmund from pursuing her. He became angry and then distressed, pleading that he had never had the chance to learn to love after the abusive childhood they had both shared, and that it would benefit them both if his mental health could be improved by knowing the love of a woman. Mildred was unmoved by his pleas and threatened to remove Dolly from Edmund's life altogether, prompting Edmund to turn and come on to Mildred instead, grabbing her hand and forcing it towards his crotch, saying, "If you don't let me form a relationship with a real woman... well then, you're going to have to suffice." She quickly retaliated, digging her nails into his arm in return and stating in no uncertain terms, "Let me be very clear. I will never do that with you again". Realizing Edmund's interest in Dolly could be used as a benefit to him as well as Mildred's plan to save him, Mildred formulated a plan in which Edmund and Dolly would be able to have an unsupervised, unshackled sexual encounter in the hydrotherapy (hot and cold treatment) room. Instead of sex, however, Edmund just wanted to kiss Dolly, and his feelings for her deepened.[6]

First Escape

By blackmailing Dr. Hanover, Mildred was able to have Betsy Bucket demoted and take her place as Head Nurse. Mildred took advantage of her new position to organize a "spring fling" dance for the patients and staff. Her aim was to have Edmund attend alongside the rest of the hospital population and give him an opportunity to prove, once and for all, that he was mentally unstable and not fit to stand trial. Edmund told Mildred his plan was to start speaking in tongues and cut himself in front of everyone, using a razor blade that Mildred would hide for him. Before the dance, he met with Dolly, who told him that she had read his file and learned about his crimes. Edmund asked her if she thought he was a monster, but she told him:

"You said one of those men raped your mother, then abandoned her. That man put rage inside you. And I know what that feels like... because I have it in me, too."

The pair shared a dream of running away together and being free of their emotional baggage and judgement about their past mistakes, and Edmund told Dolly he had fallen in love with her. They shared a kiss, before being interrupted by Edmund's guard.

The day of the scheduled dance arrived, and Edmund was able to attend unshackled and dance with Dolly. Mildred told Edmund where she had hidden the razor blade, then returned to spending the dance with Gwendolyn and Huck. An altercation between Betsy and Dr. Hanover left Betsy fleeing the ballroom, and Mildred and Gwendolyn followed to comfort her. Mildred returned to the dance in time for Edmund to enact what she believed was the plan they had agreed on. Unbeknownst to Mildred, Edmund and Dolly had hatched a new plan, which they set in motion: Edmund retrieved the razor blade and used it to slit the throat of Harold the guard. Dolly then took Harold's gun. Hearing the screams, Gwendolyn entered the room and tried to talk Dolly down, but Dolly shot her in the chest. Seizing the opportunity, Edmund and Dolly fled, escaping the hospital in a stolen car. Mildred ran to Gwendolyn's side as she laid on the ground and cradled her as she began bleeding out on the floor. After extensive surgery, she miraculously survived.

In the car, Edmund became increasingly disturbed that Dolly had diverged from their plan by shooting (and he assumed, killing) an innocent person (Gwendolyn). He was convinced that there would be consequences. They abandoned the car and fled into the forest on foot. [7] They eventually found their way to an abandoned farm house, where Dolly found a shotgun stashed in the ceiling. Edward began to realize than Dolly was more unhinged than he had realized, seeming to be relishing in the fact she'd shot someone and excited to do it again. He admitted to her that she was starting to scare him, but she brushed it off, and he changed the subject due to not being able to fully articulate his feelings. Dolly made a bed for them out of blankets and hay, and the two had sex until dawn.

A rooster wandered into the barn, and Edward suggested killing it to eat, but found himself unable to kill it, because:

"That chicken never had a mean thought. It never did one bad thing. Animals are not like people"

Dolly, however, had experience killing chickens for food, and expertly snapped the chicken's neck. Edmund was disturbed by this, but not wanting to appear weak, offered to clean and prepare the dead chicken to cook it if she showed him how. After eating, the two laid down to finally sleep, only to be awoken by sounds outside the barn - the police had tracked them down, and had the place surrounded, but Edmund couldn't see them. Turned on by the danger, Dolly tried to convince Edmund to have sex with her, but he turned her down. When he opened the door, he was confronted by several officers pointing their weapons at them. They ran back into the barn, and Edmund quickly came up with a plan to say that he had kidnapped Dolly, in the hope that they wouldn't harm her - but Dolly realized that because she (believed she) had killed Gwendolyn, they wouldn't believe it. Edmund admitted that he'd wanted a whole life with Dolly - a house, and children - and they share one last kiss. Edmund stepped out the barn with his hands up, telling the officers that Dolly was innocent, but Dolly blazed out of the barn with the shotgun and took down two officers before being shot multiple times, dying on the ground with a smile on her face.

