Thursday, May 5, 2022

REVIEW: 'The Staircase' - Michael Shares Some Shocking Secrets With His Children as Caitlin Questions His Story in 'Chiroptera'

HBO Max's The Staircase - Episode 1.02 "Chiroptera"

After posting bail, Michael and his high-powered attorney David Rudolf piece together their defense, while considering an offer from Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, a French documentarian eager to profile the case. As teams of forensic experts on both sides recreate the night of Kathleen's death, Michael's children grapple with shocking new information about their father - and his stepdaughter Caitlin wrestles with her own doubts.

"Chiroptera" was written by Maggie Cohn and directed by Antonio Campos

So many layers of storytelling exist within this one project. That's the essence of the criminal justice system. Well, it certainly is for the privileged and well-connected of the world. Michael Peterson had prominence in his community because he wrote about the failings of the system. He thought the District Attorney was spending too much time prosecuting cases that didn't matter. He wasn't doing anything to go after the big targets. It was simpler to rack up the easy wins. The office went after the cases it knew would amount to convictions. It takes true determination to pursue a case with lots of risk that may have plenty of rewards down the line should it go well. Michael views himself as that opportunity. His ego propels him to view everyone else selfishly. They are charging him with murder for the notoriety. It's not because anyone genuinely believes Kathleen was murdered. It was all a tragic accident. Kathleen feel twice on the stairs. She coughed and cried out for help in every direction. No one could hear her pleas. She died at the bottom of that staircase in pain and agony for over an hour. Michael knew nothing. He wants to play into the fantasy of it all. One moment, they were living their ordinary lives. And then, he walks into his home and discovers a bloody mess. Of course, the truth is more complicated than that. The story has already been released about him believing she was still alive. His reaction was distraught when Todd came in saying she was dead. Perspective has already shifted. Michael has to do whatever it takes to survive. That includes pulling money from wherever in order to post bail. He needs to return home to his family. Even then, he still requires all the attention. He demands so much from his children. He wants to protect them from the brutality on display. And yet, they are still living in the home where Kathleen died. That trauma is still raw and visceral. They believe in their father's innocence. They don't see how he could commit this crime. The prosecution lays out the evidence that proves it's the only rational explanation. Sure, that buys into the gay panic defense. Michael kept his bisexuality a secret. When it was exposed, he then reacted terribly to anyone who threatened his way of life. It's absolutely despicable to hear people use his sexuality as a reason to believe he lies about everything. He concealed that one aspect of his life. That doesn't define him in every instance. His behavior elsewhere is more troubling. But it still pivots around this discussion of sexual identity and what Kathleen knew. People love speaking on her behalf. No one knows for certain though.

All of this leads to so many traumatizing moments for Kathleen. In fact, it's already startling just how frequently she was tossed around in this world. She faces uncertainty at work. She endures having to fire people simply because the company faces redundancies following a merger. She is asked to participate in a mysterious meeting that gets resolved without her knowing what it was about. She hits a deer while driving Clayton. That moment feels like an indelicate metaphor for the tragedy that looms in her future. An officer has to put the animal out of its misery. That's traumatizing to Kathleen. The same applies to her spraining her neck jumping into the pool and her falling from the attic ladder when a bat appears. It's a lot. And then, the story plays out the defense's theory of the case. The experts maneuver through the scene dryly and methodically while Kathleen acts it out viciously. They offer their opinions mostly to bolster the defense Michael needs. They have to create reasonable doubt for what the prosecution will present. They promote the details that support their claims and disregard those that can't be explained. Kathleen's neck injury doesn't have a rational explanation from the fall. David doesn't see that as an issue. It can be connected back to her previous injuries. It doesn't offer some foresight into Michael's behavior as a potential abuser. He was a man who enjoyed the simple pleasures of life. He also acted on his sexual impulses whenever they became convenient for him. Of course, he's the one capable of indulging in this behavior. Everyone else has to accommodate their schedules to whatever he needs. He demands Kathleen's support during his political fundraiser. He seemingly can't do it without her even though it conflicts with a visit with Caitlin at college. Meanwhile, Michael provided a personal story from Caitlin to his defense team in the hopes of getting her to go along with whatever needs to be said. At one point, she idolized this relationship. She has to see things more objectively now. She can't continue to act the same way. So much trauma has occurred in this space. It's freeing to escape. It creates such fierce divisions as well. That's true even before a camera crew decides to come in. Michael appreciates the attention. He wants to be in the spotlight. Of course, that wears off. He struggles being in public in 2017 even when he's told all of this will soon be over. No clarity can even be offered with any absolutes. The documentarians are intrigued by presenting the various stories and how everyone sees this case. They all have determination to prove themselves right. It's simply adding one story on top of each other until the heart of it gets lost in the process. That's overwhelming especially as the show tries to present numerous possibilities. That prevents it from having a declarative statement behind its existence. That could be a problem eventually. Right now, it's simply easier to marvel at the acting involved as well as the twists and turns still to come.