In case you haven’t received the New York Times alert, seen the trending Facebook topic or read the series of Tweets, Robert Durst — the main character of HBO’s latest docu-seriesThe Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst — was arrested Saturday night in New Orleans on the charge of murder. And that’s not all: The millionaire descendent of the powerful real estate family has admitted his guilt in all three of the murders of which he was suspected, but never convicted, in the past four decades.
In the last moments of Sunday’s series finale, Durst says as much to himself in an off camera moment that, unbeknownst to him, his microphone was recording. “What the h**l did I do?” Mr. Durst murmured to himself. “Killed them all, of course,” he answered.
This admission marks an enormous coup for the many law enforcement and government officials, as well as friends and family members of the victims, who have tried to prove Durst’s guilt for decades — not to mention a huge accomplishment for the series’ Academy Award-nominated director Andrew Jarecki and producer Mark Smerling, who, through their show, did what many previous investigations had failed to achieve.
But the justice came at a price for present and future viewers, many of whom fell victim to a new kind of spoiler last night, as current events unfolding in real time let them know exactly how the series would end.
Most audience members figured something substantial would come about after last week’s episode in which Durst was further connected to the 2000 murder of friend and confidante Susan Berman. And though the evidence presented in this episode — a letter from Durst in the same handwriting as an anonymous note informing the police of Berman’s death — was almost a sure sign of Durst’s guilt, there was still suspense left for the final episode, particularly regarding how Durst would respond to the new information. The intrigue mounted as, following the penultimate episode, Los Angeles prosecutors reopened
the Berman investigation, leading viewers to question whether the final episode could have real life consequences.
The Times alert sent out at 8:57 p.m. Sunday — just about 15 minutes after the finale ended — answered that question, and the final episode did indeed provide some much needed evidence to arrest Durst. The problem for viewers, many of whom watch the show through the streaming service HBO Go and thus did not start watching until after 8 p.m., was that the ding of their phones went off before they reached the final moments of the episode, in which Durst utters his admission.
Within moments of the Times posting its story, various other news and social media outlets had picked up on the show’s ending, and the suspense built over the first five episodes suddenly came tumbling down. Moreover, for all those who were just starting the series, the new information made it increasingly tempting to skip to the last episode — already a problem viewers face when streaming allows them to watch whichever episode they choose.
To say this spoiler truly “spoiled” the show would be an overstatement and discount the incredible storytelling and aestheticism employed throughout the series. Even though the viewers think — and now, know — that Durst is guilty throughout the series, they are kept on the edge of their seats, eager to know how he pulled off the murders, how he got away with them and what he has to say about them today, decades later, in his twitch-laden interviews with Jarecki. Naturally full of plot twists and stranger-than-fiction moments, Durst’s history is one that can be retold again and again, even after the outcome is known.
Still, the new information does take away from the show’s skillfully built intrigue, particularly the climactic events of the final two episodes, and thus causes the entire series to lose some of its timelessness. Because of this, the show’s creators had to make a sacrifice: Justice was more important that ruining the show’s ending for the current audience or any future viewers.
The show, which was the product of years and years of research, and their immense accomplishment of cracking the case that evaded professional investigators, may be overlooked during the trial that is to come. The case begs to be covered — and likely sensationalized — by news media. The stories that will soon be broadcast on television or published in newspapers may not be nearly as gripping as the docu-series, but they will still be captivating and have timeliness on their side.
As we are getting lost in the details of the case and the facts that will be uncovered during the trial, we must not forget the reason the events came to be. Jarecki, Smerling and The Jinx team did incredible work — not only in creating a show that is fantastic in both concept and execution, but also in helping to bring about the justice for which the victims’ loved ones and all those involved in the murders have been waiting. So for your own pleasure, if not out of gratitude to the show’s creators, I recommend spending time in between trial updates with The Jinx, because, really, no spoiler can ruin it.