“The Jinx” Was A Magical Television Anomaly

“It’s the JFK assassination of our time!” I kept squawking at my boyfriend who was trying to read me a New York Times article that was being published almost in real time with Sunday night’s series finale of HBO’s surprise hit docuseries “The Jinx.” He paused from reading aloud in his version of Bobby Durst’s chilling Ivy League-taught, sociopathically-inflected tone, to add a better comparison: “It’s the O.J. of our time.” That’s much, much more accurate, but really this is something that we’ve never seen before, and likely will never be recreated. This is a 100-year comet barreling across our pop culture universe, accidentally collided with the old, dusty gray planet of impotent law enforcement. This is a mind fuck.

“The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” began as a six-part docuseries hinging on over 24-hours of interviews conducted by director Andrew Jarecki with the previously elusive Robert Durst. Jarecki’s 2010 film “All Good Things” dramatized the disappearance of Durst’s first wife, Kathleen McCormack, and the mysterious events that occurred afterward, which left both Durst’s Galveston neighbor, Morris Black, and college best friend, Susan Berman, dismembered and assassinated, respectively. The eldest, and shunned, son of a four-billion dollar Manhattan real estate empire, compelled by some sick flirtation with his own violent narcissism, contacted Jarecki after seeing “All Good Things” to participate in what would be his own undoing.

Viewers were supposed to be blindsided by what would be a revelatory look at a very wealthy man who many believed had gotten away with three murders. And from episode one, that’s what was delivered by creators Jarecki and Marc Smerling. Their circling approach to the complicated events, with Durst as its willing center, told a very damning and compelling story. As Durst led the conversation, Jarecki and Smerling crafted a landscape of interviews with people adamant on helping, from close friends and family of his alleged victims, to police and district attorneys who’d barely let him slip through their grasps. Combined with the sinister song placements, gothic reenactments and layered narrative, the show became nothing short of addictive. Durst would blink his strange little full-faced, devil-eyed blink, and you’d lunge forward at your television screaming, “He’s lying!” Jarecki and Smerling let the show breathe as well, giving Durst the rope with which to hang himself— even when he wanted them to follow him around Manhattan as he loomed in an ill-fitting suit outside of the family’s business headquarters and his estranged bother’s Manhattan home.

What viewers certainly didn’t expect — and it doesn’t seem like Jarecki and Smerling did either — was the filmmakers effectually “solving” two mysterious high-profile murder cases that have eluded police for thirty years. It was obvious that something shocking was going to happen when it was revealed the morning of the finale that Durst had been arrested in New Orleans on capital murder charges. He was checked in to a Canal Street Marriott under the alias Everett Ward, and was found with both a gun and falsified documents. The FBI allege that he might have been planning on fleeing to Cuba, as the first nonstop flight from New Orleans to Cuba since 1958 was scheduled for that afternoon.

The penultimate episode ended on a cliff hanger, Jarecki uncovering a key piece of evidence in the murder of Susan Berman, Durst’s best friend who was shot execution-style in her Los Angeles home in 2000. That evidence was a letter he’d written to Berman earlier in 2000, the handwriting on which was an uncanny match to a letter sent to the Beverly Hills police department after Berman was killed, alerting them to a “cadaver” at her residence. Both letters also spelled Beverly as “Beverley.” This was when the lines between entertainment and crime solving began to blur in an unprecedented way. The episode begged questions of nonexistent protocol. And then it became very clear as the shortened finale played out that this was not the ending that had initially been planned. The episode focused instead on Jarecki and Smerling as they nervously tried to lure a suspicious Durst back in front of their cameras to confront him with the key evidence, Jarecki proclaiming the number one goal being “justice.”

What’s truly amazing is the way that Durst managed to entrap himself. The way it’s presented in the finale — though there is much discussion today about the real timeline — Durst was forced to meet with Jarecki and Smerling that one last time because he needed them. After the aforementioned looming outside of Durst family properties, a restraining order was placed on Robert by his brother. Robert was caught on surveillance afterwards eerily stalking up the steps of his brother’s stoop, knees shaking like the 71-year old man that he is, a reusable grocery bag hanging alongside gray sweats. He’d wanted Jarecki and Smerling to corroborate some kind of story he’d cooked up, and thus ended up back in the interview seat. Presented with the handwriting evidence, Durst hiccuped and burped, and then put his face in his hands in what seemed to be drunk hopelessness, admitting he couldn’t tell the difference between the handwriting. After asking Jarecki for a sandwich to go and a copy of a photo of himself and Berman that he’d been shown, he headed to the bathroom with his mic on. While there, accompanied by some demonic moaning, Durst whispered to himself, “That’s it. You’re caught.” He went on to add, “What the hell did you do?” The episode ended on a black screen, Durst’s own answer to that question leading into the final credits, “Killed them all of course.”

The intricacies of this man and his story are so eccentric, and yet so pedestrian — Robert Durst’s story is magnetic. How he posed as a mute woman in Texas after his wife’s disappearance. How he was found on the run in Galveston after shoplifting a sandwich — dude loves sandwiches apparently — even though he had $38,000 in cash in his car. How he was acquitted of murdering Morris Black, even though he admitted to dismembering him. How all of this ended the same day as the first nonstop flight to Cuba in 57 years. This is why no one really gave “All Good Things” that much attention — and it starred Ryan Gosling as Durst! — but “The Today Show” led their news segment Monday morning with “The Jinx” over the recent reappearance of Vladimir Putin. It’s the veracity of Robert Durst’s story that makes it compulsively watchable.

Anyone who’s been following the six-part miniseries since its premiere is part of a lucky faction of fans who got to experience an anomaly in television. There has been too much said about Durst today, and there will be much more as these new murder charges play out, to ever relive the downright titillation of watching the show having no idea how it would play out. Watching the interviews with Durst, the accounts, the evidence unfold, knowing it has to lead somewhere, only for it to result in a real life arrest … well I hate to say it, but I will: the whole thing was magical. It’s like your first cigarette that tastes awful, but you just want more. I feel like a Manson girl. I feel like I finally found myself in a noir. I am drunk on Robert Durst. That intoxication is real. And to think that this all came into being because an egomaniacal sociopath with a trust fund couldn’t resist the lure of the spotlight.