Like any great piece of broadcast journalism, the first thing that came to mind watching the finale of The Jinx on Sunday wasn't journalism. The episode consisted mostly of director Andrew Jarecki and his team assembling their evidence and trying to arrange one last interview with suspected murderer Robert Durst, who had been suspected of or acquitted in three killings since the 80s. For the first time, the cameras were turned onto the creators, and suddenly, The Jinx felt like a found-footage horror film. Jarecki had been working with Durst for years, but he admitted that he had suppressed the thought that the man was actually dangerous. Jarecki had even grown fond of him. With a final, devastating piece of evidence in hand—a letter from Durst written in the same handwriting as the murder note pointing police to the body of his friend Susan Berman—Jarecki was robbed of that false sense of security. He met Durst at a hotel, but by the vibe of the episode, he might as well have been going into the woods to find the Blair Witch.
Throughout the six-episode HBO miniseries, the main event of every installment was always Durst. The retelling of his life—through interviews, archival footage and re-creations—was undoubtedly fascinating. But to establish the myth of this strange man, then cut to an interview with him, was even weirder. Durst's methodical blinking and throat-clearing lent an almost practiced air of guilt; he would answer questions about whether he killed his wife with a detached, "Well, I don't even know if she's dead ..." Though, he allowed, she probably was. That this gargoyle could admit to a jury that he sawed up a man's corpse, yet somehow be acquitted, lent him an indefatigably haunting air. Of course he'd invite Jarecki's questions—what harm could they do to someone who had thus far weathered his ruinous reputation?
Jarecki's final, frightening gambit was to essentially try and wrench one last, perhaps human, reaction from a man who often seemed anything but. With the envelope and the opinion of a handwriting expert, Jarecki had the proof the police could never manage to find. Not only that, but it concerned the murder of Durst's best friend, by all accounts a lively woman he seemed to have real affection for. Jarecki was coming to Durst not only with evidence that could send him to jail, but also proof of his ultimate cold-bloodedness. If Durst had murdered Berman for threatening to talk to the police, how safe could anyone involved in the show’s production really feel? Of course nothing violent was actually going to happen. But the real shock was that when Jarecki finally talked to Durst, the latter for the first time seemed tired and almost defeated, rubbing his eyes and loudly burping, offering a weak denial while admitting that the handwriting samples didn't look good for his case.
The episode's spellbinding climax was Durst's bathroom "confession," where he mumbled a bunch of damning non-sequiturs into a hot mic ("There it is, you're caught … Oh, I want this … What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.") It may not be enough to finally get him in jail—it may not even be admissible in court—but combined with the incriminating letter, it seemed to be enough to get the LAPD interested in the case again, and Durst was serendipitously arrested the day before the finale aired. Twitter complained, jokingly, about the cops' indifference to "spoilers," but knowledge that Durst was in custody lent those final moments an ineffable weight. Durst's monologue would have been a mesmerizing conclusion no matter what the real-world implications, but as it stood, it confirmed one of the show's underlying theses: that part of the thrill for Durst was the possibility of getting caught.
Why else would he have tried to steal a sandwich from a supermarket when on the lam? Why else send a note to cops, in distinctive block letters, alerting them to a murder? Why else contact Andrew Jarecki to try and set the record straight? One of the strangest moments of the episode caught Durst alone, on security-camera footage, as he slowly plodded up the stairs of his brother Douglas' Manhattan townhouse in defiance of an order of protection. Nothing came of it, and Durst didn't even knock on his estranged sibling's door, but it was the most candid look at behavior he's engaged in over and over again—pushing the limits of the law to see what happens. The incident got Durst arrested, and he agreed to meet with Jarecki one more time in exchange for Jarecki testifying about The Jinx, which necessitated shooting footage of Robert near Douglas' house. It's a curious chain that led to that bathroom confession—if the timing presented to the audience, which is already being disputed, was that clear-cut.
For viewers of true-crime TV, the thrill isn't just the pursuit of justice per se: It's the voyeuristic rush of engaging with dark, abnormal personalities one might not otherwise encounter. Durst's involvement throughout was The Jinx's greatest trump card, but the finale went a step further by observing him away from the studio setting. Watching him ascend the stairs on the security camera, and then listening to him mutter to himself in the bathroom, it was genuinely impossible to predict what would happen next, even armed with the knowledge of his imprisonment. Whether fiction, non-fiction, or some staged blending of the two, that's always going to be the sensation television wants to provoke.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.