Edmund was apprehended by the other officers and returned to Lucia with increased security, with Mildred there in her capacity as Head Nurse to sign off on his re-internment to the hospital. Edmund tried to talk to her, but she spoke back to him with hatred for what he'd done to Gwendolyn, telling him he should "thank his lucky stars these officers didn't blow your head off".

Following Edmund being re-apprehended, Mildred and Gwendolyn attended a meeting between Governor Wilburn and Dr. Hanover, with Wilburn expressing his disgust at his choice to support Lucia and how poorly Edmund's case was being handled by the hospital. None in attendance were able to successfully negotiate with Wilburn, only able to watch as Wilburn demanded Hanover sign the paperwork to deem Edmund fit to stand trial or lose funding for the hospital, which Hanover ultimately caved to. Thus, Edmund was on track to go to trial, where he would certainly be handed the death penalty.[4]

Planned Execution

On September 14th, Edmund Tolleson was scheduled to be executed, by what was presumed by all concerned would be lethal injection, a relatively humane manner of execution. However Governor Wilburn, now untethered by Gwendolyn's more liberal views as his campaign manager, was determined to center his re-election campaign on appearing strong on crime through lethal force, using Edmund as a figurehead - and decided to bring back execution by electric chair. In the public execution of another criminal, he participated and prolonged the execution so long that the prisoner caught on fire in front of a crowd of onlookers. Mildred and Gwendolyn arranged for a meeting with Wilburn in order to appeal for Edmund's humane execution by lethal injection, but Wilburn rebuffed them. Mildred came up with a new plan in which she would herself deliver the lethal injection to an unsuspecting Edmund in the animal barn, where Edmund had been allowed to spend some time and had bonded with the animals there. Mildred and Gwendolyn presented this idea in a meeting with Betsy, who agreed with their plan but asked if it would be less upsetting for Mildred if Betsy were to deliver the lethal dose, but Mildred insisted that it had to be her.

While visiting Betsy, Mildred also visited Edmund and served him his dinner. Their conversation was tense, with Edmund suspicious that Mildred must have a plan, and questioned whether this meant his execution had been brought forward and if it was his final meal; she assured him that he still had two weeks left to live. They finally got some of their long held grudges out in the open; Mildred felt she had given up her life to try and rescue Edmund, but Edmund felt that he had given his life up for Mildred when he let her run away from him murdering their adoptive parents. With some of the weight off their shoulders, Mildred told Edmund that she'd convinced Betsy to allow them an hour alone in the animal barn together in the coming days, which pleased Edmund, and would allow Mildred to enact her plan.[8]

Second Escape

Charlotte Wells was a self-admitted patient to Lucia State Hospital who had been diagnosed with post-traumatic Dissociative Identity Disorder by Dr. Hanover. When stressed or agitated she would switch personalities in order to protect herself. Charlotte had become Dr. Hanover's pet project after Mildred implied that if Charlotte could be cured, it would draw Governor's Wilburn's focus away from Edmund as well as bring money in to the hospital. He began a series of hypnosis sessions with Charlotte in which she disclosed she had been tortured over a nine-day period in which she was kidnapped, trapped in a closet, stripped naked, and repeatedly assaulted. Over time these hypnosis sessions reduced her general panic response, leading to fewer events of her alternate personalities taking control. Because of this marked and measurable improvement, it renewed Hanover's belief in the ability of psychiatric medicine, and Charlotte became Hanover's well-known pet project. However, after Betsy and Mildred learned of his real identity and managed to oust him from the hospital, Dr. Hanover fled with Charlotte, intending to continue treating her while on the run. Hearing a knock at their hotel room door, Dr. Hanover feared they had been located by the police, and he made Charlotte hide in a closet. This triggered her PTSD from the assault she had experienced, and she killed Dr. Hanover while being controlled by one of her alternate personalities.

After Dr. Hanover's death, Charlotte returned to Lucia State Hospital with a new alternate personality: that of Dr. Hanover himself, taking on his mannerisms and taking the baton in wanting to free Edmund so that it could be proven he could be successfully rehabilitated. In the process of freeing Edmund, she held Betsy at gunpoint and executed Huck Finnigan and another guard. Edmund took the guard's shotgun and forced Betsy into his cell, interrogating her about Mildred's plan, and she was forced to tell him that Mildred planned to kill him herself. Edmund felt angry and betrayed, and fled the hospital with Charlotte in a car Charlotte had purchased with the money Mildred had sent her. Mildred witnessed Charlotte and Edmund driving in the opposite direction as she arrived for their barn visit.

