‘The Jinx – Part Two’ Review: HBO True Crime Sensation Attempts a Victory Lap

In the nine years since “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” first aired in 2015, true crime has become a beast of its own making. The first part of the series came out the same year that Netflix’s “Making a Murderer” and the “Serial” podcast first launched, and countless new specials and series since that time have tried to replicate their evocative storytelling and viral popularity (see: everything from “Tiger King” to “Quiet on Set”).

HBO is returning to the scene of the crime that started it all with another continuation of the Robert Durst story in “The Jinx – Part Two,” but it struggles to find a reason to exist. “Part One” covered three murders that were connected to Durst, heir to real estate magnate Seymour Durst. Robert’s wife Kathleen “Kathy” McCormack disappeared suddenly in 1982, his friend Susan Berman was shot in the head in 2000, and a past neighbor Morris Black was found dismembered when parts of his body washed up in Galveston, TX in 2001.

The first installment detailed Durst’s connections to the victims, an idea the defendant himself suggested to filmmakers Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling after seeing their work on the film “All Good Things” based on Durst’s story. With a suspect such as Durst who was inexplicably eager to talk about his connection to the crimes, audiences grew fond of the subject’s off-kilter charisma.

“Part Two” argues that the viral success of the original series was reason enough to revitalize it, opening with a montage of stand-up jokes and “SNL” sketches that “Part One” inspired. Los Angeles District Deputy Attorney John Lewin, arguably the star talking head of the new series with the most screentime, says the case was the biggest thing to hit his office since O.J. The new series goes on to cover what happened after Durst’s 2015 arrest for Berman’s murder, unveiling new evidence collected over the eight years the case took to go to trial, interviews with new witnesses and phone calls Durst made to friends and family from prison.

What really made the series so popular the first time was a fortunate twist of fate for the filmmakers when Durst was arrested in Los Angeles mere hours before the finale aired. Along with the audience’s affinity for Durst’s gawky allure, things naturally fell into place for “The Jinx” to become the first viral true-crime doc. Unfortunately for “Part Two,” that luck can’t be replicated for an equally enticing sequel.

Out of all the mysteries left unsolved in the first season, one of the biggest was why on earth would somebody convicted of three murders be so open to discussing his involvement, particularly in a documentary he instigated. This question becomes one of the first riddles undertaken in the new season. “Many times in Bob’s life, there was an option,” Detective Lewin poses early in the first episode. “One door was to keep [his] mouth shut, and one door was to talk. Bob always chooses to talk.”

Many would surely be interested in finding out why Durst was so eager to spill the beans, if only he were still alive to talk about it. Durst died in 2022, a year into serving a life sentence for McCormack’s murder and before his trial for Berman’s death came before the courts, so a story dependent on Durst’s personality falls flat when told through flashback recreations.

There are a few new juicy details about the people connected to Durst that come up, but they often surface as fun factoids rather than some damning evidence that adds to the bigger picture of the story. The second episode tells of how uncooperative Durst’s friend Nick Chavin was with police until his wife tells authorities he knows more than he leads on. But what becomes most interesting is Chavin’s backstory as a pornographic country musician and failed rockstar. Fascinating for sure, but not exactly jaw-dropping.

The reverberations of Durst’s arrest with uncanny timing to the “Part One” finale are the most satisfying scenes. One refers to Durst’s confession when he admits he “Killed them all, of course” while he was still being recorded during a bathroom break from an interview. We get to see a room of people involved in the first series as they watch the first finale, ending with Durst’s hot mic confession. A sense of satisfaction comes from seeing all these people finally vindicated with answers, but when you recall all the other replicated scenes you begin to wonder whether these people honestly recorded their reactions or if it’s just another scripted scene.

With plenty of references to the original “Jinx” throughout the new season, it often feels like watching an awkward attempt at a victory lap to recapture the original magic. The final two episodes could potentially provide a wallop of a twist (critics were only given the first four for review). Episode four ends with Durst taking the stand in a characteristically unusual move for a murder defendant, in line with the peculiar behavior that made us want more the first time. But so far without the star subject, this sequel probably could have made a better podcast.

“The Jinx – Part Two” debuts Sunday, April 21, on HBO and Max with new episodes airing weekly.

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