The Staircase Documentary Review



Season 1

Episode Guide

Crime or Accident?
Secrets And Lies
A Striking Coincidence
A Prosecution Trickery
A Weak Case
The Prosection’s Revenge
The Blowpoke Returns
The Verdict
Reopen The Case
The Last Chance
In Search of a Resolution
Between Despair and Anger
Imperfect Justice



Originally released back in 2004 with a few more episodes released in 2013 and another 3 this year, The Staircase is a rare glimpse into the inner workings of a defence team during a high profile murder case. Accused of killing his wife who allegedly fell down the stairs and bled to death, author Michael Peterson goes under the microscope as every minute detail of his life is brought up and scrutinised in the court room and the media. With so much access to the defence team, The Staircase is inevitably biased in the way it portrays this man, leaving us with little doubt that flaws in the justice system and the police are to blame rather than painting a passive picture of the incident and letting us decide. Still, The Staircase is an engaging, gripping true crime series that’s sure to whet the appetite for those enthused by this genre.

The Staircase wastes little time getting right to the heart of the issue. After a brief introduction, Michael Peterson talks us through the events that transpired in December 2001 leading to his wife’s death. One fateful night, intoxicated Kathleen slips on the stairs and falls, bleeding to death while Michael is outside, unaware of her cries for help. After phoning the police, the authorities quickly charge Michael with murder, concluding he bludgeoned her to death using a fireplace poker that was later found missing from the house. What transpires from here is a rare glimpse at the inner workings of a defence team, a courtroom and the ensuing case from the point of view of the defence, led by David Rudolf. The first 8 episodes tackle the original case, including interviews with Michael’s daughters and Kathleen’s sisters, in a bid to paint a picture of the woman who lost her life and the impact this has had on everyone around them. The final 5 episodes follow on from this timd, reflecting on the original case and the events that transpired inside the courtroom and what the future may hold for the family. 

There’s no denying that The Staircase is an incredibly gripping series but at times the bias narrative does feel a little overpowering to the overall tone of the series. The prosecution are barely given any time on screen to showcase their findings before the defence object their points and argue against what’s been presented. This does makes it difficult to look at this case from a passive perspective but given the fact Michael Peterson had to agree to this documentary being filmed, perhaps this is hardly surprising. Despite this, The Staircase offers a rare glimpse at the inner workings of the courtroom with little elements like rehearsing the presentation and techniques for helping the jury feel empathy for the accused rarely showcased in a series like this.

Each of the episodes follow a similar pattern in presentation. Each scene is broken up with a black screen accompanied by a burst of violin strings and a date and time to inform of events to come. From here, the episodes mix courtroom drama with media bias and interviews as well as preparation work for each day of the trial. The formula works well for the most part with the newer commissioned episodes following this same formula. This ultimately makes The Staircase feels like one continuous documentary rather than a stitched together narrative across various years. 

If you enjoyed documentaries like Making A Murderer, there’s no doubt you’ll love The Staircase too. Much like that documentary, The Staircase plays on a bias narrative to paint a picture of an innocent man vilified because of his sexual preferences and failings of the police. It’s difficult to know for sure what really happened that fateful night, especially with the lack of screen time given to the prosecution, and because of this it’s difficult not to empathise with Michael. Whether he did or didn’t kill his wife is anyone’s guess but The Staircase is a gripping, absorbing true crime series nonetheless, continuing Netflix’s impressive run with another very good documentary series well worth checking out.

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  • Verdict - 8/10