As Bob Durst sits down for his interview at the end of the first episode of The Jinx, which detailed all of his misdeeds- being accused of killing his wife, running from the law in an investigation into a different murder, stealing a sandwich when he had thirty thousand dollars in cash, ya’ know, the usual- and as he blinks and twitches and drinks from his glass of water it’s hard not to think, “Oh yeah, this guy definitely killed some people.”
And as the interview begins in episode two, it’s hard not to feel confirmed in your assumption. His voice is like a car driving slowly on an unpaved country road, his eyes are black like a shark, and he blinks…a lot. Its unsettling. But by the end of episode five, a new, completely different Bob takes form in the viewers mind, contradicting the original Bob. You may find yourself actually liking this guy, a feeling as unsettling as his cold gaze at the camera.
Lots of true crime is being released as series, movies, podcasts, books, and documentaries. And the recipe goes as follows: an interesting personality to be interviewed, an absurd crime, and the newly added and most popular ingredient- never-before seen evidence (dun-dun-duuuunnnh). The recipe was created by the success of ‘Serial’ a podcast about Adnan Syed, perfected by The Jinx and then copied many times over, with notable shows like Making a Murderer, McMillions, and Tiger King.
But I will repeat, this was perfected by The Jinx. Their newly acquired evidence may not have been the most shocking (although it was presented the best; the last scene is fire), and the crime might not have been the most absurd (although a billionaire who most likely killed three people and is still walking free is pretty absurd), but the interviews are incredible (Jarecki is an interviewing god), and Bob Durst reaches through the TV screen and grabs you by your eyeballs.
The interview walks us through his significant life events, like witnessing his mom’s suicide and burial, running away from home, the family business being given to his younger brother, marriages crumbling around his fear of parenting, and an inability to emotionally connect with anyone who reaches out. He was, as they put it in the doc, the poor little rich boy who had all the tangibles and none of the intangibles to make him happy.
Then we learn about the disappearance of Kathy Durst, the death of Susan Berman, and that Bob Durst killed a man named Morris Black in what was deemed in a court of law as ‘self-defense.’ And to be frank, he provides us with a very human side of a man who may have killed as many as three people (may have).
He had humorous moments. Like when he shaved his eyebrows while ‘on the lam’ for the death of Morris Black. When questioned if this was on purpose Durst exclaimed, shoulders shrugging gratuitously, “How do you accidentally shave your eyebrows?” When asked in a deposition why he didn’t get along with his brother Douglas he quipped, “You’d have to go back to my childhood for that…I think he stole my toys.” When asked what he thought about fleeing to Galveston, dressed as a mute, stoner woman, to avoid the press, he tells us, “That was a great disguise.” While on the stand at trial for the murder of Morris Black he tried to direct the prosecution as to how his tussle with Morris Black went down. As they poorly reenacted per his instructions he said, “I can’t say that’s my testimony. The two of you look like spaghetti is the truth of the matter.”
He had honest moments. He told us he didn’t want to have children, and how he forced Kathleen to get an abortion because he thought he somehow “would be a jinx.” He talked about domestic abuse as if he was having dinner with a significant other. He mentioned how he couldn’t connect with his in-laws because they were so…normal. His mother-in-law was interested in ‘Yankee’ magazine and Bob claimed he “wasn’t interested in canning.”
He had sweet moments. When asked about his childhood with his mother he called it (as an old man being interviewed at the end of his life) “happy happy happy.” He asked Jarecki for a copy of a photo with Susan that he hadn’t seen before. And towards the end of the series, he walked around Times Square looking like any one of our grandparents, walked into a Starbucks for a Café Americano with his backpack slung over one shoulder. And, in this moment, Bob as a murderer seems like the faintest most fleeting idea. There are two Bobs, the theoretical Bob who most likely, probably, in the past, killed three people, and the real Bob, who sits on-screen and connects with you for five episodes.
Jarecki (the director) puzzles over this very paradox as he prepares to confront Bob with newfound evidence that incriminates Bob as the murderer of Susan Berman, “I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone with him. A lot of time talking to him. I think Bob is a lot more volatile than I’ve ever thought before. And maybe that’s what I had to think in order to do everything we’ve done. In order to be as close to him as I’ve become, maybe I had to imagine that he was more rational.”
He struggles to reconcile the current Bob that he has come to know with the Bob of the past who is most likely a murderer.
HBO and TV in general have a history of making us cheer for the bad guys. Tony Soprano, Walter White, Stringer Bell all make us root for criminals to get away with the crime. But this strange empathy becomes infinitely more conflicting when the story is true, when the man may have actually removed other people from the same planet you are inhabiting. It makes the ‘true’ in true crime a bit too real.
These conflicting views come to a head in the last episode. We thought the story had been told, we thought we understood where we stood on Bob, but then it was all thrown into turmoil when a letter was discovered that made any excuse for Bob’s innocence seem ludicrous and naïve.
As we await the final confrontation between a murderer and his mistake, the viewer must conjure two Bob’s in their mind – the Bob we have come to empathize with and Bob the murderer that lurks in the back of their minds but wasn’t allowed to manifest himself amidst the half-truths and lies.
Thus, the last interview is no longer a documentary of Bob, but a documentary of a documentary of Bob. Jarecki is no longer the man behind the scenes, directing the course of the interview, but an integral part of the story, coming to grips with the new Bob, and choosing an appropriate lane of confrontation. The documentary has the same split personality as Bob himself, and all participants, viewer, director, producer, must adopt this double mindedness in order to capture Bob’s guilt.
When confronted with the letter Bob goes cold, burps, gets hostile, dances around questions, and is unable to tell the difference between the ‘killers’ handwriting and his own. And yet, it still feels like the same old Bob antics. He has danced around dangerous questions before. Here was yet another affirmation- the largest affirmation- of something we always expected, but, just as before, the Bob we empathize with feels like the Bob that will endure in our minds.
That is…until Bob starts talking in the bathroom, unaware of his hot mic. When he finally declared, ‘killed them all of course’ my reaction was so strong because in the last possible moment, this persona that I had created around Bob- that he created around himself was shattered.
I no longer could balance two Bobs and just as the documentary could no longer tell me how to feel, I had to figure out for myself who Bob actually is, hurriedly scrolling through Google searches to reconcile this new person I had never met.
That is the long-lasting impact of The Jinx. And no one has been able to do it as well since.
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