The Staircase Episode 6 Recap and Ending, Explained

The sixth episode of HBO Max’s crime series ‘The Staircase,’ titled ‘Red in Tooth and Claw,’ centers around the aftermath of Michael Peterson’s appeal’s rejection. His neighbor Larry goes through the autopsy photographs of Kathleen and discovers a significant detail. He teams up with Sophie Brunet to work on the discovery for the sake of Michael. David Rudolf makes a pivotal decision concerning his personal life. Michael continues his prison life as his second appeal doesn’t result in a favorable verdict. The episode ends with Michael confronting two choices that may rewrite his life forward and here’s everything you need to know about the same! SPOILERS AHEAD.

The Staircase Episode 6 Recap

Red in Tooth and Claw’ begins with a flashforward as David Rudolf and Michael discuss the terms of an Alford plea for the latter to walk away as a free man. After the rejection of the first appeal, Michael’s second appeal also gets rejected. Rudolf informs Michael that they have exhausted all the appeals and he may need to spend his life in prison. He also steps down as Michael’s attorney due to personal concerns. Rudolf lets his client know that he is marrying Sonya Pfeiffer, a journalist who covered Kathleen’s murder case. The attorney calls Michael’s children and informs them about the rejection of the appeal as well.

Larry meets Sophie and tells her that Kathleen’s death can be the result of an owl attack. He explains that Kathleen died during the mating season of barred owls, a period in which they will be extremely aggressive. He theorizes that the wounds in her skull must be inflicted by an owl’s talons, which also explains why her brain wasn’t damaged. They go through the evidence list and find out a feather listed. Upon going through the photographs of evidence, they find another feather as well. Sophie becomes optimistic about proving Michael’s supposed innocence using Larry’s theory.

The rejection of Michael’s appeal crushes him emotionally. His fellow inmate Big Ray extends his support for him. In flashbacks, Michael and Kathleen spent Kathleen’s last thanksgiving at Candace’s house and the sisters ended up fighting. Todd and Martha started to attend meetings of two different support groups. During one of the meetings, Martha got acquainted with a fellow group member and they started to share a bond and intimacy.

The Staircase Episode 6 Ending: Did an Owl Attack Kathleen? Do Larry and Sophie Exhume Kathleen’s Body?

The discovery of feathers in the evidence collected from Kathleen’s murder scene motivates Larry and Sophie to pursue the lead. The latter goes to meet Dr. Deborah Radisch to find out whether their theory is valid. The doctor lets Sophie know that she needs to find DNA particles of an owl in Kathleen’s skull to assure that an owl attacked Kathleen, leading the deceased to fall down the stairs. Sophie meets Caitlin for permission to exhume the latter’s mother’s body, only for her to dismiss Sophie. Caitlin, who is convinced that Michael killed Kathleen, doesn’t even consider Sophie and Larry’s theory.

Since Caitlin decides against exhuming Kathleen’s body, Sophie and Larry cannot outrightly make sure that Kathleen was attacked by an owl. Although the discovery of the feathers and the features of lacerations in Kathleen’s skull indicate that Larry’s theory is probable, more conclusive evidence like a DNA sample of an owl may turn out to be essential for them to prove that an attack indeed happened. Nonetheless, Larry and Sophie’s efforts to prove Michael’s supposed innocence using the owl theory do not yield the desired result.

The flashforward, set in 2017, at the beginning of the episode makes it clear that the owl theory doesn’t clear Michael’s apparent involvement in Kathleen’s death since he is still guilty of killing his wife. Caitlin’s insistence that her mother’s body shall not be exhumed may eventually lead Sophie and Larry to a dead end, without being able to prove their theory.

Does Michael Plead Guilty to Manslaughter? Does He Enter an Alford Plea?

After the rejection of two appeals, Michael and David Rudolf arrive at a dead end to prove the former’s supposed innocence. In 2017, years after the rejection of Michael’s second appeal, Rudolf proposes entering an Alford plea. It offers Michael a chance to plea to a charge of voluntary manslaughter, which will make him a free man. Rudolf explains to his client that the potential sentence after the plea will be shorter than the time he already served, which will prevent him from further imprisonment. However, Michael insists that he will not plead guilty.

Michael considers himself an innocent man, who hadn’t killed Kathleen, despite the verdict of the jury or public opinion. He doesn’t want to change his stand and make others think that they are right about him killing his wife. Although the Alford plea allows him to stand by his innocence even when pleading guilty, he rejects Rudolf’s proposition. Still, Michael’s decision may not be carved in stone. Since the only way for him to put Kathleen’s death and the case behind him, for a future with Sophie, is to plead guilty, he may change his mind and enter an Alford plea while asserting his innocence.

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