HBO’s The Jinx is True Crime With a Twist

The blurry lines between fact and fiction are examined in a new show about millionaire murder suspect Robert Durst

Andrew Jarecki’s new HBO series The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst gives the initial impression of being much like any other true crime show: after opening with gruesome close-ups of body parts in trash bags, while dark mood music plays in the background, Galveston law enforcement officials explain how they caught the trail of the infamous millionaire murder suspect, Robert Durst. But unlike true crime—which ends when bad guys are caught—the first episode of Jarecki’s new series picks up speed close to its end, when he introduces his own presence into the mix. First, Jarecki includes mention of his 2010 film All Good Things, which explores the 1982 disappearance of Durst’s first wife, Kathy. The episode concludes with a phone call from Durst to Jarecki, and finally shots of Durst sitting down for an interview: Durst plans to cooperate with Jarecki, having told him over the phone that he isn’t “interested in any of that true crime stuff.”

The Jinx gives new meaning to meta: the director is investigating his own relationship to the truth and to his subject, while simultaneously attempting to test the possibility that someone generally assumed to be a pathological liar might perhaps be capable of telling something other than a lie. Alternatively, Jarecki may also be pursuing the theory that lies, artfully told, are just as cinematically interesting—or perhaps more interesting—than the truth. Jarecki covers the ambiguous terrain between truth and fiction in his disturbing 2003 documentary Capturing the Friedmans, which focuses on convicted father-and-son child molesters Arnold and Jesse Friedman. In Friedmans, the audience is left to wonder if the guilty parties are in fact actually guilty.

The Jinx seems poised to raise similar questions about Durst; in addition, Jarecki also seems willing and prepared to interrogate himself, asking difficult questions about his own engagement with his subject and his own truth. Unlike the podcast Serial, which seemingly focused not only on storytelling but also on pursuing justice for convicted killer Adnan Masud Syed, The Jinx seems less concerned with Durst’s actual innocence than with the meaning of innocence itself. In a world where a dismembered arm in a garbage bag is considered entertainment, are any of us innocent?

The Jinx airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO