Director Andrew Jarecki‘s HBO documentary series The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst turned out to be far more than just a riveting true crime story. The interviews with Durst, the cinematic reenactments, and the statements from those most familiar with the crimes added up to a disturbing and bizarre portrait of a man too strange for fiction. And ultimately, the documentary became its own tool for justice.
Below, Adam Chitwood and I discuss The Jinx‘s finale in another back-and-forth-conversation, as well as those explosive final words on the hot mic, what’s next for Durst, and the possibility of The Jinx 2:
Allison: First off, I’m still trying to manage coherent thoughts after what we witnessed in the final moments of The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst. I suppose what really strikes me about that is that this was a documentary series — when is the last time one has felt so urgent, so dramatic, and so immediate? And so horribly real? The fact that Durst was arrested Saturday in New Orleans largely because authorities thought he would be a flight risk after the finale … when was the last time a TV show had such high real-world stakes? It was incredible. “Killed them all, of course.”
Adam: I have watched a lot of TV in my day, but I’m confident in saying those final moments of The Jinx made for the most shocking and striking thing I’ve ever seen on television. My jaw wasn’t just on the floor, it was gone, and I was literally gasping at every revelation that Durst himself made in that sure-to-be-legendary candid mic moment. I didn’t expect a great deal of closure from the show–like Serial, the entertainment value was in how the producers packaged and doled out the information and how we, as viewers, sorted through it all. I imagined it would end basically on a similar note to how Andrew Jarecki and Durst’s final interview ends: Jarecki confronts Durst, Durst denies, but we all know the truth. But that microphone moment. “And the burping.” Obviously this was a docu-series, but the twist was that it was investigative journalism all along. Insane.
Allison: Talk about a show that stuck its landing. After feeling a little burned by Serial, I wasn’t expecting any kind of closure from The Jinx, and that was ok. I felt like Jarecki had done an excellent job of just plotting it all out beautifully, teasing future events in the story, and stitching together some fantastic interviews. Then, the last half of Episode 5 into Episode 6 turned into a completely different show — suddenly it became about justice, with this film crew doing what law enforcement in 3 states failed to do over several decades. They were able to use Durst’s vanity against him.
Of course, a lot is owed to the hot mic. Which, by the way: according to the New York Times, that interview happened over two years ago, with the hot mic audio not being found until recently. Though it’s probably not admissible in court, apparently Jarecki and the producers have been working with law enforcement in L.A. to help in any way they can. I mean, this show literally just leapt off the screen.
I love how they turned the cameras on themselves, too, with Jarecki openly admitting his conflicted feelings about pulling this “gotcha” on a guy he had created this true rapport with. Further, that he was also a little afraid of him. It seems like he should be. I mean, we’re reading that final bathroom monologue (complete with anxiety burping) as a confession, right? Or do you think it was sarcasm? And what was “oh, I want it”?
Adam: The inclusion of Jarecki in the documentary was a tricky but necessary move, I felt. It was definitely important to see how he felt about pretty much setting this guy up, after covering his life for so many years. As he discussed his anxiety, my heart started pounding up through that final interview. I have no idea how he kept himself composed when basically saying, “So, you murdered your best friend right?” I mean, it’s not like we have any evidence to suggest that Durst is a rational and composed human being. Who the hell knew how he was gonna react?
It’s been super interesting to see the different theories about the hot mic incident. More than a few seem to think Durst knew his mic was still on, and that this was his way of setting himself up to be caught (maybe that’s the “oh, I want it.”). I mean, this is a guy who–while on the lam from authorities–stole a hoagie from a grocery store with hundreds of dollars in his pocket. I think somewhere, deep down, he wants to be held accountable for his crimes, or at least wants people to know he did it. How many people are out there that have murdered at least three people and have gotten away with all of them? What does the lack of consequences to such atrocities do to the human mind? Maybe I don’t want to think too hard about it…
Personally I’m not entirely convinced he knew the mic was on, but I’m not 100% sure he thought he was alone either. He’s such an odd guy that I could easily see either scenario playing out. Where do you fall? Do you think he was semi-confessing? And does “I have no idea what’s in the house” mean he’s got incriminating evidence in his home? Do you think he has something of Kathie’s somewhere? *shudder*
Allison: Exactly, one of the reasons this was all so completely creepy and compelling was thanks to the person of Bob Durst. You can’t stop watching him, because you don’t know what he’ll do or say next (except that he’ll blink a lot). Also, the fact that most everyone believes he’s guilty creates this drive to see him put away.
