Psychological drama
Directed byErrol Morris
ComposerPaul Leonard-Morgan
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of episodes6
Executive producers
Running time40-48 minutes
Production companiesFourth Floor Productions
Moxie Pictures
Original release
Release15 December 2017 (2017-12-15)

Wormwood (stylized as 'WORMWO0D') is a 2017 American six-part docudrama miniseries directed by Errol Morris[1] and released on Netflix on December 15, 2017.[2] The series is based on the life of a scientist, Frank Olson, who worked for a secret government biological warfare program (the USBWL) at Fort Detrick, Maryland. It focuses on the events leading up to and following his controversial death, which the US government originally claimed was a tragic accident, but later admitted was likely a suicide, caused by a mental breakdown brought on after being unknowingly dosed with LSD, while at a meeting with colleagues from the CIA who were involved in Project MKUltra. It also follows Frank Olson's son in the present day, and discusses his belief that his father may have been murdered due to being perceived as a potential security risk. Interspersed between interviews and archival footage, are live action reenactments of the final days of Frank Olson's life and the various theories involving his death.


Wormwood is told through Eric Olson, the son of Frank Olson, an American biological warfare scientist and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee, who died under mysterious circumstances in 1953.

Nine days after Olson was covertly dosed with LSD by his CIA supervisor as part of Project MKUltra, he plunged to his death from the window of a hotel room in New York City. His death was initially regarded as a suicide, but subsequent investigations have raised questions of a coverup of an alleged murder.[3][4]

The title Wormwood is a double literary allusion: first to the Bible verse about a star that infects one-third of Earth's waters and makes them bitter and poisonous, a reference to biological weapons (in particular, allegations of biological warfare in the Korean War), and the 'bitter' effect on Eric Olson of his 60-year search for a resolution regarding the death of his father;[5] secondly, to a line in Hamlet (whose story arc the documentary suggests parallels Eric's own life), when Hamlet whispers, "Wormwood, Wormwood", at the moment its play-within-a-play implies evidentially that his father was, in fact, assassinated.[6] The documentary ends with Eric Olson describing the quest for the truth about his father's death as "Wormwood", having consumed his whole life and with no possibility that any definitive answer, positive or negative, would have released him from the bitterness of the loss anyway. Errol Morris said that "What Wormwood tries to do is tell a story about how we know what we know and how reliable is that knowledge."[7]

A key piece of evidence the film relies on is a CIA assassination manual from 1953, which instructs agents, "The most efficient accident, in simple assassination, is a fall of 75 feet or more onto a hard surface."[8]





In order to be eligible for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 90th Academy Awards, the series was recut into a continuous feature after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) ruled that multi-part documentary series (such as 2017 winner O.J.: Made in America) were ineligible.[11] However, the series was rejected from consideration by AMPAS for the documentary feature category, although it remains eligible in all other categories.[11]


No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal release date
1"Chapter 1: Suicide Revealed"Errol MorrisKieran Fitzgerald and Steven Hathaway & Molly RokoszDecember 15, 2017 (2017-12-15)
In 1953, Army scientist Frank Olson takes a fatal plunge from a hotel window. In 1975, a bombshell report ties his death to a top-secret experiment.
2"Chapter 2: A Terrible Mistake"Errol MorrisSteven Hathaway & Molly Rokosz and Kieran FitzgeraldDecember 15, 2017 (2017-12-15)
Amid a wave of media attention, the government races to placate the family. In New York, Frank visits a doctor known for his unconventional methods.
3"Chapter 3: The Forbidden Threshold"Errol MorrisStory by : Kieran Fitzgerald and Steven Hathaway & Molly Rokosz
Teleplay by : Steven Hathaway & Molly Rokosz
December 15, 2017 (2017-12-15)
One trip to New York morphs into two when Frank suffers a setback on the way home. Decades later, an apprehensive Eric checks into room 1018A.
4"Chapter 4: Opening the Lid"Errol MorrisStory by : Kieran Fitzgerald and Steven Hathaway & Molly Rokosz
Teleplay by : Steven Hathaway & Molly Rokosz
December 15, 2017 (2017-12-15)
A hotel worker overhears a curious phone call the night of Frank's death. In 1994, a forensics expert exhumes the body to find compelling new clues.
5"Chapter 5: Honorable Men"Errol MorrisStory by : Kieran Fitzgerald
Teleplay by : Steven Hathaway & Molly Rokosz and Kieran Fitzgerald
December 15, 2017 (2017-12-15)
Frank's growing concerns about Cold War activities raise alarm bells at the CIA. A frustrated Eric launches a last-ditch bid for closure.
6"Chapter 6: Remember Me"Errol MorrisStory by : Kieran Fitzgerald
Teleplay by : Steven Hathaway & Molly Rokosz and Kieran Fitzgerald
December 15, 2017 (2017-12-15)
Thanks to Seymour Hersh, Eric finally learns the truth—but at a maddening cost. In room 1018A, Frank faces off with two mysterious men.


