The fourth episode of HBO Max’s crime series ‘The Staircase,’ titled ‘Common Sense,’ centers around the trial of Michael Peterson. The prosecution and defense examine several significant witnesses as the trial progresses to its culmination. Jean-Xavier interviews an unexpected individual about Michael for his documentary. Clayton insists on being with his father irrespective of Todd‘s opposition and discovers a pivotal material associated with Kathleen’s murder case. Meanwhile, the past continues to haunt Michael as someone close to Elizabeth testifies against him. The episode ends with an astounding development that severely affects Michael’s life. Here’s our take on the same! SPOILERS AHEAD.
The Staircase Episode 4 Recap
‘Common Sense’ begins with Jean-Xavier interviewing Sophie about Michael. The prosecution continues to focus on Michael’s bisexuality, troubling the defense. Dr. Deborah Radisch, who does Kathleen’s autopsy, testifies that she is most likely killed. Rudolf, after submitting several autopsy files of individuals beaten by death, argues that it is nearly impossible for one to die like that without breaking the skull or damaging the brain, which isn’t the case with Kathleen. Martha and Margaret‘s nanny Agnes, who lived with the Ratliff family while they were in Germany with the Petersons, testifies against Michael concerning the death of Elizabeth Ratliff.
Rudolf introduces Henry Lee, the private analyst he and Michael employed, to counter the theory of blood spatter analyst Duane Deaver, who testified that the blood marks on the crime scene suggest murder. Clayton arrives in Durham to be with his father. While working on a car in the garage, Clayton discovers the blow poke that was used in their house. He calls Michael, who informs Rudolf that the “supposed murder weapon” is in his garage. The lawyer presents the poke in front of the jury and emphasizes the absence of blood and other suspicious marks in the material to suggest that his client didn’t kill his wife.
The Staircase Episode 4 Ending: What is the Jury’s Verdict? Is Michael Guilty? Did Michael Kill Kathleen?
The jury finds Michael guilty of the murder of Kathleen. Even though Rudolf succeeds in discrediting the prosecution’s theory that Kathleen was killed by Michael likely with the blow poke, Freda counters the introduction of the material by stressing Michael’s bisexuality and extra-marital involvements again. Rather than finding the murder weapon or presenting conclusive evidence or testimony, the prosecution relies on presenting Michael as an immoral being capable of murder. The theory gains weight when Kathleen’s sister Candace suggests that Michael and Kathleen’s married life wasn’t going well.
The focus on Michael’s bisexuality, extra-marital affairs, and the death of Elizabeth seemingly influence the jury to arrive at a verdict. They eventually believe that — despite the inaccuracies of the prosecution’s theories, witness testimonies, and evidence — Michael killed Kathleen when she came to know about his bisexuality. The prosecution’s theory that such a revelation paved the way for a fight between the couple, leading Michael to kill Kathleen, becomes the foundation of the jury’s verdict. Michael and Rudolf listen to the verdict — the former is sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
From the trial’s start, the prosecution and defense fail to outrightly establish their theory in front of the jury. The inaccuracy of evidence and testimonies and the abundance of “possibilities” further complicate Michael’s trial. However, Jim and Freda’s not-so-surprising trump card, Michael’s sexual orientation, comes in the way of Rudolf’s chances to attain a positive verdict for his client. Still, the prosecution wins the case without outrightly proving that Michael killed Kathleen or finding a murder weapon.
What is Sophie’s Relationship with Michael?
Sophie is the editor of the documentary Jean-Xavier is making about Michael and his trial. After shooting a significant portion, Jean sends the footage to France for Sophie to start editing it. She starts to spend hours and hours seeing and listening to Michael through the footage. The time and energy Sophie spends with Michael makes her believe that the man in front of her on the screen isn’t a killer. She writes an elaborate letter to Michael in prison, expressing her belief that he didn’t kill his wife. The letter Sophie sends Michael leads her to be his companion.
As the opening scenes of the show depicts, Sophie becomes a significant presence in Michael’s life. Even though the nature of their relationship is yet to be revealed, Sophie’s affection and warmth towards him make it evident that they are much more than two acquaintances or even friends. The basis of Sophie and Michael’s ambiguous relationship is her confidence that she has seen and listened to him long enough — or longer than anyone for that matter — to believe in his claim that he is innocent.
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