Red in Tooth and Claw
It is 2017 and Mike and Sophia are together. After the last episode’s surprise when she visited Mike in jail, episode 6 of The Stairs begins with moments that show how they bonded and planned ahead to live together. Larry, who ended the last episode in suspense with a new discovery, reveals it to Sophie. His theory is that an owl killed Kathleen. Hold your horses before judging the man because jolly ol’ Larry has an explanation, albeit, a little crazy. So, here it goes.
The area saw confirmed owl attacks, a slurry of them during that time. In each case, the owl would attack the person from behind them, i.e., on the back of their heads. The barred owls are known to be aggressive and territorial when mating. It goes to Kathleen’s head when she’s outside, attacks her, and in a bid to fight it off, she struggles. It flies away, unharmed. But Kathleen is disoriented. She leaves a trail of blood as she walks back inside – drops on the floor and smudges on the door handles. She decides to get linen from the closet above but stumbles as she ascends the stairs.
Unfortunately, Mike loses his second appeal. Rudolf explains that they do not have any more legal avenues and that this is the end of the case. He informs Mike’s family and they gather to greet their father, together with Sophie. Despite the attempts to cheer him up and make the instant atmosphere positive, Mike stubbornly asks them to stop visiting them in an indirect way. The Petersons weren’t really a tight-knit group. The frictions that we see during the trial in the house were also quite evident even when Kathleen was alive.
One such incident is the last Thanksgiving Mike and Kathleen’s family shared with her. Surprisingly, it is only Claire who accompanies Mike and Kathleen to Candace’s house as none of Mike’s children come home for the holidays. Instead, they meet up in pairs: Clay and Todd, despite their immense hatred as we saw in the house.
Martha stays with her partner in SF, and Margaret surprisingly visits Blair and her husband. It is just a little peek into the dysfunctional family’s fractured relationships. But also into some of the sweet moments that made their time together memorable. The broken kids all had issues that kept them at a distance not just from each other, but also from themselves. Margaret’s visit turns out to be the one that spills the secrets of the past that begrudge her. At one time, Patty surrendered the sisters’ custody to Blair but Mike took them back. When Martha’s behavioral issues started, he wanted to send her to Blair and keep Margaret.
Sophie meanwhile is obsessed with Larry’s theory and believes it. She begins to play it out and research it along with Larry and Jean sends a crew to document it. The two keep finding little clues that were unseen and fit the theory. They dig deeper and look at the evidence again. And actually, their theory does find credible support in it. Sophie takes the evidence and new details to Dr. Radisch, who is surprisingly welcoming about it. She agrees to reexamine the body with these details in mind, except it is already buried. It would have to be exhumed. But first, a third reenactment. Sophie calls Caitlin with the theory. She instantly refuses and asks her to never call again.
The episode ends just the way it started – Mike’s Alford plea in 2017. With freedom beckoning him the face, Mike refuses, again, to accept that he killed Kathleen. “A lie cannot set you free”, he says.
The Episode Review
The truth of the matter is that the owl theory was dismissed by Jean back when they made the documentary. Just a small portion was dedicated to accommodating it. But HBO’s ‘The Staircase’ seems to have made a different, and frankly, a better choice for exploring its very credible, evidence-backed authenticity.
Larry, who was a complete spectator until now, springs into action, and how! The peculiar lawyer, played by the affable Joel Miller from ‘Brooklyn 99’, is a refreshing addition to the present ensemble. Juliet Binoche had substantially more screen time in this episode and her effect is clear.
She is a more neutral and nuanced anchor for the story to move ahead, which anyway cannot be pushed forward by Mike anymore. There has been a gradual shift in how the creators have chosen to tell the story. Their narrative tone and voice seem a bit scattered to me when I look at the bigger picture. But in this episode, it was spot on.
The mix between factual and fiction was perfect. We have more time to get intimate with all the characters we only saw briefly in the original documentary. It gives a more dramatic touch to the show that bodes well for it. More of this going ahead, please.
You can read our full season review of The Staircase here!