The Complete Guide to Every Episode of ‘The Staircase’: Breaking Down the Plot and Themes


If you are a true crime fan, you may have heard of the documentary series ‘The Staircase.’ This gripping series follows the trial of Michael Peterson, a man accused of murdering his wife Kathleen Peterson in 2001. What is most intriguing about ‘The Staircase’ is that the series is a real-life whodunit – viewers are left to decipher the evidence along with the lawyers, judge, and jury. In this article, we provide a complete guide to every episode of ‘The Staircase,’ breaking down the plot, important details, and themes explored in this riveting documentary series.

Exploring the Intriguing Case of ‘The Staircase’: A Complete Guide to Every Episode

‘The Staircase’ initially aired in 2004 with eight episodes. However, it was later expanded and re-released in 2018 with three additional episodes, making it a 13-episode series. While the initial eight episodes provided a comprehensive look at the trial, the additional three episodes offer further insight into the Peterson family and the aftermath of the trial.

Here is a guide to each episode available in ‘The Staircase’ and a brief summary of their focus:

Episode 1 – Crime or Accident?: This episode provides a background to the Peterson family and the night of Kathleen Peterson’s death. We are introduced to Michael Peterson and Kathleen’s daughter Caitlin, her sister Candace, and the police officers that first arrived on the scene.
Episode 2 – Secrets and Lies: In this episode, Michael Peterson is officially arrested, and a team of investigators piecing together the evidence visit the Peterson house. Meanwhile, the media begins to report on the case, and the Peterson family hires a high-profile lawyer.
Episode 3 – A Striking Coincidence: This episode focuses on the prosecution’s case, which argues that Michael Peterson brutally murdered Kathleen in cold blood. Their key evidence is the staircase, which they claim was the murder weapon.
Episode 4 – A Proseuction Trickery: Michael’s lawyers begin to poke holes in the prosecution’s case, including questioning the validity of the blood spatter evidence. They argue that the police department was biased towards finding Michael guilty from the beginning.
Episode 5 – A Weak Case: The prosecution begins to rest its case, and the defense begins to call their own witnesses, including an expert witness on blood spatter.
Episode 6 – The Prosecution’s Revenge: This episode focuses on one of the most significant twists in the case, as the prosecution brings forth a surprise witness who claims Michael Peterson was familiar with another death by staircase.
Episode 7 – The Blow Poke Strikes Back: The defense team takes issue with the prosecution’s theory of the murder weapon – the staircase – and introduces an alternative weapon that Kathleen could have been beaten with – a blow poke.
Episode 8 – The Verdict: One of the most anticipated episodes of the series, Episode 8 reveals the verdict of the trial, leaving viewers with a stunning cliffhanger.
Episode 9 – Reopening the Case: After a long wait, viewers are once again left with a cliffhanger as Michael Peterson is granted a new trial.
Episode 10 – The Last Chance: The defense team works hard to prove Michael’s innocence with new evidence surfacing.
Episode 11 – Looking for Closure: The trial comes to an end again, and Michael Peterson faces his fate once more.
Episode 12 – Between Dreams and Reality: This episode explores the aftermath of the trial, including how the family adjusted and moved on, but also the effects the case had on Michael Peterson, Caitlin, and his other children.
Episode 13 – Flawed Justice: The final episode closes out the documentary with the last pieces of information found since the trial that casts doubt over the initial investigation and verdict.

Breaking Down the Episodes of ‘The Staircase’: What You Need to Know

While all episodes of ‘The Staircase’ can be equally fascinating, there are key details to keep in mind while watching. It would be best if you kept an eye out for the following as they are recurrent themes throughout the series:

-The criminal justice system: ‘The Staircase’ offers a comprehensive look at the American justice system, the trials, and tribulations that come with it.
-Media bias: Multiple television networks covered this case, and they all sensationalized it. As a viewer, you see how the media influenced public opinion and possibly swayed important decisions in the case.
-The nature of truth: The subjectivity of human memory and perception is a repeating motif in the series, as each witness has their take on the events that led up to Kathleen Peterson’s death.

From Start to Finish: A Review of ‘The Staircase’ Episode by Episode

Here is a comprehensive review of each episode of ‘The Staircase,’ ranked from best to weakest:

1. Episode 8 – The Verdict: This episode’s climax marks a crucial point in the entire series with Michael Peterson declared guilty of murdering his wife. The trial itself lasts for six weeks, and the emotions and tensions reach their peak.

2. Episode 7 – The Blow Poke Strikes Back: It is in this episode that the defense highlights an alternative murder weapon than the staircase, a blow poke, which undoubtedly creates an intriguing plot twist.

3. Episode 12 – Between Dreams and Reality: This episode focuses on Peterson’s family and post-trial life, exploring the impact of the case on Michael’s children and loved ones.

