The Staircase Finale Recap and Ending, Explained

The finale of HBO Max’s crime series ‘The Staircase,’ titled ‘America’s Sweetheart or: Time Over Time,’ follows Michael Peterson’s retrial hearing after Evelyn Ivins’ discovery that SBI analyst Duane Deaver’s analyses are not credible. Parallelly, David Rudolf tries to convince Michael to enter an Alford plea. Judge Orlando Hudson grants Michael a new trial. Michael takes a significant decision concerning the Alford plea, which determines his future. The episode ends with developments that affect Michael’s future with Sophie Brunet, along with a pivotal revelation concerning the former’s past with Kathleen. Well, let us decode the same for you! SPOILERS AHEAD.

The Staircase Episode 8 Recap

‘America’s Sweetheart or: Time Over Time’ begins with Jean-Xavier interviewing Michael concerning a secret the latter had held back from Sophie and everyone associated with him. Michael asks the director to not reveal the revelation to Sophie for her to watch it herself. Margaret, Martha, Todd, and Clayton get together for Michael’s retrial hearing. In the hearing, Candace states that “the killer” of her sister shouldn’t be given a new trial. Evelyn Ivins testifies that Duane Deaver’s testimonies in court are not credible. David Rudolf proves that the analyst had lied under oath regarding his experience.

Even though Judge Orlando Hudson acknowledges Candace’s sentiments, he grants Michael a new trial due to the influential-yet-misleading testimony Deaver gave in the first trial. After granting a new trial, Judge Hudson releases Michael from prison with a tracking anklet. Parallelly, in flashforward sequences, Michael enters an Alford plea in 2017 and pleads guilty to the voluntary manslaughter of Kathleen while asserting his innocence as per the provisions of the plea. He walks away from the court as a free man since he has already served the required prison sentence.

In flashback sequences, the fall of the Nortel stock affected Kathleen’s finances. She called Candace and talked about going for a trip but decided against it when the latter didn’t reciprocate her enthusiasm. Michael and Kathleen went to a private ball.

The Staircase Finale Ending: What Was Michael Hiding from Sophie and Everyone?

During Kathleen’s investigation and Michael’s subsequent trial, his bisexuality gets scrutinized. His affairs with other men, the pornography the police collect from his personal computer, and the statements of Wolgamott and Dennis Rowe make the prosecution theorize that Michael killed Kathleen when the latter confronted him about his real sexual orientation and affairs after knowing about the same on the night of her death. Michael’s defense against the theory is that Kathleen knew about the same and accepted it way before her death. Throughout the investigation, trial, and imprisonment, Michael stands by the claim that Kathleen didn’t have any reason to confront him about the same.

According to Michael, there wasn’t a fight between him and Kathleen regarding his sexual orientation and extra-marital same-sex relationships since she had already accepted the same. The claim convinces Sophie, his attorney Rudolf, and his family that Michael didn’t have any motivation to kill Kathleen. However, in the interview Jean takes at the beginning of the episode, Michael reveals that Kathleen never knew about his sexual orientation or affairs with other men. He confesses that he lied about the same all along.

The revelation astounds Sophie, who believes in Michael’s claim that he is innocent. Michael all of a sudden becomes a liar to her, seemingly raising questions concerning his version of the events that led to Kathleen’s death.

Did Michael Kill Kathleen?

Michael’s revelation that he had never talked about his bisexuality and same-sex affairs to Kathleen raises the doubt that whether she learned about the same on the night of her death, as the prosecution theorizes. In a flashback scene, Kathleen confronted Michael seemingly concerning his bisexuality by asking why didn’t he tell her about a certain something. Michael replied that he got farther and farther away from his identity as a bisexual after she came into his life. According to Michael, he didn’t lie but didn’t reveal “everything.” The flashback scene ends with Kathleen crying and raising the same question again, indicating that they may have fought about it.

If Kathleen had found out that Michael is bisexual through his personal computer and they really had a fight, he may have kept it a secret from the authorities, attorneys, and his family to not raise suspicion. Kathleen might have fought with her husband and stormed off to the upstairs of the house, only to fall down the staircase and die as per Michael’s version of her death. Since the fight is a clear-cut motive even if he didn’t kill her, he may have chosen to not reveal the same to not let everyone suspect him.

Michael may have realized that he needs to keep the possible fight a secret to have a fighting chance in the court and gain the assistance of his family. Otherwise, he might have really killed Kathleen as per the prosecution’s theory, impulsively due to the fight. The lack of conclusive evidence and witnesses makes it impossible to determine whether he killed Kathleen without a shadow of a doubt.

Do Michael and Sophie Break Up?

After entering an Alford plea, Michael walks away as a free man from the court. Sophie urges Michael to pack to go to Paris as they had already planned. Sophie dreams of a life where they will be together in a city away from the memories of Kathleen and her death. However, Michael hesitates to go to Paris. He asks Sophie to go alone and informs her that he will come after a week. Michael wants to make use of his freedom to be near his children and their kids as their father and grandfather respectively. He wants to spend time with them and believes that they need him.

Furthermore, Michael refuses to not wear his wedding ring and talks about how Kathleen is still a part of his life. These factors infuriate Sophie, who has sacrificed a lot to fight a battle for him. She feels that she is being ignored and avoided by Michael and accuses him of “editing her out” from his life. They start to fight, which ends with Sophie coming to know that Michael lied about Kathleen knowing and accepting his bisexuality and same-sex relationships. Rather than her boyfriend, Michael becomes a liar in her eyes.

Michael eventually lets his children know that he has decided against moving to Paris, indicating that he broke up with Sophie. His wish to be with his family rather than building a life with Sophie in a different city seemingly puts an end to their relationship. Since Sophie also knows about his lie, she may not be eager to patch things up with him.

Read More: The Staircase: Where Are They Now?