Colin Firth doesn’t look like a man you’d take for a killer, and neither does his character Michael Peterson in The Staircase, an upcoming miniseries based on a true story that unfolded in North Carolina in 2001. But it doesn’t take long into the trailer that HBO Max dropped on Tuesday to reveal that the crime novelist isn’t who he seems. The police aren’t convinced that a fall down the titular staircase was the cause of his wife Kathleen (Toni Collette)’s death, and it takes his kids—played by Patrick Schwarzenegger and Sophie Turner—a minute to figure out why. Soon enough, a detective puts it simply: “We believe Michael Peterson murdered Kathleen in cold blood.”
The deeper the authorities get into their investigation, the more Michael worries about “some things that will come to light.” (Note the use of “will,” not “might.”) In a flashback, we learn that Kathleen knew that there was a little more to her husband than he let on. “It’s always two things with Michael,” she tells a friend who asks if Michael is indeed his name. “Yeah, unless he’s pulling a long con,” she replies just jokingly enough.
As in the series, the real-life Michael gave a handful of documentarians up-close access to his family as the investigation wore on. In fact, Antonio Campos’s The Staircase is based on Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s 2004 docuseries of the same title. The series was so ahead of our current fixation with real-life mysteries, that it’s been dubbed the Godfather of the true crime genre. Of course, that means that you can scope out how things play out ahead of time. If you’d like to keep the reasons why it took the documentarians no less than 13 episodes to encompass the full tragic turn of events—a semi-spoiler alert: they include another death-by-staircase and a possibly murderous owl—stayed tuned until May 5.