• Tue. Jun 28th, 2022

“I can’t stop thinking about this one chilling fact after watching The Staircase finale”

Jun 10, 2022

Sky’s The Staircase finale will not only leave you in disbelief but it also hammers home the importance of family, according to one Stylist writer. 

Warning: this article contains spoilers for the final episode of Sky’s The Staircase.

If you’ve been tuning in for the past six weeks, you’ll know that the final episode of The Staircase is one that we’ve all been gearing up for.

Thanks to the clever use of parallel timelines and flashbacks throughout the series, we always knew that this finale would cover Michael Peterson’s 2017 Alford plea, his 2011 retrial hearing and the hours before Kathleen’s death. What we didn’t expect, though, was such a chilling look at how the sad state of affairs – and Michael’s habit of lying – impacted every person in the Peterson family.

While the Netflix documentary that this drama is based upon focused on Michael’s side of the story, this drama has dug deep into how the case tore apart a seemingly happy family. We say seemingly because, actually, from episode one, it was clear to see that the picture-perfect Peterson clan were anything but.

The final episode – entitled America’s Sweetheart Or: Time Over Time – opens with Michael (Colin Firth) recording a revelatory interview with documentary maker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade (played by Vincent Vermignon). While we only come to learn what was said in the final moments of this episode (or simply, scroll down), a sense of deception is woven throughout the final hour of this series. 

Toni Collette as Kathleen Peterson in Sky’s The Staircase.

We’re already aware that Michael has been known to lie and treat the people around him in a way that would make many of us squirm. You’d hope that being released on bail after eight years in prison would mean that he’d make a little more time for those closest to him. Instead, it’s painfully obvious that Michael remains as self-centered and unaware as he was when he was initially sentenced.

His son Todd (Patrick Schwarzenegger) has always striven to be the apple of Michael’s eye and throughout the eight episodes, we see him embark on a rampage that includes partying, girls and alcohol to offset how belittled Michael makes him feel. Upon being released from Durham County Jail in 2011, Michael requests his other son Clayton (Dane DeHaan) to book a restaurant for them all to celebrate in.

It should be a joyous family affair full of celebration but instead, it seems that Michael is visibly uncomfortable at having to be around his family for this extended amount of time. He makes quips about dessert choices to Margaret (Sophie Turner), completely ignores Martha’s (Odessa Young) efforts at creating an open space to talk about her dad’s bisexuality – and her own queer identity – and snaps so consistently at Todd that he drives his hopes of sobriety out the window. It’s a painful scene to watch unfold, especially since the drama has driven home how involved all of the children were in the events after Kathleen’s (Toni Collette) tragic death.

The Peterson family in Sky’s The Staircase.

It becomes blindingly obvious just why, when the episode flashes forward to Michael’s2017 Alford plea trial – in which a guilty plea is entered because there is sufficient evidence to convict but the defendant asserts their innocence – you start to understand why none of his children are there. Throughout the entirety of the series, you watch on and flit between confusion, suspicion and empathy for Michael but it’s when it comes to these final scenes with his family that any remaining positive emotion runs dry.

Sophie (Juliette Binoche), who has dedicated most of her life to Michael at this point in 2017, is overjoyed with the Alford plea – it means they can finally move back to her home of Paris and embark on a new life together. But sat on the sofa, rewatching interviews of himself, refusing to pack and drinking wine instead, Michael reveals that he can’t face moving countries.

The interview that is on in the background is one that Michael did just a few days before his trial and he spends most of it talking about Kathleen and how “he thinks about her every day […] thinking she’ll walk through that door at any moment”. He’s led everyone to believe he’s leading a “solitary” life and keeps Sophie in the shadows – it’s out of privacy, he argues with her when she questions him about it. “You and Kathleen – always trying to control everything,” he says.

When Sophie asks him what she gave up her life for, he simply shouts: “I had a whole life before that documentary that you know nothing about.”     

Colin Firth and Juliette Binoche as Michael Peterson and Sophie Brunet in Sky’s The Staircase.

It’s at the climax of this argument that we see Michael’s true sinister colours come to light. He yells: “I don’t want to fucking live with women any more, OK? Is that so hard for you to understand? I’m done.”

He goes on to tell Sophie he “doesn’t know” if he ever loved her, that’s it’s “OK”, and it’s then that we flashback to the interview he did with Jean. He reveals that he lied in court, that Kathleen actually didn’t know of his bisexuality, and how the way his father condemned his sexuality created a habit of lying – something he knew he was good at.

It’s a revelation, to say the least. The prosecution laid out in the first episodes that Kathleen didn’t know about Michael’s sexuality and could have discovered gay porn on his computer, which could have led to a violent – and perhaps, deadly – argument.  

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But as you’re reeling from the shock of Michael’s change in behaviour, we get a glimpse of the lives of each of his children in the episode’s ending sequence. They’re all on different paths: with families, in new careers, trying to do their best to get away from their pasts and, particularly, their father.

You’ll finish the episode being no clearer as to what happened on that fateful night and Michael’s chilling expression at the end is the stuff of nightmares. Ultimately, though, you’re happy that the sisters have remained closely bonded and that the sons have found their own happiness – but it’s all in spite of having a narcissist as the head of their household.

The final episode of The Staircase airs tonight on Sky Atlantic at 9pm, with all episodes available to stream on Now. 

Images: HBO Max

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