Why HBO’s the Jinx is TV at its best

The following piece contains mild spoilers for HBO’s documentary series the Jinx. If you haven’t seen the show yet (seriously, what the hell are you waiting for?) and would like to experience its many surprises first-hand, then please stop reading right here. That being said, I think the Jinx runs little risk of losing its appeal, even if you already have a rough understanding of how it all plays out.

At the end of HBO’s six part documentary series the Jinx, I was very much torn emotionally. On the one hand I felt a sort of disbelief at what I had just witnessed. My first thought was, how could this not have been staged? The filmmakers, in a way, landed the filmic equivalent of winning the lottery. Whatever they set out on, and whatever they expected to come from this, they couldn’t possibly have predicted for it to end this way. Interestingly, Andrew Jarecki (co-writer, director and co-producer — also the guy who interviews Robert Durst on the show) was involved as a producer on Catfish, a documentary that was met with lots of critical praise, and some doubt about its authenticity. Like the Jinx, Catfish ended in a way that seemed too good to be true.

On the other hand, I felt like I had just experienced a first hand account of a human life falling apart. Almost as gut-wrenchingly brutal as watching someone getting killed on camera (thanks ISIS, and go fuck yourself), watching the life of Robert Durst dissolve into madness episode after episode in glorious high definition was a sad thing to see. Of course, I’m not saying what he did was okay, because it most certainly wasn’t. I’m sure the parents of Kathie Durst would agree. While a court has yet to rule him guilty of anything other than peeing on a bunch of candy bars, after having seen all six episodes, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that he murdered at least three people. But murderers aren’t born as such, and just thinking about that concept of a specific path in life leading to such a tragic outcome, causes quite a bit of nausea in my mind.

The Jinx’s greatest achievement isn’t necessarily its cinematography, which is fine for the most part and a little questionable in its choice to hire actors in reproducing some of its story’s most pivotal scenes. The Jinx’s greatest achievement lies in its accomplishment of capturing the humanity in Durst. He isn’t being portrayed as the one-dimensional embodiment so many true crime documentary villains fall victim to. Instead of focusing on the crimes he allegedly committed, the show concentrates on what’s tangibly in front of it. Fortunately for us, that’s Robert Durst in all his sad and broken glory. The Jinx shows us something we rarely see, and that is the personality of someone whose mind is fighting very hard to come up with an alternate version of the objective, and truly terrible reality of that someone being a cold-blooded murderer.

The moments when Durst lets his dark sense of humor shine through are the Jinx’s most brilliant. However, moments like these also expose the ugly face of true crime documentaries, almost breaking through the fourth wall to its audience which is hooked on a collective voyeurism that’s directly linked to the misery of others. There are moments that are on such a deep, personal level, that I felt deeply ashamed for happily sitting on my couch with my girlfriend next to me, sipping a cool drink while gawking at Durst’s life breaking into millions of tiny little pieces.

True crime documentaries have had an interesting couple of months, with Sarah Koenig’s Serial generating an unusual amount of hype for an internet radio show. The Jinx is the next logical step, and it has a card up its sleeve that Sarah Koenig, and Serial’s millions of rather obsessive fans would probably have given quite a bit for. With its proper conclusion and complex look at a most likely guilty serial murderer, the Jinx feels a bit like the anti-thesis to Serial. It’s a show that with great certainty will stick with you for years to come, and a form of refreshingly satisfying storytelling that would be quite a shame for anyone to miss out on.