I agree that Durst seems to want to be recognized for his acts and for his infamy, but that he doesn’t want to make it easy. The more he dodges the authorities, the bigger his story becomes in modern folklore.
I read a theory that “oh I want it” is him thinking it was a dumb move that he wanted the picture of him with Susan Berman, but I buy your theory as well. As for the house, I agree — either he was thinking about the oversight of incriminating evidence at Susan’s house from back then, or he is worried if he’s arrested as he leaves that there could be things he hasn’t had time to hide.
So other than those final, chilling words, what stood out the most for you in the documentary as a whole? And do you think we’ll ever get another true crime docuseries like this? Would we even want to??
Adam: That “oh I want it” theory definitely makes sense. As soon as the episode ended, and as soon as I was over my initial shock, I couldn’t help but yearn for some closure on the case of Kathie Durst. We know he killed her, but the fact that her body was never found, that we don’t know how she was killed, and that only Bob knows the truth (and maybe his new wife–are they still married?), chills me to the bone. It’s so incredibly sad that this woman’s fate remains a mystery to this day, and I’m hoping that maybe if Bob is finally convicted (though there is some doubt as to how strongly the L.A. evidence points to his involvement in Susan’s murder), he’ll want to reveal what happened to her. He does seem to be a little upset by Susan’s murder. I mean it’s clear in his mind he thinks it had to be done, but the strong desire to have that photo tells me he did really love her or care about her. Which makes his ability to kill her in cold blood all the more disturbing.
As for the series as a whole, I really liked the structure of it all, and the artistry with which the recreations were shot. That first episode has a hell of a hook, opening with the grisly details of Morris Black‘s murder, then delving into Kathie’s disappearance, before finally revealing that–surprise!–Durst was never convicted of anything and Jarecki’s got him on camera. Ample time was given to discussing the events of Kathie’s last night anyone saw her, with Jarecki skillfully first recounting Durst’s statement about what happened, before destroying it with Durst’s own refutation and inconsistencies. I think the structure of this series was a major reason why it was so effective. And no, I doubt we’ll ever get something that combines this amount of intrigue and effectiveness with such insane closure. If you wrote that ending for a TV drama, it would be deemed too unbelievable. “That would never happen!” folks would say.
My one area where I was felt wanting more, though, is that of Durst’s childhood and family; how bizarre for Durst’s father to have his son come watch his mother commit suicide. I understand Jarecki didn’t have access to Douglas Durst, but I’m really fascinated by the whole wealthy empire aspect of it all, and how Durst’s silver spoon upbringing may have informed him as a human being. When describing this show to people I always compared it to a cross between Serial and Foxcatcher, as it really delved into what an insane amount of wealth can do to people, and how it sometimes makes them untouchable when it comes to the law.
Was there one specific aspect of the show that you felt treaded too lightly or didn’t go deep enough?
Allison: Right, and in response to people saying the show didn’t give enough time to the victims (a complaint made against Serial as well), I think the very fact that we are yearning so desperately to see justice served in both cases speaks to the fact that we did connect with the victims. I think The Jinx was really successful in making Kathleen Durst, Susan Berman, and even Morris Black all very real. And that is one thing that made The Jinx, quite often, incredibly sad.
I agree too that the mystery of the way the Durst family operates is really an entirely different story to unravel, and one that we will definitely never have access to. But the pictured painted of Seymour, Douglas and the Durst clan is another really disturbing part of The Jinx. Again, all the more so because it’s real.
Though I don’t think we will (and in many ways hope we don’t) get another series that focuses on a person pegged for so many crimes who still walks free, I do like this idea of documentary filmmaking that is almost activist-oriented. I know that’s not what The Jinx set out to be, but I respect the fact that the filmmakers “went there,” instead of just staying out of it and being fearful of getting so personally involved. I guess it’s cinema with a conscience, and I think that could actually open some interesting doors for future projects.
As for wrapping up with The Jinx, if you could boil down your emotions on the series to just 3 words, what would they be?
Adam: Boy, that’s a tough one, but I guess I’d have to go with “Transfixed, Disturbed, and Sad” for my summed up thoughts. Truly an amazing, unique docu-series and, from an audience standpoint, one of the most memorable and impactful TV viewing experiences I’ve ever had. Though Jarecki says they’re still filming as events continue to unfold, so maybe we have The Jinx 2 to look forward to!
Allison: For me it’s similar — Riveted, Sad, but also Hopeful. I think The Jinx has changed the game when it comes to true crime documentaries. Plus, the fact that Jarecki is continuing to film, remaining dedicated to narrating this story, takes the project even further into the unknown. What might come next? Astounding TV.