Netflix has released the first trailer for Wormwood, its upcoming documentary-scripted hybrid series. The six-part show, due out Dec. 15, chronicles the CIA’s deadly LSD experiments that ran from 1953 to 1964. The program, known as MK-ULTRA, involved testing the effects of the drug on hundreds of unsuspecting American civilians and military personnel. Sex workers lured in unwitting johns for undisclosed testing, narcotics agents slipped drugs into drinks, and a U.S. marshal held up a San Francisco bar not knowing he was high on acid.
Wormwood is anchored by the true story of Frank Rudolph Olson, a CIA employee who plunged to his death from a New York hotel room in 1953 after being given LSD without his knowledge. His sons, Eric and Nils Olson, filed a suit against the government in 2012, though his death has been described as both a suicide and a murder. The project is said to follow the “twisting, evolving story of one man’s sixty-year quest to identify the circumstances of his father’s mysterious death,” according to a press release.
The trailer doesn’t offer much more context, but it does present an intriguing format. The series will feature interviews with the real-life people involved (namely Eric Olson) as well as unconventional re-creations, and seems to blend the boundaries between mind-bending, fantastical storytelling and more straightforward documentary sit-downs. The cast stars Peter Sarsgaard as Frank, as well as Molly Parker, Christian Camargo, Scott Shepherd, Tim Blake Nelson, Jimmi Simpson, Bob Balaban, and Michael Chernus.
Wormwood comes from acclaimed documentarian Errol Morris, whose 2003 effort, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. According to THR, he said in a statement:
“Isn’t journalism the pursuit of truth? But what if the truth proves to be elusive, hard to get at? How far does one go? Where does one stop? Are there limits, emotional and otherwise, to the pursuit of truth? Can it be injurious to one’s health? Here we have the story of one man’s 60-year quest to identify the circumstances of his father’s death. Did he jump from a hotel window? Or was he pushed? And if he was pushed, why? What for? A shadowy world of hidden and imagined intentions coupled with dark and horrifying revelations. In many ways, a personal family story, but in many other ways, a story of America’s decline in the period following World War II. It asks the question: To what extent can a democracy lie to its citizens and still, in the end, remain a democracy?”
It’s a fascinating premise, and Netflix has certainly proved itself a hub for compelling docuseries and features: Making A Murderer, 13th, The Keepers. But Wormwood marks new territory for both the streaming giant and Morris, so it’s unclear what to make of it just yet.
Wormwood premieres December 15 on Netflix.
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