Don’t start “The Staircase” late at night. You’ll never get to bed.
Like a “Dateline” episode with unprecedented access, it keeps dropping new information with each 45-minute episode.
Considering there are 13 of them, that means you could burn up the better part of a day just trying to figure out what happened in the death of Kathleen Peterson.
Lying in a pool of blood at the bottom of her staircase in Durham, North Carolina, she prompted a frantic 911 call on Dec. 9, 2001. Her husband, Michael, a novelist and columnist, was distraught and tried to save her.
But was she the victim of a fall? An intruder? Or her husband?
Originally slated for airing in France in 2004, the documentary offers plenty of evidence for a number of theories. Director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade takes viewers into closed-door attorney meetings, into family gatherings and behind the scenes of a trial.
Clearly, de Lestrade moved quickly, getting buy-in from people who, normally, wouldn’t say yes to half of this. As a result, he has more evidence than a defense attorney and interviews that could provide fodder for any number of projects.
Michael Peterson also opens up, leading a tour around the house and volunteering enough detail to make you wonder just how guilty he could be.
The eight-part first series was augmented in 2013 with two more episodes. Now, thanks to Netflix, three more have been appended.
Like a good novel, “The Staircase” never seems to bore. It does, however, give viewers pause when it comes to the justice system. Do you need to have money to be declared innocent? Or is there justice for all?
De Lestrade finds information – about Peterson’s past, about his relationships – that proves powerful when piecing together the plot.
Was the death of a friend (who also died at the foot of a staircase) somehow related?
When you see Peterson’s children, you sense the haunting dread that has entered their lives. One daughter has a blank look that reveals plenty. A son becomes a strong on-air ally, saying things that would be accompanied by music had this been a fictional production.
Most interesting – at least for amateur sleuths – is the way attorneys talk about defenses, testimony and plea bargains. Those moments with the legal team make “The Staircase” worth the journey.
We understand how victory often depends on lawyers hammering home points that just make participants weary.
The conclusion? It’s not what you think it is but rather an indictment of a system that has more missteps than a basement staircase.
“The Staircase” is now airing on Netflix.