blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

The Staircase (2022) s01e04 – Common Sense

The episode begins in the near present with Colin Firth and presumably new wife Juliette Binoche headed off to court. “Staircase” isn’t ready to tell us what Firth’s up to in 2017, so the documentarians take Binoche aside for an interview on this momentous day. Throughout the episode, her monologuing for the interview about justice, fate, and the whole damn thing relevantly accompany various scenes, usually to good effect.

I’m about to trash this episode, but outside the profoundly deceptive plotting, the script’s probably the series’s strongest (credited to Emily Kaczmarek and Craig Shilowich).

The episode’s the trial episode, where we discover every single red herring the show’s been dangling about the case is bupkis. At best, it’s a fantastic example of what reasonable doubt means. Except there’s not much best to it.

It’s also the episode where Michael Stuhlbarg is clearly bad casting. He’s not bad. But he’s just doing a Ron Silver in Reversal of Fortune bit. Or a Dennis Boutsikaris in a Ron Silver part. The show’s already got a bunch of workhorse actors who never get to flex outside the lines—Tim Guinee, for example, though Parker Posey’s bigot isn’t any deeper—and Stuhlbarg’s just one too many. He’s never anywhere near bad; he’s just entirely pointless.

He does get to participate in the episode’s “misogyny’s okay if you think the lady’s bad” moment, which is just another disappointment for the list.

There’s very little Toni Collette this episode; the bat problem’s unresolved (Firth’s still not interested), and then she’s got a scene telling step-son Dale Dehaan he’s a screw-up. Dehaan’s yet another disappointment. Not bad, but I wasn’t expecting Patrick Schwarzenegger to act loops around him. “Staircase” isn’t paying off for its supporting cast like I’d assumed. They’re just in it for the prestige value, not because their parts need acting.

HBO gonna HBO, I guess. But, in this case, it’s even more appropriate it’s HBO Max because they’re not getting anything.

Collette and Firth do get a long take acting marathon to get through; Dog Day it ain’t, but they’re able to do it. Wish they were in a better project together.

Also in the background is Odessa Young getting more suspicious of dad Firth and Firth giving her every reason to keep getting suspicious and everyone else pretending he’s not. Eventually, her sister sister Sophie Turner starts down the suspicion path, but it might just be because she’s biphobic. Still, it lets Turner show a little more personality. Finally.

Then the final reveal is another humdinger of “you’ve been hiding this detail for the halfway point to manipulate.” It’d be nice for one of these shows to have confidence in their actual dramatic writing and not just their Shyamalan-lite twist reveals.

The show still hasn’t Westworlded, so I guess I should be happy.

It is, however, the most sympathetic Firth’s ever been on the show. Outside when he’s bullying and gaslighting.

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