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Directed by: Antonio Campos | Written by: Antonio Campos
Official synopsis: In 2001, author and aspiring local politician Michael Peterson is charged with murder after the suspicious death of his wife Kathleen.
The first episode introduces the central conflict, just as in the documentary. It is a great place to start the journey into the Petersons’ life, although the ground it covers in such a short time might not allow you too much time to catch on. The name of the game is to be on your toes, soak in the shocking real-life details of the death/murder, and enjoy the ride. Happy reading!
A frantic 911 call blares out from one of Durham’s most famous households as episode 1 of The Staircase begins. “She’s not breathing”, it finishes with. In 2017, Michael Peterson woke up with the call playing in his head. On the fateful night (2002) in a flashback, we see Todd, Michael’s son drive into the house amidst blue and red sirens with his girlfriend. He quickly discovers the cause of the chaos: her stepmother’s lifeless body. Todd proceeds to comfort his inconsolable father, whose bloodied clothes depict the horror story. Kathleen Peterson’s body and the space around it are examined by the forensic team. Police take control of the “crime scene”, worrying Michael as he tries to hide it. Then comes the difficult task to break the news to the extended family. He calls his brother Bill, who promises to arrange a trial lawyer for Michael, and flies to their place in Durham. Creators use several flashbacks leading up to the murder to explain the chain of events. They do not necessarily have to form the foundation for solving the death but act as cues into the couple’s relationship and mental states.
While Kathleen heads the successful IT giant Nortel, Michael is a successful column writer. He has just sold rights to his book to a movie production. Kathleen has to deal with stress at work. Her job becomes harder as along with letting people go, she also has to worry about her position after the impending merger happens. Michael’s peculiar behavior is probed into by the police. Bits of bizarre incidents – like saying “get ready to get your arse pounded” on the phone to someone – are interspersed with the main storyline. In the flashback, the erratic changes in Kathleen’s personality are shown. She jumps into the pool without notice at a party and injures her neck and almost drowns. Although their relationship is not perfect, there seems to be mutual love.
Their big family, in the present, has to deal with the media and police attention they get. Michael has been a staunch critic of local law enforcement. His unlikeable tendency works against him here as the post-mortem and the DA’s proactiveness land him in trouble. The police recover some strange evidence from his house. Stuff like gay pornography from his computer; a used condom that he denies ever using; and the bewildering mystery of Kathleen’s supposed fall down the stairs. Kathleen’s family, Candice, and Lori (her sisters), are convinced by the DA’s evidence that Michael had something to do with her death. They are decidedly against him. But Kathleen and Michael’s children stand behind their father.