Lately, the retelling of true crime is rising rapidly in popularity within the entertainment sphere, largely thanks to Serial, which spread like wildfire through the internet sphere. HBO’s newest documentary miniseries, The Jinx, is perfectly primed to use this platform to reach viewers who need their next dose of mystery, and the story of Robert Durst and the loud of speculation and questions that surround him is ripe for the picking. The suspicious deaths that follow Durst span over thirty years, each one more grisly and violent than the next. Three chapters in, we’ve arrived the midway point in the series, so now is as good a time as any to take a step back and reflect on what we’ve seen so far.
Squeamish viewers might be repelled as quickly as crime addicts are guaranteed to be drawn in within the first moments of Chapter 1: “A Body in the Bay”, which opens with, you guessed it, a body in the bay. Well, the core of a body I guess, since its torso was the only thing fully intact. Few times have I seen a tone set as quickly as it is here, as the man who pulled the remains out of the water proceeds to describe in unsettling detail how he managed to do so since the body is without a head and extremities. The pace is established, and sense of uneasiness sets in immediately, amplified by the most terrifying introduction and theme song I’ve ever seen and heard. “Fresh Blood”, performed by Eels, haunted me well after each episode ended, creating a sense of horror and discomfort that continues to bleed through the story as its broken down piece by piece and Director Andrew Jarecki attempts to put each one together.
Where The Jinx succeeds the most, so far, is in its structure and exposition. Jarecki strategically peels the layers of Durst’s story back bit by bit, choosing carefully what to reveal and what to hold back, creating cohesive, self contained episodes that also manage to leave the viewer wanting more, rolling seamlessly from one to the next. Time jumps forward and backward as each new set piece is put into play, like entering a new room in the game of Clue. “A Body in the Bay” sets the stage with the most recent murder, immediately composing a skeptic disposition regarding Durst, a reclusive millionaire who’s far from home, linked to a Rolodex of aliases, with a brother who fears for his own life.
By the time Durst sits down for his interview with Jarecki (the one and only time he’s offered himself up for this kind of open conversation over the years), a natural distaste for the man can’t be helped, but at the same time the tendency to hang on his every word and beg the camera to find its way back to their conversation is unavoidable. Clips from this interview are the driving force behind Chapters 2 and 3: “Poor Little Rich Boy” and “The Gangster’s Daughter”, used to outline the portion of the story being told in each episode, then padded with evidence, interviews with family members, friends, and those who conducted the investigation, and re-stagings filling in the gaps. Each episode is so expertly paced and balanced with forward progression and revelation that it’s easy to forget this is a documentary. Robert Durst is as enigmatic, compelling, and surprisingly frank in his answers to Jarecki’s questions, recounting his memory of his mother’s death and openly admitting several of the times he lied to the police regarding his wife’s disappearance in the 80s.
Because all of these components are so solid, so well executed, and exceptionally mysterious and scary on their own, the only complaint to be made about The Jinx is its use of visual reenactments of different aspects of these unsolved crimes, which are used heavily in both “Poor Little Rich Boy” and “The Gangster’s Daughter”. They’re too stylish, too contrived and perfect to be woven into such real and riveting raw material. This series just doesn’t need that extra shot of glossy paint to keep viewers on the edge of their seats and properly paint the picture of the events, because they speak for themselves just fine on their own.
Feature Image: HBO Features