The Staircase (2022) s01e08 – America’s Sweetheart or: Time Over Time

“The Staircase” finishes with some highs and lows. It’s got Odessa Young’s best acting in the series and some truly phenomenal work from Toni Collette. Young’s gets to be less problematic than Collette’s, as show creator, episode director, and credited writer Antonio Campos gives Collette a hackneyed final scene. It should be series-best work from Sophie Turner, but it’s not. She’s just okay, which is better than poor Rosemarie DeWitt. DeWitt sat around the whole show with nothing until now, and here she gets a bad wig and flat characterization.

It also ought to be Juliette Binoche’s best episode. It’s not. The show spent the latter half of the episodes setting Binoche up to be some kind of protagonist, only to make her another rube. “The Staircase” treats the audience as rubes; might as well treat its subjects the same way.

The episode does not have three or four possible reenactments of Colin Firth killing Collette, though it heavily builds toward the “truth” at the end. Except it turns out it showed its take a long time ago and then spent six or seven episodes saying it didn’t. There’s only one red herring, which the opening scene establishes, and then waiting the whole episode to see if it’s relevant.

There’s a lot with the kids, only not when it’s important. The episode splits between 2011, when Firth gets out of prison for a retrial, then 2017, when Firth’s giving his Alford plea to resolve that retrial. There’s nothing in between because it would give away the ending. Or at least make the conclusion less of a “surprise.”

Some of the best material in the episode—outside Collette’s final day or two (her white-collar business suspense story’s much more compelling, thanks to Collette, than anything else in “Staircase”)—is Young and Turner finally having their big sister moment.

Sure, they’ve been putting a pin in it for ten plus years, but it’s the closest thing to pay-off. Campos narratively cheaps out on everything else, including Patrick Schwarzenegger’s internal collapse as Firth no longer loves him the most and shuns him, in fact, in favor of previous screw-up Dane DeHaan.

Unfortunately, Campos does a terrible job directing Young and Turner’s scene—maybe his worst work in the episode, which is saying a lot.

Michael Stuhlbarg is around for the courtroom scenes. We find out he’s a rube, too, but it wouldn’t matter because he’s an, at best, amoral lawyer. Tim Guinee might not even get any lines.

But the real kicker to “The Staircase,” after the ending they lifted from “Daredevil,” is the reality. I intentionally didn’t look up the case, but the real guy is not a vaguely debonair, Southern gentleman on the spectrum Colin Firth type… he’s got the style of a used car salesman, and his vibe appears to be Kramer impersonating.

Changes the “based on a true story” thing, even as the episode reveals just how much of the show has been pure, exploitative supposition on Campos’s part.

Even before that Googling, however, Firth’s performance takes a real hit. He doesn’t land any of his scenes this episode, which makes sense because they’re waiting for the big reveal, but still.

Just like I’d worried from the start, it’s an outstanding Collette performance in an otherwise deficient production.

They haven’t created the awards she deserves for believably laughing at America’s Sweethearts.

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