The Staircase – Season 1 Episode 5 “Beating Heart” Recap & Review

Beating Heart

Mike’s anxious wait for an appeal in the jail is testing as we begin episode 5 of The Staircase. He does not have any friends. Jail mates look down upon him as his fame gets him certain desired privileges. He even gets beaten up because he is bumped up in the list of those getting single cells. During his stay, he is in direct communication with Sophie through postcards and letters. Outside, Sophie and the team are working religiously on the documentary and on helping the Defense with the appeal.

With Mike in prison, the family has sort of gone their own ways. The kids each have different priorities in terms of jobs and personal lives. Denis, Sophie, and Jean have now started to finalize episode cuts for the documentary.

We see a scene with an intense discussion as to including/excluding certain scenes from the sets. The positioning that is apparent from the arguments is that Sophie and Denis are at extreme ends. One is for him, the other, against him. Jean is the mediator and neutral between the two to pacify the situation and help reach an agreement.

Inside the prison, Mike has to resort to making deals with inmates for protection by trading postage stamps. His time is only slightly made easier by Sophie’s company, whose accomplished penmanship provides him comfort. For his family, it is worse. Not getting the backpays from Nortel has seen them selling things like furniture and antiquities to pay the legal fees and keep the trial going. And eventually, the house. Sophie decides to stop writing Mike for a while until the documentary is released.

Clayton is moving up the order in terms of hierarchy for Mike when he considers something important among the children. Todd, after a wild night of drinking and partying, forgets to put money into Mike’s account. Hence, he almost loses the protection of the gang as he isn’t able to pay for stamps. But Clay comes to the rescue and saves the day. He also lets out the news that Becky, his partner, is pregnant. The elation does not last as the decision on the appeal is soon announced.

The Defense’s plea for a new trial is rejected. The only avenue now left is the NC Supreme Court. At least another year in jail – more, if the appeal doesn’t go his way – is tough to take. It remains to be seen how Mike handles the bad news in prison.

“The Staircase”, the documentary, premieres in France to great acclaim and enthusiasm. Sophie, called the “beating heart” of the project by Jean, is relieved. She decides to write to Margaret and sends her a copy of the finished documentary. To everyone’s surprise, Sophie visits Mike in jail, and Larry, Peterson’s next-door neighbor, goes through the autopsy photos.

The Episode Review

This new episode presents keen insights into the creative process behind the original documentary. Vincent’s presence amongst the cast is a welcome boost to the authenticity of the process’ representation.

Now that the HBO show does not have the thrill of the trial, it turns its focus to the aftermath of it. We do not see much of this in the documentary – how the children went on with their lives. They too were part of the attention when the trial was live but the audience always wondered how they fared. It is safe to say not too well but at least they are still together in this long-drawn-out fight.

Juliet Binoche plays a more central role in this episode and it is safe to assume, that it will continue for at least another two episodes. Although the creators have not totally dismissed Kathleen’s importance in the narrative at this point – she still comes and goes in flashbacks, like a person’s memory – her role is somewhat secondary.

The shift in direction in the narrative now points to the circumstances that each of the family’s members went through during the legal process. We did not see the mention of Sophie in the original documentary as maybe she wasn’t part of Mike’s life then. But now, things stand changed.

Binoche is a pleasant face to see. Her grounded performance is graceful and filled with an unsaid heaviness and depth. Her expressive eyes do most of the best work. Her chemistry with Firth in the upcoming episodes will be worthy of watching. ‘The Staircase’, for now, has taken a pause from the riveting drama of the murder. Instead, it now tries to emphasize the changing dynamics of how we view characters in public light as the guiding hand goes through a change.

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You can read our full season review of The Staircase here!

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