Part Two’ Showed the Impossible Task of Topping a True Crime Classic : ‘The Jinx

No one could top the sensational ending to “The Jinx” —not even “The Jinx

Published Time: 27.05.2024 - 07:31:19 Modified Time: 27.05.2024 - 07:31:19

No one could top the sensational ending to “The Jinx” —not even “The Jinx.” In 2015, the HBO true crime docuseries profiling New York real estate heir and alleged serial murderer Robert Durst shocked the world by catching Durst on a hot microphone making an apparent confession. “Killed them all, of course” was hardly a smoking gun from a legal point of view, but as television, those five words were the kind of stunning revelation that decades-old cold cases rarely provide. That Durst himself delivered the line in his distinctive, croaking rasp lent the whole saga the air of Greek tragedy, epitomizing the millionaire’s bizarre compulsion to unburden himself to filmmaker Andrew Jarecki in defiance of his own good luck.

“The Jinx: Part Two” concludes on a more anticlimactic note. Despite Durst’s 2021 conviction for the murder of his former friend Susan Berman and, in 2022, his death in prison, the legal aftermath of his crimes continues to play out in the courts. (In an especially cruel twist, the conviction was posthumously vacated due to an incomplete appeal.) The final scene in the six-episode season, equal in length to the first, is taken from a deposition in an ongoing case —a wrongful death suit brought by the family of Durst’s first wife, Kathie McCormack, against his estate. The opposing counsel asks Durst’s second wife, Debrah Charatan, if her seeming complicity in exchange for access to Durst’s fortune has been worth it. “I think it was,” she says.

The exchange lacks the walloping punch of its predecessor while also capturing the different goals of the two projects. “The Jinx” is not the first true crime sensation to attempt a sequel: “The Staircase,” “Tiger King,” “The Vow” and “Making a Murderer” have all yielded follow-ups that extend their narratives without replicating the original’s viral success. These second seasons also tend to share a general pattern. The initial episodes introduce a case to the world by looking backward, into the past; the next batch charts the messy interaction between story and storyteller, often shifting to the present tense. As Jarecki and his colleagues reported “The Jinx,” they shared evidence they uncovered with law enforcement, leading to Durst’s arrest the day before the “killed them all” clip first aired. If “The Jinx” had never been made, the events of “The Jinx: Part Two,” which follows Durst’s prosecution in Los Angeles, would never have happened.

The awkward reality is that, while Jarecki and his team have a legitimate claim to advancing the cause of justice for Durst’s victims, they have also generated a tremendous amount of material for their own potential use. Just as “The Vow’s” back half centered the trial of NXIVM leader Keith Rainere and “Making a Murderer’s” on the appeals processes for defendants Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey, “The Jinx” uses trial testimony, jailhouse phone calls, legal documents and interviews with the defense and prosecution teams to assemble a new arc. It’s an approach with a mixed track record: where a legal proceeding gave the dreamy, elliptical “The Vow” a needed sense of structure and urgency, “Making a Murderer” slowed to a crawl as it traded decades’ worth of exposition for the sloth-like pace of active litigation. Depicting an ongoing process can afford urgency or the lure of exclusive access. It also deprives filmmakers of the distance that allows them to arrange years of events into a legible narrative.

In the end, “The Jinx: Part Two” lacked any major reveals. Audiences a -

re already familiar with Durst’s bizarrely compelling demeanor, a ubiquity demonstrated by montages of “SNL” impressions and other pop culture ephemera. The jailhouse conversations, with Charatan and other loyalists, are amusing — Durst shows off his pushup form! — but all parties involved are aware they’re being surveilled. Some of the most pivotal developments in the trial, like Durst suddenly admitting he wrote a letter even he previously said could only have come from Berman’s killer, happen in the fine print of lengthy filings. The now-iconic hot mic moment hinged on the same letter, which Jarecki linked to Durst through a telltale misspelling of “Beverly Hills.” The contrast between one scene’s jaw-dropping impact and the other’s disappointing shrug is, of course, the presence of Durst himself to provide an audible reaction.

Without major twists, “The Jinx: Part Two” struggled to make a compelling narrative of the trial itself. Given the widely known outcome, suspense over whether prosecutor John Lewin can persuade the jury was largely moot. Nor do Lewin and his aides make for ideal protagonists in a show that is, in large part, about the failure of the justice system to provide accountability for Durst’s victims and their families. The adversarial setting of a courtroom would seem to be a ready-made substitute for Jarecki’s previous sit-downs with Durst, but these scenes are a placebo at best. When Durst does take the stand, emphasizing his vulnerability with a neck brace and accommodations for a hearing impairment, it’s as a pale imitation of the cocky eccentric who once agreed to be interviewed.

Instead, “The Jinx: Part Two” functioned best as a kind of B-side to “Part One,” expanding the cast of characters while digging further into Durst’s relationships with Berman and Charatan. (Berman and Durst, we learn, formed a friendship trio with Nick Chavin, a former musician who specialized in X-rated country jams turned real estate ad man.) In doing so, “The Jinx” further illuminates Durst’s cloistered world, a dark corner of the mid-century Jewish elite that also includes Durst’s family and various hangers-on. This expanded purview also allows Jarecki to pursue a new angle: by widening its lens beyond Durst alone, “The Jinx” poses broader questions about the environment, and individuals, who enabled his misdeeds.

This theme is more ambiguous than the black-and-white binary of guilt or innocence, and better suit a true crime sequel than a futile attempt to recapture lightning in a bottle. Even Berman, in Jarecki’s telling, was not a perfect victim, slandering Kathie Durst even after her disappearance — a move oddly similar to how disparaging Charatan is of Berman. An entire network of friends and family looked the other way in the face of Durst’s obvious wrongdoing for their own financial benefit, few of whom will face anything like a real consequence. When Jarecki presses Chavin to explain his longtime denial, it’s the closest he gets to the electricity of interrogating Durst. There’s no satisfaction in catching a criminal red-handed, but at least in this respect, “The Jinx: Part Two” isn’t aiming for catharsis; it wants the audience to sit in the discomfort of collective moral failure. It’s easier to accept a lack of a release when the absence is the point.

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