- Trouble always finds Robert Durst—or is it the other way around?
It’s been a few months and I’m ready to be honest about something: I didn’t love Serial as much as everyone else did.
It’s awfully fun to get wrapped up in a mystery, especially one that’s presumed to involve some great injustice (above and beyond the initial crime), and even better if it’s one we can fantasize we might solve as we ride shotgun alongside a friendly, scrappy journalist; together we’ll show a jaded and corrupt criminal justice system what’s what. Of course, nothing was “solved” in the course of Serial’s 12 episodes, but that wasn’t the podcast’s flaw. If anything, that was one of its strengths—especially after sitting (and walking and train riding) through several hours of Sarah Koenig’s desperation as she convinced us that even if it’s quite possible that Adnan Syed killed his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, it’s plausible that he didn’t do it too.
Serial’s ambiguous ending is reminiscent of a really great early millennial documentary, Andrew Jarecki’s 2003 feature Capturing the Friedmans, about a computer instructor and son accused of molesting a number of boys on Long Island in the 1980s—and the family’s bizarre compulsion to document their household drama. I haven’t seen it since college, but I remember appreciating that it was largely left to the audience to decide what it believed happened. So fast-forward about a decade. The entertainment industry is looking for another serialized true-crime series to hit as hard as Serial did. And Jarecki, in the meantime, had made All Good Things, a Hollywood film about a real-life murder mystery—and the man at the center of the mystery volunteered himself to sit for an interview with Jarecki.
And now we have The Jinx, a six-part HBO series about billionaire real estate heir Robert Durst, who is either a cold-blooded murderer several times over or the unluckiest man in the whole wide world. The narrative kicks off in 2001, when a dismembered corpse was recovered from Galveston Bay in Texas. An investigation leads police to Durst, who at the time lived next door to the murdered man, and whose wife Kathleen Durst had mysteriously disappeared in 1982. Oh and in 2000, right as the investigation into Kathleen’s disappearance was being reopened, Durst’s friend and confidant Susan Berman was also killed. Durst has not been convicted of any of these crimes, but they sure don’t look good on his normal-human-being resumé.
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 a genuinely sad story from his childhood and our better natures, which encourage us to think the best of people. And for better or worse, The Jinx presents us with a much bigger and more sensational story than Serial did, but in HBO’s hands the presentation is tasteful, reenactments and all. 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.