As he prepares for his second and final interview with Manhattan real-estate heir and accused triple murderer Robert Durst in the climactic sixth episode of “The Jinx,” Andrew Jarecki takes a moment to restate his objectives. First, he says, “Get justice, such as we can get in this case.”
It’s a pivotal moment, revealing that Jarecki’s orientation has shifted from understanding Robert Durst to convicting him. By the end of the fourth episode, which ended with an unwary Durst muttering “I did not knowingly, purposefully, intentionally lie” into a live microphone, it was clear that Jarecki wanted to make Durst look guilty. But we needed to hear Jarecki make his own confession, to admit that he’d been wrong to give Durst the benefit of the doubt, that he’d gone from being fascinated with Durst’s case to being determined to solve it.
The fourth episode’s “hot mic” moment was the most ethically shifty moment in a series that had plenty of them, from the use of glossy reenactments that sometimes verged on true-crime sleaze to the penchant for withholding information to create fake suspense — waiting two episodes after relating Susan Berman’s Beverly Hills murder to address whether Durst was even in the state at the time feels less like dramatic license than pure manipulation. (The thus-far unsung hero of “The Jinx” is editor Zachary Stuart-Pontier, who makes the contortions necessary to sustain the series’ overall build feel natural, whatever you think of the decisions behind them.) Showing Durst talking to himself, apparently rehearsing his answers to interview questions, makes him seem both dishonest and unbalanced, but the truly crazy thing would be to submit to an interview about your involvement in a man’s death without going over your answers first. It looks bad, but there’s no real substance to it.
That moment seems worse because Jarecki appears to have set it up. He walks Durst through his trial for the 2002 murder of Morris Black, hits a wall, then suggests they take a break, while the cameras and microphones continue to record. It’s the kind of tactic you’re more likely to see employed in a police interrogation than a documentary interview, which is why it’s important to see Jarecki own up, in the final episode, to the fact that he’s essentially crossed the line. He’s no longer just making a movie; he’s building a case. (He’s actually been working with investigators in Los Angeles, where Durst stands the best chance of being convicted, since January of 2013.) The emotional arc of “The Jinx” isn’t Robert Durst’s. It’s Jarecki’s, and the series is designed to take us along with him. Once we, too, believe Durst is at least likely guilty, we’re much less likely to get bogged down by ethical or legalistic niceties. We just want to see an evil man brought down. (It does however, raise a new genre of factual issues, like how an interview conducted in 2012 is made to seem like a response to an arrest that didn’t happen until 2013. But with Jarecki and his co-producer, Marc Smolenski, canceling interviews and apparently planning to stay silent until Durst’s trial, further clarity may be a while in coming.)
As it turned out, that vaguely incriminating monologue was merely a precursor to “The Jinx’s” genuinely shocking conclusion, where Durst seemed to effectively confess to the crimes after Jarecki confronted him with an especially damning piece of evidence. On camera, Durst barely flinches as Jarecki shows him the similarities between the handwritten note sent to the Beverly Hills Police telling them to look for a “cadaver” at Susan Berman’s address — a note that, as Durst himself pointed out in an earlier interview, could only have been sent by her killer — and a letter written to Berman by Durst himself. The closest thing to a guilty tell was the single burp that escaped his lips, a dyspeptic cousin to the retching of mass murderer Anwar Congo at the end of Joshua Oppenheimer’s “The Act of Killing.” But after the interview, Durst ducked into the bathroom with his microphone still on, and launched into a series of fractured interjections, sometimes incoherent, sometimes contradictory, but none of them the sorts of things you’d imagine an innocent man would say.
There it is. You’re caught. You’re right, of course. But you can’t imagine. Arrest him. I don’t know what’s in the house. Oh, I want this. What a disaster. He was right. I was wrong. And the burping. I’m having difficulty with the question. What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.
If Durst’s statements ever end up in court — and their legal admissibility is already the subject of fierce speculation about release waivers and wiretapping laws — one can only imagine how Durst’s lawyers will attempt to spin them: They did, after all, successfully argue self-defense in a case where Durst admitted cutting a man into half a dozen pieces. Once again, Durst sounds as if he’s replaying his own answers, play-acting stalling tactics (“I’m having difficulty with the question”) and a sarcastic confession. As much as the words themselves, what makes Durst seem guilty is the persistent sound of something getting lodged in his throat, as if he wants to physically vomit up his guilt.
