I underestimated The Jinx—but who didn't? | Bleader

I underestimated The Jinx—but who didn't?

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Robert Durst and his best friend Susan Berman, who he is suspected of murdering.
  • Courtesy HBO
  • Robert Durst and his erstwhile best friend, Susan Berman, whom he's suspected of murdering

WARNING: THIS BLOG POST IS ONE BIG GIGANTIC SPOILER.

Reviewing television shows while they're in progress is a risky proposition. There's gotta be some sad-sack critic out there who, two seasons into Two and a Half Men, was like, "I don't know—this show's kind of cute!" and now wishes he could politely request that Al Gore take down the sliver of the Internet where he celebrated it. But that's the nature of the job (or hobby or whatever)—a recommendation one way or the other is exponentially less useful once a program has run its course, which could take a few weeks or a few years. Even in the age of DVRs and on-demand everything, no one wants to be left out in the cold on social media with nothing to contribute to an argument amongst strangers.

I haven't, that I can remember, committed any serious sins of initial judgment. But after I watched the series finale of Andrew Jarecki's HBO docuseries The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst—and after I scraped my bottom jaw off the floor—I definitely had a twinge of guilt. Not the kind of guilt that results in spontaneous belching, but still. (As one of my friends said on Facebook, "Robert Durst's burps at the end of The Jinx were some of the most disturbing things I've seen on TV in a long time.") But it occurred to me that my initial review, written halfway through the six-episode season, sold the show short even though it was totally positive. I compared the addictive nature of the show to Serial and I predicted this program would end on a similar note: "The three episodes that have aired so far have me hooked—even if I can be pretty sure Jarecki and I aren't going to solve a damn thing here."

(NO, LIKE, SERIOUSLY STOP READING HERE IF YOU HAVEN'T WATCHED THIS MINISERIES YET.)

The morning the finale was set to air, the news broke that Durst had been arrested in New Orleans (where he'd checked into a hotel under a pseudonym) for the murder of his onetime best friend and confidante, Susan Berman. I didn't read beyond the headline until after the show aired—I hate spoilers as much as the next guy, even when the "spoiler" amounts to real life in progress. I was invested in the show, and I wanted to see Jarecki's conclusion before the New York Times tainted it.

At the end of episode five, Berman's adopted son had brought to Jarecki's attention some pretty convincing handwriting evidence that would tie Durst to Berman's murder—at the very least it indicates that Durst knew that someone had killed his friend inside her Los Angeles home. The finale flew by (and not just because it was only 43 minutes long). Jarecki was preparing, mentally and otherwise, to sit for a final interview with Durst and to confront him with the handwriting samples. Jarecki was visibly shaken by the prospect of revealing to Durst that he and the other producers had become enemies to their subject's freedom, admitting that he "like[s] the guy."

That's another thing I'd underestimated: Durst's likability. Again drawing parallels to Serial, I wrote: "As a subject, Durst couldn't be further from an Adnan Syed. This is not a charming, well-liked high school athlete—he's a rodent-eyed, antisocial old billionaire whose only hope of earning our sympathies is . . . our better natures, which encourage us to think the best of people." But during the fourth episode, we saw how a Texas jury reacted to Durst when he was on trial for murdering his neighbor Morris Black, which he claimed was self-defense. Durst admitted in court that after a tussle with Black during which Black's gun accidentally discharged, shooting him in the head, he used an ax and a bow saw to dismember Black, bagged up the pieces, and tossed them in Galveston Bay like so much garbage. Still, a snide remark Durst made to prosecutors during his testimony was met with the jury's resounding laughter.

Episode four also contains a beautiful bit of foreshadowing. During a break in his interview with Jarecki, Durst begins muttering to himself, sort of like an actor going over lines in his head, about not knowingly lying during the Texas trial. His attorney hops to attention and reminds him that he's miked, and everyone can hear what he's saying. Needless to say, Durst didn't learn his lesson.

In my defense, I don't think anyone predicted that The Jinx would turn out to be one of the most extraordinary things that's ever been on television. Former Westchester County DA Jeanine Pirro, who's had Durst's number for years, summed it up nicely in an quote in the Times: "These two producers did what law enforcement in three states could not do in 30 years."

Robert Durst certainly didn't know it would turn out the way it did.

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