In 1950, Charlotte, Edmund, and their new accomplice Louise were still on the run and newly in pursuit of Mildred, who had moved to Mexico with her now long-term partner, Gwendolyn. Edmund committed the multiple murder of seven nurses in Chicago in the hopes that Mildred would read about it in the paper and get the message that he was still out there. Having found out Mildred's location from his new accomplice Louise, Edmund called Mildred on the phone intending to threaten her. Mildred warned Edmund that although he might be coming after her, she too would be coming after him. [8]

Character Creation & Development

Actor Finn Wittrock has been a collaborator of Ratched co-creator Ryan Murphy since 2014, when he appeared in television film The Normal Heart which then lead to being cast in the fourth season of Murphy's anthology horror series American Horror Story: Freak Show and subsequently was also cast in three other series in the anthology: Hotel (2015), Roanoake (2016) and 1985 (2019), as well as an appearance in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (2018). Murphy approached Wittrock with a pitch for his role in Ratched which Wittrock recounted to Collider: "I wish other people could hear the pitch that he makes to the actors. It's the reason that he gets all of these amazing actors to do his stuff. He's so good at selling you on a part, it's incredible. He told me that I was gonna be working a lot with Sarah Paulson. He told me we would have a brother-sister type of relationship. We don't know if they're actually brother and sister. And he gave me the basic plot points. That was enough. He hooked me. From the outset, he wanted him to be obviously a dangerous and violent person but there's this sense of justice that Edmund has, that is a warped sense, but that is a very, very strong, strongly held belief about innocence and guilt. As the season goes on, he has this really strong affinity for animals and for the innocent and who he deems as that. He told me that in a very Cliffs Notes version, and then we were off to the races."[9]

As research, Wittrock read a book about childhood PTSD: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog (by Bruce D. Perry) given to him by his mother, an occupational therapist: "It's written by a child psychiatrist who works with kids from broken homes, and it explains what trauma does to the brain and how it affects the shape and size and the firing of your acute mind. So that was a really helpful way into Edmund's psyche, to understand how all that destructive behavior comes from the scar tissue of his youth."[10] "I never thought of this character as a serial killer by career. He doesn't enjoy killing, unlike some other characters and psychopaths I may have played in the past. He's not Ted Bundy (the charismatic serial killer who confessed to 30 homicides committed between 1974 and 1978). Edmund is doing this out of a sense of revenge. He's out to avenge the pain he's been through all throughout his abusive and tumultuous childhood. He has a real sense of justice and an affinity for people he deems innocent. You'll see that he loves animals and he has a soft spot for certain people (like Dolly). He is capable of love. He's just so incredibly damaged that you might not notice it at first."[11]

Appearances

Season One

Trivia

  • Edmund is known to have killed thirteen people - his two foster parents, four priests, and seven nurses - with only the deaths of the priests being publicly tied to him, and the deaths of his foster parents being ruled justifiable homicides.
  • In papers shown during Mildred's dissociative sequence in Got No Strings, the birthdate December 1st, 1911 is shown, though it is not established if this is Edmund or Mildred's birthdate. Dependent on which of the two's birthdate it is, and because Mildred is two years older than Edmund (having aged out of the foster system two years before him), this means that Edmund is either 34 or 36 years old at the beginning of the series in 1947.

Gallery

References

  1. In papers shown during Mildred's dissociative sequence in S01E06: Got No Strings, the birthdate December 1st, 1911 is shown on the foster documents as belonging to either Mildred or Edmund, though it is not established which of the two. Dependent on which of the two's birthdate it is, and because Mildred is two years older than Edmund (having aged out of the foster system two years before him), this means that Edmund is either 34 or 36 years old at the beginning of the series in 1947.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 S01E01: Pilot
  3. 3.0 3.1 S01E07: The Bucket List
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 S01E06: Got No Strings Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "S01E06" defined multiple times with different content
  5. 5.0 5.1 S01E02: Ice Pick
  6. 6.0 6.1 S01E03: Angel of Mercy
  7. S01E05: The Dance
  8. 8.0 8.1 S01E08: Mildred and Edmund
  9. Collider: Ratched Star Finn Wittrock Talks Netflix Series, AHS Season 10 (OCT 08 2020)
  10. Boston Globe: ‘Ratched' star and Ryan Murphy favorite Finn Wittrock can trace his flourishing career back to the Berkshires (SEP 10 2020)
  11. The Inquirer: Finn Wittrock on playing sinister characters: You don't have to be likable to be understandable (OCT 08 2020)