The Jinx could have been created to prove the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction. It told the story of Robert Durst, the black sheep of an obscenely wealthy New York real estate dynasty, who police connected to the mysterious disappearances or deaths of three different people: His first wife Kathy, his best friend Susan Berman, and his neighbor, Morris Black. Durst had even been tried for Black’s murder; he managed to beat the charge despite acknowledging, in open court, that he had chopped up the neighbor’s body in order to cover up what he had done (in self-defense, he claimed).

The Jinx’s director, Andrew Jarecki, first explored Durst’s life in a feature film: 2010’s All Good Things, starring Ryan Gosling as a thinly-veiled version of Durst and Kirsten Dunst as Kathy, who disappeared from the couple’s home one evening in 1982 and was never seen again. All Good Things was not a hit; it grossed less than $2 million worldwide and according to some sources online, cost $60 million to make. But it had one very important fan: Robert Durst.

He was so taken with this film — which portrayed his fictional (if quite handsome and somewhat sympathetic) doppelganger as an abusive husband and possibly a serial killer — that he reached out to Jarecki and offered to sit for an interview. (First, though, they recorded a commentary track together, surely the only time in history an alleged murderer offered his in-depths thoughts on the fictional depiction of his supposed crimes as a DVD bonus feature.)

The Jinx Durst photo
Bill Turnbull, New York Daily News Archive via Getty Images
loading...

READ MORE: The Best True Crime Series on Netflix to Binge Now

While All Good Things made little impact at the box office, it indirectly had an enormous impact on the real world, because Durst’s outreach to Jarecki led to The Jinx, 2015’s six-episode HBO miniseries that retold Durst’s story as a documentary, with extensive contributions from Durst himself, who spoke to Jarecki on camera and on the record multiple times about his life.

The Jinx’s early episodes exposed the mind of a man who was, at the very least, a deeply trouble individual and a habitual liar. The later episodes became even more compelling because they not only included a seemingly inadvertent confession from Durst (“What they hell did I do? Killed them all, of course,” he muttered into a hot mic while using the restroom after a squirmy interview with Jarecki) they arrived on HBO at the same time Durst was arrested yet again — this time for the murder of Susan Berman, a crime in which he had long been suspected but never previously charged.

In other words, The Jinx was a unicorn: A fictional flop that became a water-cooler hit as a documentary, and both were directed by the same man. Nine years later, Jarecki presents The Jinx - Part Two, which chronicles what happened to Durst after that final episode aired. Although the new season can never capture the lightning-in-a-bottle blend of character study and shocking true-crime revelations of the original series, if you don’t know the details of what happened to Durst following The Jinx’s premiere, the new season is still an extremely watchable exploration of Durst’s legal troubles.

Max
Max
loading...

Jarecki can never fully overcome one issue: The Jinx was dominated by Durst himself; his interviews with Jarecki, his assessments of his own pathology, and his often shocking admissions of guilt. With Durst in prison as Part Two begins (and understandably wary about ever talking to Jarecki again), his on-camera contributions this time are confined to recordings of jailhouse phone calls and visits with family and allies. While they are a lot of these clips — Durst strategizing his defense, bemoaning his fate, even complimenting a longtime friend on how sexy she still looks — they were all made by a man who knew anything he said can and would be used against him in court. As such, the horrifyingly candid Durst is not to be found this time, and there no mind-boggling confessions — at least not from Durst.

If there is a central narrator on Part Two, it’s John Lewin, the Los Angeles deputy district attorney who takes an interest in Durst, examines The Jinx’s evidence, and then prosecutes Durst for Berman’s murder. Lewin spoke to Jarecki at length, along with numerous other attorneys, investigators, and potential witnesses, both for and against Durst. (As in The Jinx, Jarecki maintains remarkable access to key figures on both sides of Durst’s legal battles, including his unflappable defense attorney, Dick DeGuerin)

None of the four episodes shown to critics before The Jinx - Part Two’s premiere match the jaw-dropping heights of the original series. But how could they? Still, they do contain some surprises thanks to the eccentric cast of supporting characters. Because Durst is on trial for Berman’s murder, we learn far more about her than we did in the first miniseries. We also meet other associates of Durst and Berman whose loyalties were tested when the former was put on trial for the death of the latter. First and foremost is Nick Chavin, a parody songwriter and wannabe rock star who later became a successful New York businessman in his own right — thanks to the backing of Robert Durst. He seems to know more about what happened to Berman than he’s ever admitted. But will he really betray the friend who launched his career (and, y’know, has a habit of allegedly killing people he believes represent a threat to his freedom).

Max
Max
loading...

Durst’s ultimate fate, which was resolved years before The Jinx - Part 2 arrives on Max, means the show is not very suspenseful in a he-can’t-keep-getting-away-with-this-right? sort of way. What The Jinx still does well, though, is use Jarecki and his team’s decade-plus of research into this case to keep peeling back layers of this true-crime onion. They unearth dusty old audio recordings that cast old theories in a new light. They delve into Durst’s relationship with his second wife, who stands by him through an alarming amount of criminal charges. And as forthcoming as Durst was in his previous interviews with Jarecki, Part Two offers insights into the why of it all that the original Jinx never did, simply because this new show was made after several more years of investigation and trials and was made with an even deeper understanding of the crimes.

One of the episodes on this season of The Jinx is titled “The Unluckiest Man in the World,” a phrase offered by a juror who acquitted Durst of Morris Black’s murder by way of an explanation for all of the death and destruction that follows the man wherever he goes. He’s not a repeat murderer; the dude’s just really unlucky!

The Jinx - Part Two reinforces a notion that was clear in the first season: Lucky or not, if Durst could have only kept his mouth shut, he probably would have remained a free man for the rest of his life. If The Jinx was about asking the question “How does someone get away with something like this?” Part Two asks the question “Once they’ve gotten away with it, why would they willingly talk about it on camera?”

Durst was done in not only by his own thirst for attention, but for associating with others who shared that fixation — like Nick Chavin, who desperately wanted to be a rock star and admits how giddy he was to get renewed attention. For some, 15 minutes of fame is more valuable than a lifetime of freedom.

The Jinx - Part Two premieres on Sunday, April 21 on Max.

Newstalk 1290 logo
Get our free mobile app

The 12 Saddest Episodes in Comedy Shows

Sad stuff always hits harder when you were expecting something funny.

Gallery Credit: Emma Stefansky

More From Newstalk 1290