Just one month into the new year, HBO is already billing The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst as “one of the most anticipated television events of 2015.” That’s a bold statement for a channel that will soon give us projects from J.J. Abrams and Martin Scorsese, especially since The Jinx is a documentary, not a star-studded prestige drama. Yet for anyone who binged the podcast Serial or the docuseries The Staircase, it might also be true. As The Jinx digs into the bizarre life of real estate heir and murder suspect Robert Durst, whose wife, Kathie, disappeared in 1982 and whose neighbor was dismembered nearly two decades later, the six-part series is bound to become the next obsession for true-crime fans. Throw in the fact that Ryan Gosling played a fictionalized version of Durst in All Good Things, the 2010 film made by Jinx director Andrew Jarecki, and the cult appeal gets stronger. Everything about this show begs for its own Reddit thread. (Stay off Wikipedia if you don’t want the real-life twists spoiled for you.)
Told through interviews with investigators, lawyers, journalists, friends, and Durst himself (who’s always a question ahead of Jarecki), The Jinx is the story of a troubled man warped by privilege. Raised in a billionaire family, Durst is “the kind of guy who walks through life thinking he could do whatever he wanted,” according to one reporter. After escaping the police—who are looking for him in connection with that murdered neighbor—he drives a car full of guns and drugs to the supermarket, then steals a hoagie, as if it never occurred to him that such risky behavior might get him caught.
Whether that makes him diabolical or pathetic, arrogant or naive, will be a topic of heated discussion. Durst is both victim and villain, getting genuinely choked up about his terrible childhood, then coldly admitting to hitting Kathie. He can be scarily charming, even sympathetic—as when he reveals a shocking act of cruelty he suffered as a kid—though judging by the two episodes available for preview, the guy twitches so much, how could he not be guilty? The Jinx isn’t really a whodunit anyway. There’s a much better mystery here: What makes this guy tick?
You might ask the same of Jarecki, who’s so invested in jerking his audience around about Durst’s guilt or innocence, it’s a bit sadistic itself. Though after collecting 10 years of evidence and nearly 25 hours of interviews, he’s earned the right to tease us a little. The Jinx might make amateur sleuths of us all. But judging by this gripping, stranger-than-fiction detective story, Jarecki’s the real thing. A–