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'The Staircase' Review: HBO Max miniseries is intense and most importantly, masterful storytelling

The series comes after Netflix's compelling documentary of the same name, except that this one, in a serialized style is a lot more hard-hitting
'The Staircase' (YouTube/HBOMax)
'The Staircase' (YouTube/HBOMax)

Among the slew of new releases is a piece of content that's seen some real-to-reel translations already. HBO Max's 'The Staircase', is a masterful and addictive take on the convoluted and complex case of Michael Peterson, who was charged with murdering his wife, Kathleen in their North Carolina home. The series comes after Netflix's compelling documentary of the same name, except that this one, in a serialized style is a lot hard-hitting, thoroughly intense, and delivers a masterclass in storytelling.

Created and directed by Antonio Campos, the eight-episode series (three of which dropped on May 5) follows Michael (Colin Firth) accused of murder after he frantically calls 911 saying his wife Kathleen (Toni Collette) is non-responsive after falling down the stairs. The house is declared a scene of crime when emergency services, followed by the police see a dead woman with blood splattered all over the walls due to massive head trauma. The woman is stone-cold dead and what follows is a drama that weaves in personal rift and the investigation seamlessly.


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The first few minutes of the episode see Michael raise a toast to his extended family (He was married once already) and be grateful for the people he has in his life, only to see all their lives turn upside down as the case enters the suspicious territory. Over the course of the series, the different shades of Michael are visible as he's known to be a liar, a manipulative character, and a marine who fancies himself to be decorated — one of the lies that poofs upon his face. Quite simply, his children played by Odessa Young, Dane DeHaan, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Sophie Turner, and Olivia DeJonge, carry the cross for the father's mysterious past and equally confounding present personal.

What makes 'The Staircase' even compelling is the cast. Firth is brilliant as Michael. The fear of the lies being exposed, the watchful insecurity, and the duplicity of his manners are all transitioned superbly, while the rest of the cast starting off with Collette do more than just hold their own. At one point, the absence of the charm and the exuberance she yields are distinctly felt. This one's a tragic story, but the drama that's gone into the making of the series actually induces that tragic feeling.

There are timelines the series jumps to simultaneously, and the narrative, not necessarily slow, does take its time as the focus is more on Michael and his emotions. Spanning an hour each, the episodes try and bring out the various layers of the investigation while trying to explain how Michael felt in all of these proceedings. Was he the murderer? What about the other theories? These questions are eventually answered, but not before showing the ripple effects of the murder.

'The Staircase', to end with, is a solid piece of work and the Episodes 1-3 are available for streaming on HBO Max.