The Staircase (2022) – series review
The final shot of the final episode could be the key to the entire series. Michael Peterson, with the face of Colin Firth, neither smiled directly at the camera nor sad. From gray lines and wrinkle lines you can read either victory or defeat, it depends on which side you look at in years past. Whatever the case may be, this is also what Ladders are about – about the relativity of truth, about the very quick assumption of arbitrary situations by us on the basis of premises interpreted in our own way. Of course, as investigators on the couch, we can make judgments without consequences for either party, but the mechanism remains the same and the truth is often evidence that can be wrapped in nicer paper. In the case of the series in question, these issues have another dimension, because we are talking about fiction based on the true version of real events – those depicted earlier. “The Ladders” is not only a reconstruction of the writer’s wife accused of murder, but also a kind of adaptation of an episode-documentary program, which is a record of the course of the trial.
Although this metaphysical dimension is the most important here (especially for those who know the document in question), it does not constitute the thematic focus of the series. And good. This burden seems to disturb the plot, which consists of intertwined memories of the past. And they are the ones who build the necessary context, because although at first glance we are dealing with a rotten crime story, The Ladders often deal with the breakdown of the family order, it is a true deconstruction of the idyllic American suburban myth. Yes, we have seen it many times before. But the most interesting thing about this story is that if someone invented it, it would immediately be considered implausible.

Moreover, from the “stairs” we will not even know who was killed, but whether anyone was killed at all. Peterson asserts to this day that his wife Kathleen was the victim of an accident on the stairs of the same name. However, her injuries were so severe (someone even said the woman’s head looked like it had exploded) that her husband immediately became a murder suspect. So we are invited to read family drama, tabloid article, racial thriller and court filings. The ambitious goal was to stick them all together so they wouldn’t come apart at the seams – which I did. Peterson’s relatives immediately support one side, but even his sons, over time, are bent under the weight of the secrets surrounding their father. Because Peterson is not a moral crystal figure, by all means. But is he a killer? Nobody gives an answer to this question, it is left to the viewer to decide. The creators of the series deliberately and actively, but without sarcasm, play with us, taking on the difficult task of juggling the circus, or, better, laying the traps of a new and fresh story, when we are sure we have figured out everything. I would like to stress that they did not have to make up anything.

Of course, “Ladders” is not a biblical example of objectivity, which upset the author of the “Ladders” document, who accuses the series of manipulation and excessive sympathy for Peterson. Funny, that the same argument was used many years ago by critics of his work, which, by the way, is a kind of avant-garde of the whole current and indirectly started the global mania of true crime. But it is not about neutrality. It may sound a little harsh, but right from the start, Peterson’s story belongs in the realm of guesswork, guesswork, and imagination. The plot creators are well aware of this and, using the contrast of events, turn this ghostly cinematic narrative into a well-crafted series. And this person needs an expressive hero, as well as an anti-hero.

It’s hard not to be pleased with Forth, who is absolutely flawless. Peterson never crossed the gray scale for a moment, stepping once toward white and then hopping to the other end of the spectrum, toward black. The second plan is solid, too, but hardly anyone has much room to show it off here, except perhaps Michael Stolbarg, who plays Peterson’s attorney – outspoken, committed, and emphatic innocence of his client. Thanks to the acting and sensible decisions that neatly tied all the threads in the plot, it is difficult to treat “The Ladders” as the epilogue of a popular documentary. On the contrary, it is another aspect of the matter, the solution of which we probably will not know.

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