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Episode 4: Common Sense
HBO Max  ·  50 minutes  ·  Original Broadcast: May 12, 2022

Directed by: Antonio Campos  |  Written by: Emily Kaczmarek & Craig Shilowich

Official synopsis: After an unexpected homecoming, a critical discovery rocks the Peterson household. Michael’s fate hangs in the balance as the trial ends.

Episode Recap
Please note that recaps feature spoilers on the individual episode.
This recap was written by Arnav Srivastava for The Review Geek, May 30, 2022

As indicated in the previous episode, the trial begins. But the creators choose to only show glimpses of it, most prominently the cross-questioning of the Prosecution’s witness Dr. Raddish (the person who prepped the autopsy report) in those first moments.

Episode 4 of The Staircase also allows us to see some more familiar faces in the trial as well. There is also an interview of Michael’s new partner in 2017 when the case saw more action and Michael was released from jail upon entering Alford’s plea (basically, that you are not guilty but confessing guilt based on the evidence against you). The next big event is then lined up: the exhuming of Liz Ratliff. Both are central focuses of the media and press. Dr. Radisch conducts Liz’s autopsy but the outcome is not good for Michael. She concludes that even Liz was killed using a blunt object and, that she did not die of a brain aneurysm. Martha and Margaret’s nanny from Germany, Agnes, is called as a witness to testify.

Another set of flashbacks reveal Clayton’s troubled state of mind. There is also a brief recollection of a fight he had with Kathleen about his behavior and her supposed high moral ground. Her testimony suggests Michael was abusive towards Martha in her childhood due to his strict disciplinarian tendency. She rushes out of the court, disgusted by the thought, but the situation is momentarily diffused. Bits from Sophie’s – Michael’s current partner – interview in the present continue in the backdrop of the flashbacks of the trial. The conversations revolve around the meaning of justice, objectivity, and the recent developments in the case. The house is prepared for a visit by the jury members to inspect.

Clayton also drops back unannounced but his return marks a key event in the case. While restoring an unused car in the garage, he finds the “murder weapon” – the blow poke. Once they have it, the Defense feels the tides have turned towards Michael. But they’re unsure of putting Clayton on the stand as a witness as the Prosecution will have a lot of opportunities to malign his character and testimony using his chequered past. Expert testimonies from the original trial are also shown, like those of Dr. Lee. The general measure of tension has gone up in the Peterson household after the discovery of the blow poke. Though the issue is not legal, the kids have personal conflicts. Michael decides he is going to go on the stand, despite Rudolf’s pleadings but we do not see the same.

The closing arguments bring the trial to a close, and to our surprise, we even have the verdict in the same episode. The Jury finds Michael guilty of murdering Kathleen and he is sentenced to life imprisonment. Like a couple of episodes ago, another reimagined sequence from that night is created – this time, the one where Michael kills Kathleen when she finds out and confronts him about the photos and the emails, as the Prosecution says.

The episode ends with Sophie cutting the documentary in its final shape. It is also revealed that she knows both the documentarians and seems connected to them. They watch the final cut of the original documentary in their home in France.

Guest Cast: Joel McKinnon Miller (Larry Pollard), Trini Alvarado (Patty Peterson), Susan Pourfar (Dr. Deborah Radisch), Cullen Moss (Jim Hardin), Frank Feys (Denis Poncet), Teri Wyble (Sonya Pfeiffer), Jason Davis (Fred Atwater), Jean V. Alexander (Marylou Pollard), Myke Holmes (Duane Deaver), Kevin Sizemore (Mark Zamperini), Ryan Lewis (Bruce Campbell), Erika Coleman (Medical Assistant), Wilky Lau (Henry Lee), Eric Lee (Judge Orlando Hudson), Paul Teal (Brad Wolgamott), Mark Helms (Bailiff #1), Faith Dillon (Officer Hayworth), Kandé Amadou (Assistant Editor #1), Jean-Luc McMurtry (Gaultier), Monika Gossmann (Agnes Schafer), Martin Harris (German Reporter), Andre Martin (Yves), Stephen Starkweather (Howard Clement), Adrian Tristan (Debate Monitor), Frank Brennan (WW2 Vet), Laura Palka (Court TV Reporter), Lisa Jolley (Court Clerk)