So far, the biggest mystery of the new ‘Jinx’ is: What’s the mystery?

By Linda Holmes
The Jinx was interesting because murderer Robert Durst was a gruesomely fascinating interview subject. The Jinx – Part Two falters without his involvement.
The Jinx was interesting because murderer Robert Durst was a gruesomely fascinating interview subject. The Jinx – Part Two falters without his involvement.

HBO’s The Jinx, which aired in 2015 (yes, nine years ago), was a huge contributor to the true-crime boom in television and audio. It came out the same year as Netflix’s Making a Murderer and only a few months after the first season of the podcast Serial. Few later attempts have been as successful, though, because they lack The Jinx‘s secret weapon: the participation of the extraordinarily strange, compulsively talkative, and now deceased subject, Robert Durst.

The story of the docuseries goes like this: Durst had long been suspected in both the disappearance of his wife, Kathie, in 1982 and the shooting death of his best friend, Susan Berman, in 2000. He had admitted shooting his neighbor, Morris Black, in 2001 but was acquitted by a jury on a theory of self-defense. For reasons known only to himself, Durst choseto live out his life as an ultrawealthy real estate tycoon, but also to sit for long interviews with director Andrew Jarecki for The Jinx to discuss the alleged crimes.

These interviews were what made The Jinx so compelling. Durst could not stop himself from talking, even when staying silent was obviously in his best interests. This extended to a hot-mic incident that Jarecki treated as a bombshell confession, even though it turned out to be a bit more complicated than that. The day before the finale aired, Durst was arrested for the murder of Berman, based in part on evidence that the documentarians had uncovered and provided to law enforcement. This follow-up series essentially covers his trial and the time leading up to it. But it, too, lacks the punch that Durst’s presence offered the original.

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There are some things about the self-referential nature of this second chapter that are a little unpleasant. The Jinx is now part of the story of Durst’s life after his arrest. The filmmakers show some footage of the series finale viewing party they held in 2015 for (among others) the family of the disappeared first wife Durst is suspected of having killed. We watch their (apparent) relief and gratitude when the “confession” is played. Not shown: the incident reported in The New York Times in which another guest at the same party (Rosie O’Donnell, for whatever reason) immediately demanded to know why the filmmakers would have withheld this evidence from law enforcement to use it as the kicker to the show, a question that played out in the press as well, along with some other tough questions about the making of The Jinx. But the way the viewing party is shown in Part Two, nobody felt anything but vindicated and thankful.

It seems questionable to set up a viewing party for a putative victim’s family and film their reaction to your big reveal about her murder, and a bit sketchy to omit parts where people weren’t sure you were doing the good deed you think you were doing.

Ethically, those things raise some questions. But as television, the biggest problem with the episodes HBO provided to critics (four out of what will eventually be six) is that they’re pretty boring. Without Durst’s involvement (it seems that he finally stopped participating in documentary-making after he was arrested and died shortly after his conviction), the series often seems to be grasping for revelations. It’s also heavily reliant on reenactments, which aren’t particularly visually interesting and look a lot like every other true-crime reenactment on TV.

The third episode is the best of the four; without spoiling it, it sheds a bit of additional light on the back story, if you’re still looking for it. But what The Jinx – Part Two reveals is that The Jinx was interesting because while Durst might be a murderer, he was also a gruesomely fascinating interview subject. While there’s tape here of phone calls from when he was incarcerated, and sometimes you get those “Bob being Bob” moments, the mesmerizing aspects of the original are not there.

There’s no telling what might come in the final two episodes; perhaps they have more to say, and that’s why they were held back from critics. The big revelations in The Jinx came in the last two episodes, after all. But in the meantime, this feels like a mystery show in search of a mystery, a true crime series with limited truths to share.

This piece also appeared in NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter so you don’t miss the next one, plus get weekly recommendations about what’s making us happy.Listen to Pop Culture Happy Hour on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
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