Creating the backstory of a character belonging to a well-established fictional universe is tricky, especially when there isn’t much on the subject in the source material. But first-time series creator Evan Romansky, with the help of his more experienced partner Ryan Murphy (‘Glee, ‘American Horror Story’), has done just that in ‘Ratched’, the Netflix prequel series about the cruel and despotic antagonist from the 1975 film ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and the 1962 original novel. In the process, they have created a vibrant fictional world of their own, inhabited by a swathe of characters who are as complicated as Nurse Ratched (Sarah Paulson) herself. One such character is Edmund Tolleson (Finn Wittrock), whose past is inextricably interwoven with that of the protagonist of the show.
Who Is Edmund to Nurse Ratched?
The relationship between Ratched and Edmund serves as the foundation for the entire show. Although the extent and the dreadful nature of their shared history are fully revealed through a marionette show later in the series, we are given to understand in the closing moments of the pilot episode itself that he must be someone very important to Mildred as it looks like she is there to save him from his impending execution.
Edmund and Ratched grew up during the Great Depression. Ratched’s mother abandoned her before she was placed in foster care, whereas Edmund was put into the system following his mother’s death due to drug overdose. For Ratched, life only got worse afterward, and it is unlikely that things were any better for Edmund. She endured extreme abuse in one foster home after another. During her time with one such family, she met Edmund. Their caseworker, Annie (Rosanna Arquette), noticed the deep bond that had already started forming between them and decided to forge their papers to make them biological siblings, so at least, they would be together. They continued to hop foster homes until Annie found a wealthy couple who she thought can provide the children with a happy home.
She could not have been more wrong. In reality, they forced Edmund and Mildred to perform sexual acts on one another in front of an audience. One night, Edmund snapped and attacked the couple while they were sleeping. He gouged their eyes out before killing them. When Mildred arrived at the scene, Edmund told her to run away, which she did. However, since then, she has carried an immense sense of guilt for abandoning him, and it is that guilt that has brought her to Lucia State Hospital.
Is Edmund Based on a Real Person?
Although there were some serial killers who were active during that era in the US, Jake Bird (years active 1930-47), Williams Heirens (1945-46), Raymond Fernandez (1947-1949), and William Dale Archerd (1947-1966) for example, none of them seems to have a definitive connection with Edmund. In the 1980s, two Roman Catholic priests belonging to the Franciscan order were killed or mysteriously vanished in the Western US. Those incidents could have served as inspirations for Edmund, but the time and place don’t simply match.
Murphy, a life-long fan of Hitchcock’s works, likely drew inspirations from depictions of serial killers in the films by the legendary director. ‘Ratched’ has a definitive Hitchcockian feel to it, with its camera work, artistic choices, and set designs. While creating Edmund, Murphy might have inserted parts of Norman Bates (‘Psycho’), Bob Rusk (‘Frenzy’), The Avenger (‘The Lodger’), and Uncle Charlie (‘Shadow of a Doubt’) into him.
According to Wittrock, he revisited films like ‘The Silence of the Lamb’ and ‘Psycho’ before starting on his latest collaboration with Ryan Murphy. “I watched Silence of the Lambs–it’s always helpful to watch Anthony Hopkins–and Psycho, but I was very, very scared that if I watched too much of that stuff that I would start to imitate it. So, I found myself watching people on the streets more: homeless people, people that were talking to themselves, people that largely go ignored in our society, but are everywhere. Especially walking around LA. We usually just kind of turn our back, but if you take a second and watch, it’s a very eye-opening thing. That’s where I found a lot of my research, just walking around in neighborhoods…parts of downtown where I probably shouldn’t be,” he said in an interview (Via Rue Morgue)
Read More: When Will Ratched Return to Netflix?