I don’t know how many of you watched the HBO series The Jinx, but, even if not, you’ve likely seen the explosion in media over the past 36 hours, connected to both last night’s finale and the sudden arrest of central focus Robert Durst. If you did watch, maybe you share the utter amazement many of us have had since this time last night, when the series ended with one of the great “Holy shit!” moments in any recent work I can recall.
It’s total happenstance I’m even watching the show. I’m not an HBO subscriber, but Time Warner offered me three free months, so I took the opportunity to gorge on as much Veep/Girls/Looking/John Oliver/Togetherness as I could manage. The Jinx just happened to fall within this window.
I’d seen the Ryan Gosling fictionalized version of the story a few years back, but I don’t remember the local case in real time – surprising, because it actually comes startlingly close to various areas of my life. The station where Durst’s wife supposedly boarded a NY-bound train is where my parents lived for many years, including at the time; the Dursts’ NY apartment is literally around the corner from me (though the disappearance came before I arrived here); and, I found out just last week, a long-time friend is a fairly close relative to the presumed-dead wife. This is all newly-acquired knowledge; going into the series, the facts of the case, as laid out by Andrew Jarecki, were mostly new to me – so much so that my jaw dropped several episodes ago, when I found out that his friend/confidant Susan Berman had been murdered just before she was about to be interviewed by the Westchester County police.
I didn’t realize at the time, but a dropping jaw was about to become my regular reaction to the show. Last week, as I’m sure most of you know by now, Jarecki uncovered what seemed pretty staggering evidence – a letter in Durst’s hand with an address (including a misspelling of “Beverly Hills”) that matched an anonymous note sent to the police telling them about Susan Berman’s dead body. When news of Durst’s arrest broke yesterday morning, most of us spent the day assuming it was occasioned by the revelation of this letter. And last night’s closing episode did show Jarecki confronting Durst on the subject. Durst actually did a respectable job of feigning ignorance, saying they looked similar but he knew he wrote one but not the other. He didn’t have an answer, though, when Jarecki showed him just the two versions of the word “Beverley” (the misspelling) in isolation, and asked him which one he wrote. Durst’s speechless reaction seemed a perfectly neat, strong ending.
But, as most know, it wasn’t the end. Durst, his microphone still on (as it had been in a previous episode, which now seemed almost novelistic foreshadowing), stumbled into the bathroom and grumbled to himself what sounded to most of us like full acknowledgement – starting with “Well, there it is: you’re caught”, and ending with the now infamous “I killed them all…of course”. This closing moment was one of the most startling I’ve ever encountered -- my earlier jaw-drops seemed puny by comparison. I truly shouted out “Holy shit!”, and sat there staggered for several minutes. Presumably many of you have seen it by now, but if you weren’t watching in real time, you just can’t fathom what a jolt it was.
There are going to be a ton of questions, for Jarecki (like, does his manipulation of the time-line make any of this less damning than it appears), but mostly about Durst. Why did he ever agree to these interviews? He’d eluded punishment for 30 years; why stir the hornet’s nest? Why did he even send that anonymous note to the police? The kindliest interpretation is, though he’d had to kill Berman for self-preservation, he retained enough affection for her not to want to have her body decompose for days on end. But maybe there’s another: that old chestnut about the killer wanting to be caught. This is a guy who got picked up (for murder) ten years earlier because he shoplifted a sandwich when he had $500 in his pocket. You get a sense of him playing a double-game – like “I have to try and stay free, but I’m giving you incompetent bastards every opportunity to nail me”. Even his final words last night – the contempt with which he adds “of course” after “I killed them all” – seems to say, Hasn’t it obvious for a long time? What’s kept you people from punishing me?
Anyway…amazing television – as riveting a dramatic experience as I’ve had in some time. It’s of course worth watching if you missed it. I regret, though, no one from here on will be able to experience it in quite the amazed way we viewers did last night.