Netflix’s ‘Wormwood’ Will Zero In on CIA Conspiracies

A reminder that we don’t really know what the is CIA actually up to
A reminder that we don’t really know what the is CIA actually up to

Welcome to True Crime Tuesday where we review, recommend and generally obsess over everything crime-related.

When it comes to conspiracy theories there are three types of people: those who absolutely do not believe a word of them, those who are convinced pretty much everything is a conspiracy and those who enjoy entertaining the ideas, but never really get invested. Whichever type you happen to be, Netflix’s new six-part docu-series Wormwood should still be an interesting look at the government mind control experiment during the Cold War era known as MK-Ultra.

Wormwood is directed by legendary documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, who also directed the critically acclaimed documentary The Thin Blue Line about a man convicted of murder who claims he was framed. Morris worked as a private investigator for some time so his abilities to dig up facts and also tell a story in an engaging way made him well-suited for documentary film making. Morris even had plans to make a film about serial killer Ed Gein (the real-life inspiration for Psycho’s Norman Bates), but eventually abandoned the project.

Wormwood, which will be released on December 15th, focuses on the death of CIA employee Dr. Frank Olson, played by Peter Sarsgaard. He was a bacteriologist and biological warfare scientist who was involved in a program called MK-Ultra which was primarily exploring the possible espionage and military uses of psychotropic drugs. While on a retreat with colleagues, Olson was secretly dosed with LSD. A week later, he quit the biowarfare program and started to suffer severe paranoia and a nervous breakdown. A doctor with the CIA recommended that Olson be placed into a mental institution to recover. Nine days after he was dosed with LSD, he purposely threw himself out a thirteenth-floor hotel room window and died.

Frank Olson’s family didn’t find out the details surrounding his death until 1975 when an investigation into MK-Ultra uncovered the many illegal experiments CIA agents had done on human subjects. Olson’s family received a settlement and an apology from the CIA and the President at the time, Gerald Ford. Although Olson’s official cause of death is suicide, there are people—including his son Eric—that think he was actually murdered by the CIA.

Through a combination of interviews and re-enactments, Errol Morris will tell the story of Frank Olson’s death, presenting evidence that backs up the theory that the CIA killed him because he knew too much about the illegal activities of MK-Ultra. According to the trailer, it looks like the state of the US government in the 50s will also be in question.

Drugs. Murder. Government conspiracies. Sounds like the perfect subject for Netflix’s next binge-worthy documentary. With the established popularity of docu-series’ like Making a Murderer and The Keepers and plenty more popular options in the true crime genre (The Confession Tapes is a must-watch), Netflix is sure to have another hit on their hands. The entire series will be available this Friday. In the meantime, check out the trailer below:

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared on AmongMen.com, 29secrets.com, therichest.com, and ELLECanada.com.  When she isn’t writing about relationships, and the best TV shows and books you should really already know about, she is working on her novel. She hopes to have it published by 2025. You can follow her on Twitter @Courtooo.

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