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‘The Jinx — Part Two’ Review: HBO’s Robert Durst Doc Sequel Compels, Despite First Part’s Long Shadow

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‘The Jinx — Part Two’ Review: HBO’s Robert Durst Doc Sequel Compels, Despite First Part’s Long Shadow


The second season (or “Part”) of The Jinxis arriving on HBO nine years after the conclusion of the first and, wholly coincidentally, right on the eve of the Jewish observance of Passover.

This timing has me thinking of “Dayenu,” the festive song in which we recite the various miracles of the Exodus, one at a time and each followed by the declaration of “Dayenu,” meaning “It would have been enough.” So… Leading us out of Egypt (“Dayenu!”), parting the Red Sea (“Dayenu!”), giving us the Torah (“Dayenu!”) and so on.

The Jinx — Part Two

The Bottom Line

Less shocking, but still effective.

Airdate:10 p.m. Sunday, April 21 (HBO)
Director:Andrew Jarecki

When it comes to the first six episodes of The Jinx, it goes something like: If it had just been an exceptionally well-produced depiction of a twisty, unresolved series of murders tied to real estate mogul Robert Durst? Dayenu! (Or it would have been enough for a generally enthusiastic review.)

If it had just been an exceptionally well-produced documentary AND featured extensive interviews with the wily and evasive and disturbingly candid Durst? Dayenu! (Or it would have been enough to make my Top 10 for 2015.)

If it had just been an exceptionally well-produced documentary AND featured exclusive interviews with Durst AND single-handedly broken open a cold case that had thwarted law enforcement? Dayenu!

That’s what Andrew Jarecki, Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier’s documentary did, and that’s why it was my top show of 2015 and why The Jinxstill stands as a true crime pinnacle for me.

Sure, there ended up being lots of questions about the documentary’s ethics, specifically when Jarecki and company got Durst’s bathroom confession, when they told the proper authorities and how those events aligned with Durst’s apprehension in New Orleans just hours before the finale. But The Jinx was such an astonishingly gripping series that I was fully prepared to leave the ethics to the ethicists.

The thing about “Dayenu,” meanwhile, is that it’s a faith-based thought experiment, because if God had separated the Red Sea but hadn’t led us through to dry land, would that really have been enough? I posit, “Probably not.”

The second season of The Jinx — with Smerling seemingly out and Sam Neave in — is a similar thought experiment. Through the four episodes sent to critics, there are no exclusive interviews with Robert Durst. And, although there are twists and turns, given how much of the season is built around Durst’s very well-covered trial, the shocking revelations feel decidedly limited. Disclaimer: I interviewed Jarecki in 2015 after seeing the start of the initial season, and my very first question was based on the assumption that, as with Finding Bigfoot, if the show had actually caught Durst, we would have heard about it on the news. I was wrong. So… I wouldn’t put it past The Jinx — Part Two to somehow prove that Robert Durst was the Lindbergh Baby, or something equally astonishing.

It just hasn’t happened yet in the episodes I’ve seen, which means that The Jinx puts to the test the question, “Would it TRULY have been enough if The Jinxwere just an exceptionally well-produced true crime docuseries?” Because that, so far, is what the second season is. There are plenty of very good interviews, and the case zigs and zags with an engaging sense of mounting unease. Plus there’s a lot of Robert Durst, just mostly in jailhouse conversations from prison. But it isn’t quite the same.

The Jinxhas ruined everything for The Jinx.

The second season of The Jinx actually follows in the footsteps of a number of landmark — for better or worse — true crime stories when they reach a second installment. Making a Murderer and Tiger King returned for second seasons that were about how the events of the first season impacted all of the featured players. Though Serial went off in subsequent seasons and told different stories, any time they’ve done special episodes following up on the story of Adnan Syed, the undercurrent has always been, “Hey, look what we did!” Part of the tantalizing frustration of the later installments of the Paradise Lost films was witnessing how slow the previous films had been in getting justice. It’s a trope!

So the new episodes of The Jinxpick up in March 2015 when, as I’ve already said, Durst was arrested in New Orleans and everybody went, “Holy cow, now I’ve gotta watch that finale.” It’s here that you might be thinking, “OK, we’re gonna get a full accounting of what went down and when between the filmmakers and John Q. Law.”

Kinda.

“In 2013, The Jinx filmmakers shared the evidence they had discovered with law enforcement,” says a line of on-screen text.

That, at least, is a data point. Kinda. A fuzzy data point. Anything else you might be wondering, however, isn’t discussed. At all. Was that conversation with law enforcement held the exact same day as the Durst hot-mic interview? Was the gap between that disclosure and the show’s premiere a product of the natural editing cycle or additional cooperation with authorities? Was it just a totally ginormous coincidence that the arrest was literally the day before the finale? Apparently! There is unquestionably a full documentary, or at least a full episode, that could have been made about the conversations between Jarecki, HBO and their respective attorneys. And if you think that would have made for scintillating TV — I do! — that’s not what the second season of The Jinx is.

No, instead we get to watch a lot of people talking about The Jinx on The Jinx, starting with L.A. deputy district attorney John Lewin, who flew to New Orleans in 2015, sat down across from Durst and almost immediately asked the question on everybody’s mind. No, not “Did you kill three people?” Or “What’s with the acid reflux?” But, “I don’t get it. What made you talk to them?”

I won’t spoil the answer. Lewin is probably the main character of this round of The Jinx, and we also get a lot of Lewin and his colleagues, including the very amusing Belcher twins, eager young researchers on Lewin’s staff. The defense team is perfectly content to be well-represented, too — which, given the very closed nature of the trial and, well, Durst, isn’t all that surprising. There are no appeals for which the juicy bits must be saved.

The first part of The Jinx did a truly spectacular job of breaking down the shifting facts of three murder cases over three decades, smoothly illustrating — between well-shot interviews and unobtrusive re-enactments — the evolving nature of the evidence and perceptions of Durst. It’s interesting to see this new part slightly stymied by how to do the same thing with the stop-and-start events of the past nine years. The decision to condense the circuitous trial, delayed into various parts by COVID, into a single storyline makes sense narratively, but becomes jarring as masks, COVID-mandated protective screens and other precautions come and go and Durst’s health visibly declines.

The second part of The Jinx proves how much of the pleasure of the first was generated by the schadenfreude of the cat-and-mouse game between Durst and Jarecki. Durst was getting off on trying to toy with Jarecki, who was getting off on presenting himself as a mild-mannered, erudite inquisitor. It almost didn’t matter if somebody actually won. Well, Jarecki won.

But in the second part, that wily and evasive Durst is gone. This season is watching a dying man get clobbered. Is he getting deservedly clobbered? Yeah, all signs point to that. Still, there’s less schadenfreude, even if there’s plenty of Durst, and he’s plenty cringey in his prison conversations and phone calls.

Following in those earlier genre footsteps, it’s easy to say that the first part of The Jinx illustrated what a miscarriage of justice looks like and this part illustrates what justice looks like, and it’s simply possible that “justice” is less dramatically interesting than “injustice.” Either way, The Jinx — Part Two is still good TV and that’s probably enough.



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