The series was first screened at the 74th Venice International Film Festival and Telluride Film Festival in September 2017.[12]


The New York Times awarded it a NYT Critic's Pick with reviewer A. O. Scott saying "Mr. Morris presents a powerful historical argument in the guise of a beguiling work of cinematic art — and vice versa."[5] Matt Zoller Seitz, writing for Vulture.com, "The filmmaking gathers all the bits and pieces of the story together and arranges them in ways that are clever, surprising, and so aggressively (and deliberately) self-conscious that there are times when the whole thing gets close to turning into an intellectualized formal exercise...there’s never a moment where Olson or Morris fail to fascinate."[13] Vanity Fair called it "one of the most original things you’ll see all year."[14]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the series holds an approval rating of 90% based on 39 reviews, and an average rating of 7.8/10.[15]


  1. ^ Kilday, Gregg (2017-08-28). "First-Look Trailer: Errol Morris Explores CIA's Secret LSD Experiments in Netflix Doc". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2017-11-20.
  2. ^ Netflix (2017-08-28), Wormwood | Teaser [HD] | Netflix, retrieved 2017-08-28
  3. ^ Torchin, Leshu. "Netflix CIA conspiracy documentary Wormwood: how to find truth while tearing up the rules". The Conversation. Retrieved 2017-12-17.
  4. ^ Ignatieff, Michael (April 1, 2001). "What did the C.I.A. do to Eric Olson's father?". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 17 January 2013.
  5. ^ a b Scott, A. O. (2017-12-14). "Review: 'Wormwood' Confirms That Errol Morris Is Our Great Cinematic Sleuth". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-12-17.
  6. ^ England, Valentine. "What does Hamlet mean when he says "Wormwood, wormwood" in Act III, scene ii?". eNotes. Archived from the original on Dec 3, 2020. Retrieved 2021-03-03.
  7. ^ "'Wormwood': Errol Morris on Truth, Justice and C.I.A Murder Cover-Ups". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2017-12-17.
  8. ^ "Errol Morris's "Wormwood" Descends Into Time-Killing Conspiracy Fanfic". Retrieved 2017-12-17.
  9. ^ a b c McCarthy, Todd (2017-09-06). "'Wormwood': Telluride Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2017-11-20.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h N'Duka, Amanada (2017-08-28). "'Wormwood' Trailer: Peter Sarsgaard (aka Michael Ryan) Stars In Netflix Series From Errol Morris". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 2017-11-20.
  11. ^ a b Tapley, Kristopher (2017-10-18). "Oscars: Netflix and Errol Morris Defy Convention With Hybrid Doc 'Wormwood'". Variety. Retrieved 2017-11-20.
  12. ^ Brooks, Xan (2017-09-02). "Wormwood review – Errol Morris's splendidly spooky doc about death, LSD and the CIA". The Guardian. Retrieved 2017-11-20.
  13. ^ Seitz, Matt Zoller (2017-12-14). "Wormwood Is an Amazing Story About a CIA Murder Mystery". Vulture.com. Retrieved 2017-12-15.
  14. ^ Hoffman, Jordan (2017-12-13). "Wormwood Review: Errol Morris Returns to the World of The Thin Blue Line". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2017-12-15.
  15. ^ Wormwood: Miniseries - Rotten Tomatoes, retrieved 2018-08-02