Let's Break Down The Staircase's Deeply Frustrating 13 Episodes
The Staircase, one of Netflix's most anticipated new Summer shows, has finally arrived on the streaming platform, and with it comes a whole lot of mystery. The docuseries hails from Academy Award-winning filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade and follows the trial and conviction of crime novelist Michael Peterson after he's accused of murdering his wife, Kathleen Peterson, by beating her and throwing her down the stairs of their Durham, NC, home in 2001. Although there are plenty of interesting themes at play in The Staircase — sexuality, class issues, the unbreakable bonds of family — much of the series revolves around one key question: did Michael Peterson kill his wife or not?
Unfortunately, as mentioned repeatedly by lawyers and law enforcement officers throughout all 13 episodes, the only people who know the real answer to that question are Michael and Kathleen. By the time the credits roll in the final episode, "Imperfect Justice," you might be left feeling a little confused about the whole thing, and for good reason.
There is zero concrete evidence to prove that Michael murdered his wife, but the documentary itself is also fairly biased toward the accused; de Lestrade's footage intimately captures the perspective of Michael and his legal team as opposed to the state's, and one of The Staircase's editors, Sophie Brunet, actually went on to strike up a romantic relationship with Michael while putting together the documentary (de Lestrade maintains the relationship did not affect her job). Just like in Netflix's other recent true-crime hit, Evil Genius, there are no easy answers.
The series actually first premiered in 2004, when it was released in the US as an eight-episode miniseries on the Sundance channel. The eighth episode concludes with Michael's 2003 conviction. The jury found him guilty of murdering Kathleen, who was found at the bottom of her home's stairs with seven deep lacerations in the back of her skull, as well as other deep cuts and bruises. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole. But, as you discover in later episodes, more evidence eventually comes to light that completely changes the case.
Since this is likely the final chapter of The Staircase, read on to get a full breakdown of the case that's captivated true-crime fanatics for nearly two decades.