4. Episode 1 – Crime or Accident?: The pilot episode’s adaptation reveals Kathleen Peterson’s passing and the beginning of the investigation into her death. It is the episode that presents the groundwork of the case, introducing the characters and setting up the trial’s context.

5. Episode 3 – A Striking Coincidence: This episode offers a considerable amount of insight into the prosecution’s theory of a calculated murder, discussing in graphic detail evidence that supports this claim.

6. Episode 2 – Secrets and Lies: Episode two focuses on Michael’s arrest and the media’s sensationalism, providing context into how it could have influenced the outcome of the trial.

7. Episode 5 – A Weak Case: Defense lawyers start building Michael’s case by presenting evidence that contradicts the prosecution. This episode looks into the fallible nature of witness accounts and evidence in general.

8. Episode 4 – A Prosecution Trickery: This episode serves as an investigation into the Durham Police Department’s bias in the case and reveals that evidence may have been tampered with.

9. Episode 6 – The Prosecution’s Revenge: In this episode, the plot takes a dark turn as someone uninvolved in the case approaches the prosecution with incriminating information about Michael.

10. Episode 13 – Flawed Justice: The final episode provides an overview of the case, including the findings since the trial.

11. Episode 11 – Looking for Closure: This episode looks at the trial’s aftermath and closes the gap between Michael and his children.

12. Episode 10 – The Last Chance: Although this episode serves as a call to action for the defense and is suspense-filled, it is weaker than most episodes regarding its overall quality.

13. Episode 9 – Reopening the Case: This episode adds little to the story and only serves to help close out the ongoing narrative in the series.

What We Can Learn from Each Episode of ‘The Staircase’: An Analysis

While it is easy to get caught up in the Peterson family saga and the trial, ‘The Staircase’ is more than a captivating murder mystery. The major points that the series explores, the themes that emerge, and the exhaustive look into the U.S. justice system offer valuable takeaways:

Episode 1 – Crime or Accident?: This episode is a perfect example of how circumstances can be misleading in criminal investigations. Even though a family member called 911, it doesn’t necessarily point the finger towards Michael Peterson.

Episode 2 – Secrets and Lies: This episode examines how defense and prosecution can twist evidence to their advantage while acknowledging that the media can sway public opinion.

Episode 3 – A Striking Coincidence: The episode explores how the prosecution’s narrow focus led them to ignore key pieces of evidence, including the autopsy reports.

Episode 4 – A Prosecution Trickery: This episode highlights the importance of impartial evidence collectors and the necessity of examining all possible interpretations of evidence.

Episode 5 – A Weak Case: This episode shows how shaky witness accounts can be and the importance of proper fact-finding.

Episode 6 – The Prosecution’s Revenge: This episode explores the false hope that hearsay evidence can provide, highlighting the system’s debatable nature and whether all forms of evidence should carry the same weight.

Episode 7 – The Blow Poke Strikes Back: This episode challenges prosecutors and investigators to keep an open mind about evidence interpretation when collecting it.

Episode 8 – The Verdict: This episode shows how difficult it can be to ascertain guilt beyond reasonable doubt in a criminal trial.

Episode 9 – Reopening the Case: Episode nine only serves to illustrate the imperfections of the appeal system, and how this can easily lead to injustice.

Episode 10 – The Last Chance: The episode reiterates the importance of clear-cut evidence, as it serves as Michael’s last chance at clearing his name entirely.

Episode 11 – Looking for Closure: The themes of reunion and closure reign through this episode, pointing out that when dealing with crimes, the real victims are always the family members left behind.

Episode 12 – Between Dreams and Reality: This episode examines the impact of the trial on Michael’s family and how the U.S justice system’s flaws can affect an entire family, not just the defendant.

Episode 13 – Flawed Justice: The last episode is a reflection of how flawed the system can be and the impact it can have on people’s lives.

Binge-Worthy Television: A Viewer’s Guide to Watching ‘The Staircase’ Episode by Episode

When watching ‘The Staircase,’ it is essential to remember that this is a real story and not a work of fiction. Here are a few tips to make the viewing experience as engaging as possible:

– Take notes after watching each episode and use them to track evidence and overarching themes.
– Remove all biases before watching the series and judge the evidence on its own merit.
– Don’t hesitate to pause the series to do outside research or discuss the case with friends or family members.
– Dedicate time to watching the series without any distractions to appreciate the nuances of each episode.


In conclusion, ‘The Staircase’ is a must-watch series for any true crime enthusiasts. The series offers an all-around look into the criminal justice system and speaks to the imperfection of this system. This series goes beyond the whodunit narrative and highlights how criminal law affects victims and their families. The added three episodes that came with Netflix’s version feels like a gift to viewers who were left with several unanswered questions after the 2004 version of the series. So if you haven’t seen it yet, create a dedicated time block, and enjoy the intellectual stimulus the series provides.

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