The Staircase episode 5 recap: Series turns into prison drama as Mike appeals his conviction

The first time we see Mike Peterson after his sentencing, he has two black eyes and responds to his jail number, as well as the ruthless prison court nickname he once took – “Staircase”.

In episode five, this series changes form again to the demands of Mike’s story. It has been a true detective thriller and court proceeding. Now it’s a prison drama.

A correspondent from Paree

Mike (Colin Firth) is not popular in prison. Due to his fame, he skips the queue of inmates who have been waiting for years for a private cell, which is how he got into this fight. Freshly released from solitary confinement, he is approached by an inmate who offers him an offer of protection in exchange for a weekly payment in postage stamps. It is obvious.

The deal protects him, but unfortunately for company, he only has Sophie (Juliette Binoche). The unfortunately married editor of Jean’s documentary started sending her novels about Proust and Lewis Carroll. They’re accompanied by embarrassingly banal little notes of observations, including, I’m not kidding, how walking around the Louvre with a friend made her appreciate the relative compactness of a prison cell. Francophile Mike is putty in his hands.

A happy family

We finally got a fairly comprehensive update on the whereabouts of Peterson’s children now, three years after Kathleen’s death. Todd (Patrick Schwarzenegger), Clayton (Dane DeHaan) and Margie (Sophie Turner) organize the house for a clearance sale of, well, every last item they own. Mike needs money to fund his lawsuit, which means even Kathleen’s vast collection of huge Christmas nutcrackers has to be put up for auction.

They don’t have much trouble moving the Peterson family goods, but the house itself is harder to unload, even after a hasty renovation of the staircase where Kathleen (Toni Collette) died. That’s a quarter of a million dollars less than Mike was hoping for. Their neighbor, Larry, is the new owner of a huge reindeer tchotchke that Kathleen loved, I’m sure.

Still, Mike fears he’ll be broke when he gets out of prison, which is an almost optimistic notion for a man serving a life sentence. If it seems like Mike is adjusting too well to prison, it’s because he views it as a short-term condition. David (Michael Stuhlbarg) will release it in a few months, and everyone seems to be on board.

At least they agree out loud. The children have grown distant from each other since the end of the trial. Todd now lives in Cabo, drinking himself to bits while theoretically trying to get a dodgy timeshare business off the ground. Margie works for a film company in Los Angeles; Martha does customer service work, which her siblings all agree she is singularly ill-suited to perform. Curiously, it is Clayton – the black sheep of the family banished for most of the trial – who takes care of Mike the best. He visits with good news, telling his father that he and Becky are having a baby. When Todd fails to replenish Mike’s commissioner’s account with desperately needed stamp money, it’s Clayton who steps in with the deposit.

Curiously, the series continues to dive into flashbacks, an indicator that the show’s assessment of Mike’s guilt did not end with the trial. Even more interesting is how the flashbacks we get in this episode are designed to erode the idea of ​​Mike and Kathleen as a happily agreed couple on most matters of family life. We see a scene in which Mike brutally tears Margie up for getting bad grades in college, then punishes her by refusing to buy her a plane ticket for Thanksgiving, Kathleen’s favorite holiday. In another scene, Mike orders a second bottle of Sancerre that he sure can’t afford on his own amid Kathleen’s waxing about how she’d like to quit her job for a less stressful, rewarding alternative.

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Winning hearts and minds

David begins to work on Mike’s appeal from the moment the guilty verdict is announced, and his legal case appears solid. The seizure of Mike’s personal computer – the one that was key to the prosecution’s theory that Mike killed Kathleen to keep his bisexuality a secret – was not covered by the search warrant. Without the computer, there is no porn; without porn, there is no motive.

Privately, however, Mike is banking on Jean’s documentary to be exculpatory. It helps that Sophie is the one who obsessively fixes the project in its final form. But series producer Denis is determined to produce a documentary that matches the jury’s conviction. In every heated debate, the trial happens again and again. What happened in court doesn’t ring with the finality of the truth, at least for Sophie. She wants the public to understand Michael, not condemn him. Denis finally puts words to a question that hovers over the rest of the series: what is the point of “understanding” a liar?

It is Jean who ultimately saves Sophie’s vision, even after she confesses that her impartiality has been compromised by the promise of an epistolary romance. It’s like the documentary series transforms alongside the series we’re watching now. What started as a study of how America’s justice system works has grown into something more intimate — an in-depth look at how such a powerful system can cripple entire families. When they finally have their first screening, the audience erupts in applause. Sophie thinks it will be a success.

Juliette Binoche in “The Staircase”

(HBO)

Not quite the end of the road

Unfortunately for Team Mike, the documentary airs hours after the appeals court refused to release the writer. The court finds that the seizure of his computer was unlawful, but not that the prosecution’s arguments based on the seizure controlled the jury’s decision. That is, the court refuses to acknowledge that Mike’s sexuality was at least partially on trial.

Now Mike will have to wait for the state Supreme Court to intervene. But the higher you go through the courts, the slower the gears of justice turn. Mike is sure to be in jail for at least a year or two. The kids calm down with platitudes: “buckle up”, “fill up”, there are still “shots on the board”. The truth is that they all lack hope, as well as things to say to each other.

This is surely the darkest time in Mike’s life and yet, thanks to The Staircase’s time jumps, we know it’s also the beginning of the life he will eventually be freed from. His children all left the state; her brother is also back home. There is no one left to visit Mike and yet the prison guard calls his name on the day of the visitation anyway. He walks down a long hallway to find Sophie’s unfamiliar face.