Wait, Is the Edmund Tolleson Character From 'Ratched' Based on a Real Person?

There’s a mysterious character in Ratched on Netflix that looms large beneath the hospital where Mildred Ratched is rising through the ranks: Edmund Tolleson, the priest killer. (Yes, you read that right.) He’s played by Finn Wittrock, an actor known pretty much exclusively to fans of Ryan Murphy’s other projects, like American Horror Story, The Normal Heart, and American Crime Story. But while Murphy’s shows often draw from real life figures, it doesn’t seem like Edmund Tolleson is based on a real person.

I googled “priest killers” so you don’t have to to try and find out, and came up empty. I think he just feels like a stock character from old movies we’ve seen before. The show draws a lot of inspiration from the film noir era of the 1940s and 1950s in American cinema.

But isn’t this whole show based on a book character?

Yes, Nurse Ratched is based on the person of the same name from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The only thing I can come up with is that Edmund Tolleson is supposed to remind us of R. P. McMurphy, the protagonist to Ratched’s antagonist. In the film, he is played by Jack Nicholson. So maybe Ratched is reversing the roles. Like McMurphy, Edmund is committed to a psychiatric ward by law enforcement. Like McMurphy, he does not believe himself to be mentally ill, but hopes to plead insanity and therefore get out of jail time. They also seem to have similar-ish haircuts, and as you can see in the image above Edmund is wearing a green tee shirt just like Nicholson does at the beginning of the film.

But the similarities end there, and Mildred’s protective relationship to Edmund is really nothing like her relationship with her nemesis McMurphy. Plus, and not to go all film school geek on you again, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest came out in 1975. The vibe could not be further from the stylistic film noir lewk that Ratched replicates.

Edmund as a character is kind of all over the place. Very chaotic. Even if he does remind you of McMurphy one minute, the next minute he reminds you of Lennie from Of Mice and Men or a character from a Stephen King novel. There’s also a definite Bonnie and Clyde thing happening at one point, too. The references are seemingly endless. [There are spoilers ahead for one big plot point, FYI.]

Okay, but didn’t the murder spree at the end happen in real life?

When I was watching the show, the very last episode (where Edmund kills all those nurses as a way to get Mildred’s attention) reminded me of a similar murder that did happen. A man named Richard Speck killed eight nurses at their Chicago residence one night in 1966. So I was wondering whether Edmund was actually supposed to be that guy. The timelines don’t line up, though, as Ratched takes place way before those murders happened. The real life story of those nurses probably just served as inspiration for Edmund’s crimes at the end (which, dark).

If Ratched is renewed for a season 2 on Netflix (and it kinda needs to be) we’ll surely learn more about Edmund and how he figures into Mildred’s villainous origin story. But because sometimes Edmund is putting on an act to charm his way out of trouble, it’s hard to know what’s real with him at all, let alone based on or inspired by a real person.

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