HBO The Staircase Episode 6: The unsolvable jigsaw puzzle 🧩

Few cases are as high profile as the 2001 death of Durham, North Carolina’s Kathleen Peterson, potentially at the hands of her husband Michael, who was convicted of her murder in 2003. And few casts are as star-studded as the crew creators Antonio Campos and Maggie Cohn have assembled for their eight-episode retelling. 

Brunet starts a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle on HBO's The Staircase episode 6 Red in Tooth and Claw.

Colin Firth and Toni Collette lead as the central couple; supporting players include Michael Stuhlbarg as a defence attorney, Parker Posey as a prosecutor, and Sophie Turner as Michael Peterson’s older daughter. The scripted series is based on the Netflix documentary series of the same name, but draws on other source material and takes dramatic license — which makes for a very different viewing experience than fans of the documentary have known.

Brunet starts with the border and edge pieces of her jigsaw puzzle on HBO's The Staircase episode 6 Red in Tooth and Claw.

There is much more to The Staircase than a did he or didn’t he do it story that is completely engaging on its own. Showrunners, Antonio Campos and Maggie Cohn paint a vastly broader picture, often with the finest of brushes, full of unexpected excursions off the beaten path, tearing down the walls giving us full access to the people surrounding and affected by Kathleen’s death. Recreations of moments no one could have access to are produced to feel authentic and perhaps a bit exploitative exploring other sides to the story. The missing pieces of the puzzle are the actual moments leading to her unsettling demise.

Brunet is solving her jigsaw puzzle is a metaphor for her solving the case and mysterious death of Kathleen Peterson on HBO's The Staircase episode 6 Red in Tooth and Claw.

The scenes from HBO Max's The Staircase episode 6 named Red in Tooth and Claw go back and forth between Sophie Brunet moving to Durham (and solving a jigsaw puzzle) and Michael in prison, reading her letters, lifting weights. The jigsaw puzzle may seem like a fun way to pass the time, but Campos intended a more in depth philosophy of including the popular activity. Humans like puzzles, and true crime shows and podcasts get our brains going. “By following an investigation on TV,” Scott Bonn, professor of criminology at Drew University and author of Why We Love Serial Killers, wrote at TIME. “people can play armchair detective and see if they can figure out ‘whodunit’ before law enforcement authorities catch the actual perpetrator. Most true crimes on TV and in books are offered as a puzzle that people want to solve.” That puzzle is a challenge for the brain, and figuring it out provides closure

“When you make a puzzle, the least interesting thing is to finish it, to have the puzzle in front of you. The best thing is the search. Antonio Campos tells us about The Staircase, his dramatisation of the Michael Peterson case.

“When you make a puzzle, the least interesting thing is to finish it, to have the puzzle in front of you. The best thing is the search."

Antonio Campos tells us about The Staircase, his dramatisation of the Michael Peterson case. You think you like an unsolved puzzle,” said Campos, his project completed, still not satisfied. “Spend two and a half years on it."

Brunet is smug solving her jigsaw puzzle believing to have cracked the Michael Peterson case believing the owl theory to be the answer in HBO's The Staircase.

Is the puzzle of Michael Peterson or this case solved by the end of this Staircase? Probably not. But the perspectives and narrative pathways explored in this limited series prove that the story of Michael and Kathleen Peterson remains compelling no matter how many times you’ve seen or heard it.

Brunet phones Kathleen's daughter Caitlin Atwater to discuss the owl theory while solving a jigsaw puzzle on HBO's The Staircase episode 6 Red in Tooth and Claw.

Back to episode 6 Red in Tooth and Claw, Brunet asks Caitlin for her permission to exhume Kathleen. Caitlin explodes in anger: “Michael Peterson murdered my mother. Is that clear? I sleep great at night knowing he will die in prison. You can direct all future calls to my lawyer.” Brunet cries and tears apart the jigsaw puzzle she’d been putting together.

Colin Firth and Toni Collette breathing life into a piece of the Peterson puzzle that often gets overlooked in the wash of speculation in HBO's The Staircase.

Colin Firth arguably gives one of the best TV performances of the year as he transforms into Michael Peterson. The real Peterson is a complex individual, a big personality in a small town. Firth inhabits all the internal conflict, becoming a man who is both earnest and polite, but ruthless and deceptive. Toni Collette also expectedly brilliant as Kathleen, breathing life into a piece of the Peterson puzzle that often gets overlooked in the wash of speculation. Their revelatory performances anchor the puzzle-box show whose answers are horrifying, inevitable, and important to confront decades after the events which inspired them.

Sophie Brunet, an acclaimed French filmmaker, says HBO Max’s The Staircase doesn’t accurately represent her 13-year relationship with accused murderer Michael Peterson.

Sophie Brunet, the acclaimed French filmmaker, says HBO Max’s The Staircase adaptation doesn’t accurately represent her 13-year relationship with accused murderer Michael Peterson. If The Staircase is a puzzle, it's one that still works no matter how you decide to arrange the pieces. 

 

If Juliette Binoche solving a jigsaw puzzle in HBO's The Staircase episode 6 'Red in Tooth and Claw' has increased your appetite for solving complicated riddles. Rest In Pieces has a vast range of brain-tickling jigsaw puzzles ready to be solved:

 

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