The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst directed by Andrew Jarecki (Home Box Office, Blumhouse Productions)
Starring Robert Durst.
In the age of ubiquitous Internet, there’s nothing much left that constitutes must-see television. The bigwigs of scripted television measure more than just standard Nielsen ratings. People, you see, have altered their viewing habits. Many have cut cords, focusing on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, et al. Others keep cable but stash shows on DVR so they can live their lives well.
The only thing left that demands live viewing seems to be sports. Sure, you can DVR a game as well, but it seems as if sport has developed the tyranny of the now. Fans watch to be immersed in the moment. We just don’t see the same influence behind scripted shows.
The death of must-see television is one interesting aspect about HBO’s unbelievable documentary series, The Jinx.
From Galveston to Manhattan to L.A.
The series looks closely at a series of murders/disappearances over the last 30 years, all of which orbit around Robert Durst, a wealthy New York real estate magnate.
The show begins with a body, like many noir-ish shows before it, a dismembered body floating in Galveston Bay in Texas. Forensics lead detectives to a run-down apartment where Mr. Durst was living under an alias as a female. The show’s principal twist occurs toward the end of its first episode as the Dateline narrative with A+ production values switches scope when Robert Durst sits down with the filmmaker Andrew Jarecki for an interview.
As the series progresses, the viewer learns of Durst’s troubled childhood, his Esau-like moment of being passed over by a younger brother in the family business, and the crimes that swirl around his head.
For starters, over 30 years ago, his first wife, Kathleen Durst, disappeared. Supposedly, she took the train into the couple’s Manhattan apartment and then was never seen again.
Those close to Kathleen believe Durst had something to do with it, especially since his timeline for the night of her disappearance represents the definition of inconsistency.
One of Durst’s close friends, Susan Berman, acted as Durst’s mouthpiece at the time of Kathleen’s disappearance. When news of the reopening of Kathleen’s cold case emerged and Susan, who lived in Los Angeles, was pegged as a key interview, Berman meets a tragic end by a bullet. The only piece of evidence emerges in the form of a letter to “Beverley” (note the misspelling) Hills Police with Berman’s address and the word “cadaver.”
Durst remains sketchy as ever. Authorities can place him in California, but in Northern California. There’s evidence of a drive south, but far enough to make it to Los Angeles?
Throughout this process of interviews, the filmmaker Jarecki uncovers some potentially damning evidence for Durst with the final confrontation wrapped nicely for a finale. That’s must-see tv.
The framing of this story make for powerful viewing. Truthfully, my wife and I were close to missing out on the explosive finale. We had been watching The Jinx here and there, usually a week or so behind. Having heard rumor of some compelling evidence in the penultimate episode, we blitzed through the final episodes with minutes to spare before the finale.
Given the air time Durst has received since the finale, I’m glad we were able to watch it live. It was well worth it.
Outside of the near perfect structure of the series, The Jinx represents a sterling example of the trend toward slow crime. While the forefather of the genre might be Twin Peaks, most crime shows for the past few decades circle around a prime crime in each episode—think CSI for the fiction folk and Dateline for the true crime people.
Lately, however, we’ve seen a move toward one crime over the course of a series. The Killing took a shot at it with varied results, but it blew up last year with True Detective and Serial. The essence of a slow crime show focuses on the detail of a case. How can we unpack the crime further and further to see if a new perspective of it can unlock the truth?
Given the ambiguity of many cases, this slow crime focus turns us all inward. At some point, the purpose no longer surrounds guilty or not guilty, but how we view human nature on the whole.
But what if all the work on the case can result in uncovering the truth? Or the big confession? The Jinx tries to answer that. It’s must-see television.
Verdict: 5 out of 5