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Since the true crime genre experienced a revival with hit podcasts like ‘Serial’ and ‘S-Town’, as well as Netflix’s own series ‘Making a Murderer’, there have been several good offerings in this field. Among all these, The Staircase distinguishes itself as a pioneer. Some might even say that it launched the genre more than a decade ago.

On 9 December 2001, Michael and Kathleen Peterson enjoyed a glass of wine down by the pool at their house in Durham, as they’ve done so many nights before. Later that evening, Michael would discover Kathleen at the bottom of the staircase in critical condition. Peterson called 9-1-1 but Kathleen died moments thereafter.

The first part of the series, by French filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, shows the events leading up to and including the 2003 trial. Several other incriminating factors are revealed, as Michael’s close-knit seemingly loving family is put under the microscope. As the viewer embarks on this journey, told completely from Peterson’s perspective, the question of guilt is quite pertinent, and, in the end, it is up to the audience to decide if justice prevailed.

The second part of the series, known as ‘The Staircase 2: The Last Chance’, takes a closer look at the American juridical system as Michael’s case is once again put before a judge – this time as a result of negligence and a misuse of science. Shocking details are revealed that shows concealment of critical evidence and the adaptation of facts to suit a certain verdict in several cases in Durham county.

‘The Suitcase’ was recently acquired by Netflix, who added three new episodes about the court proceedings that occurred in 2016. Watching the entire series that spans nearly 15 years, through the perspective of Peterson, were drawn further and further away from the actual events that occurred that fateful night in 2001.

The third instalment shows several extreme close-ups of an ageing Peterson. It does its very best to humanise a man accused of brutally attacking his wife and thereafter being cheated by the American juridical system. Released in 2018, the final three episodes of ‘The Staircase’ places a lot of weight on Michael’s bisexuality, pleading with a more open-minded modern audience to see the man behind the crime.

In the end, it is still up to you to decide if Peterson is guilty or not. No matter how much of the case is seen from the accused’s perspective, some of the facts still do not ring true. The Staircase does not bring closure, but it does give the viewer a rare glimpse into the creation of a defence, the familial deterioration that it brings, and the prejudice that comes with an accusation – whether the accused is guilty, or not.

All thirteen binge-worthy episodes are now streaming on Netflix.  


Free State-girl, living in Stellenbosch. Love to explore small towns, read in Afrikaans and everything pop-culture. My favourite yoga move is 'The Pigeon' and one day I'd like to own my own vintage cinema.

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