On Sunday, HBO will air the sixth and final part of The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, a documentary series from writer/director Andrew Jarecki (All Good Things and the Sundance Grand Jury Award-winning documentary Capturing the Friedmans) that sheds new light on Durst, a member of a powerful New York real estate family who may or may not have killed three different people over the course of nearly two decades.
The first trailer for the series was unveiled at the height of pop culture’s obsession with the NPR true-crime podcast Serial, and The Jinx seemed poised to create a similar “did he or didn’t he?” fascination surrounding Durst. In the end, The Jinx proved to be a different breed of addictive true-crime storytelling, blending the deep-dive investigative prowess of something like Serial or the Paradise Lost documentaries with the slick, beautiful darkness of a David Fincher film. Then, at the center of it all, there’s Durst, who at times seems equal parts nightmare and folk hero, a man almost simultaneously embracing and recoiling from his own grim legend as it unfolds before him.
The Jinx is heading for a very compelling conclusion this Sunday, and if you still haven’t seen it, we’ve got five reasons why you should catch up in time for the finale.
THE OPENING ACT
The Jinx isn’t interested in laying out Durst’s story in a linear way. Instead it starts with the most sensational event tied to him – the discovery of a dismembered body in Galveston Bay in the fall of 2001 – and then works forward, backward, and sideways. Within three minutes, you’ve seen a beautiful crane shot of Galveston by night and heard a detective describe reaching down the open throat of a severed torso to lift it out of the water. From there, the episode rockets forward to the first meeting with Durst himself. It’s a hell of an introduction.
The words “true crime” and “re-enactments” side-by-side usually conjure images of corny Unsolved Mysteries-style melodrama, but that’s not the case here. Jarecki and company reconstruct the key points of Durst’s life in exhaustive and fascinating detail, from the night he watched his mother fall (or jump) from a rooftop to the night he snuck to Galveston Bay to dump a series of body parts in trash bags into the water.
THE COURTROOM DRAMA
The series devotes most of its fourth episode to Durst’s trial for the murder of Morris Black in Galveston, and it’s riveting television. It’s easy enough to go and look up how this trial unfolded and what the verdict is, and I did, but somehow the suspense is still there, particularly when you learn Durst’s chilling version of what happened.
THE PALACE INTRIGUE
Though the most shocking of the crimes he’s accused of occurred in a cheap Texas apartment, Durst isn’t just some guy off the street who may or may not have done a bad thing. He’s practically New York royalty, a member of an elite, wealthy, and powerful real estate dynasty who took a much stranger path while his younger brother Douglas took up the family business. Durst’s ties to his family, his prickly relationship with his brother, and the money at his disposal don’t always come into play during The Jinx, but when they do they paint a very dysfunctional picture of modern-day American aristocracy.
If you’ve heard anyone talk about The Jinx at all, there’s a good chance the first thing they brought up was their impression of Durst himself: the slight, white-haired man in a grey sweater who sits across from Jarecki during the interview segments, blinking in an odd, almost disturbing rhythm as he shifts between shocking frankness and charming evasiveness. He’s the kind of character you couldn’t invent if you tried, and he must be seen to be believed (or disbelieved, depending on where you fall in his version of events).
Matthew Jackson is a freelance pop culture writer/nerd-for-hire and Contributing Editor at Blastr.com. Find him on Twitter at @awalrusdarkly.