If you buy “The Jinx’s” version of events — and, at this point, it’s hard not to — Robert Durst has killed at least twice to protect his own freedom. But at the same time, he seems ineluctably drawn towards getting caught, or at least narrowly escaping capture: This is a multimillionaire who shoplifted a $6 sandwich while ostensibly trying to hide from the authorities. In his interviews with Jarecki, he seems sympathetic to those who think he killed Berman and Black and his first wife, Kathie, who has not been seen in 33 years — even he would think he did it. He admits everything, until he doesn’t. There’s no hint of remorse in his black, reptilian eyes, but perhaps even he is amazed at how long he’s gotten away with murder.
More on “The Jinx”
Sarah D. Bunting, Previously.tv
Do you want to tell a good story, or do you want to do good? Is it unethical to befriend your source, or to pretend you have? Or does everyone understand that contract in 2015? Do you tell your source or subject the truth about how you feel about him/her, what you’ve found out, how you’ll portray him/her? Or do you fudge that to get to the larger truth in the work?It’s this, I think, that classics of the true-crime genre — “Fatal Vision,” “In Cold Blood,” “The Executioner’s Song,” “The Staircase,” Robert House’s exhaustive Ripper investigation — have in common. It’s not the crimes themselves; it’s not whether they’re ever solved (or solved incorrectly). It’s the understanding and the incorporation into the story that the capital-T Truth is elusive, that the truth about the truth-seekers may get ugly, that some minor chords don’t resolve. “What really happened” is a noble aim, and a mirage at the same time. The best of the genre turns to its audience and sighs, “We can’t ever really know.”
Jeff Jensen, Entertainment Weekly
I think Jarecki and his producing partner Marc Smerling should have turned it over to police ASAP. I admire the desire to serve and mete out justice, but it’s not their job. What if Durst went and did more psycho shit during the time they were sitting on the evidence, allowing him to roam free? Would that blood be on their hands? And anyway, I just don’t believe being “agents of justice” was the filmmakers’ first concern: I think they were thinking first and foremost about what was best for their story, and how their story could make the biggest possible pop impact. It was cunning and manipulative and wrong — just like Robert Durst. The ends don’t justify the means, but they got away with it, with no one else getting hurt or killed. At the very least, I would have liked to have seen Jarecki and his team argue and explain their decision more than they did.
Alan Sepinwall, HitFix
Exactly how much did the filmmakers tell the LAPD, and when? Is it mere coincidence that the arrest happened on the morning of the finale — the police perhaps needing quite some time to get all their ducks in a row — or did Jarecki and company withhold information from them until last week’s episode aired? Given that Durst has both gone fugitive before and allegedly killed people to preserve his freedom (including the Galveston incident that “The Jinx” chose as its starting point), how did the filmmakers feel about leaving Durst out in the world for months or even years? There was a level of transparency to so much of the series, particularly as Jarecki wrestled with his own feelings about Durst. That the film appears to have played such a central role in his arrest — but only well after filming had ended, and right as the series was finishing its run on HBO — feels like it should be part of the narrative as well.
James Poniewozik, Time
Much of “The Jinx’s” unfinished business will have to be hashed out in a court of law. But judged as riveting crime TV, “The Jinx: is a slam-dunk. Jarecki and company took a cold case, already investigated with great publicity, and seemingly impossibly, found explosive evidence and built a compelling theory. That itself would have been a hell of a show. But as Jarecki’s fictional forebear Colombo used to say, there was just one more thing. Their confident, hubristic quarry (who after all, came to them) turned out to be their best partner. He got himself to wear a wire, slipped off to the men’s room and–just possibly–as we listened flabbergasted, flushed his defense straight down the toilet.
Matt Brennan, Thompson on Hollywood
Though it made a case of sorts, “The Jinx” was not a trial. It was, rather, television that identified, and possibly abused, a craving for the unexpected—for the “true” in “true crime”—in an age of canned answers, spoiler alerts, and predictable endings. The problem with “The Jinx” is that it played on our deep-seated desire for the electric flicker of live viewing, even though it was, as we knew all along, pre-recorded, edited tape.