New HBO Max Series Explores The Mysterious Staircase Death Of Kathleen Peterson
The scripted limited series tells the story of Michael Peterson, his family, and the mysterious death of his wife, Kathleen.
HBO Max’s The Staircase introduces us to the Peterson family — before and after mother Kathleen’s mysterious death in Durham, North Carolina. The first episode begins in 2017 with Michael Peterson, portrayed by Colin Firth, getting ready in a bedroom mirror. The story then jumps to the fateful night that changed everything for the Petersons, Dec. 9, 2001. We hear an emotional Michael making a frantic phone call to 911, because his wife, Kathleen, has just “had an accident” and fallen down “15, 20” stairs. Michael’s son arrives home to find police all over the house, his distraught father in the kitchen, and his stepmother’s bloodied body at the bottom of the stairs. While Michael tells his son that his wife had fallen down the stairs, the police officially declare the home a crime scene.
The story then jumps back to three months before the death. We see Kathleen, played by Toni Collette, in the kitchen surrounded by her children. As the family celebrates one of the daughters going to college, we get a sense of their dynamic: the playful relationship between mother and daughters and the sense of pride the family has in being there for one another.
The episode jumps between the past — where we see elements of Michael and Kathleen’s seemingly normal relationship — and the immediate aftermath of Kathleen’s death. At first, the emotional family vehemently defends Michael as police look at him as a suspect, but when police share the crime scene images and what they found on Michael’s computer with Kathleen’s sisters, things start to change.
The first episode ends the way it began — with Michael in the mirror getting ready in 2017. A woman walks in, kisses him, and says, “You’re starting your life again today.” And with that closing scene, we know that we’re in for a retelling of the Peterson saga that is just as dramatic as the real-life story.
Based on a true story, the eight-episode limited series will continue to tell the story of Michael Peterson, his sprawling family, and the mystery surrounding his wife’s death. The Staircase premieres on HBO Max May 5.