‘A Murder at the End of the World’ series review: Smart, prescient whodunit

This seeming reimagining of a classic locked room mystery is simultaneously old fashioned and cutting edge, and wholly enjoyable

December 27, 2023 12:39 pm | Updated 12:57 pm IST

Emma Corrin in ‘A Murder at the End of the World’.

Emma Corrin in ‘A Murder at the End of the World’. | Photo Credit: FX Networks/YouTube

While there have been murmurings against the “timid” resolution of the excellent A Murder at the End of the World, the concerns highlighted by the mini-series make the solution presented a plausible one.

A Murder at the End of the World (English, Season 1) 
Episodes: 7
Run time: 40 - 74 minutes
Creators: Brit Marling, Zal Batmanglij
Starring: Emma Corrin, Brit Marling, Harris Dickinson, Alice Braga, Joan Chen, Raúl Esparza, Jermaine Fowler, Ryan J. Haddad, Pegah Ferydoni, Javed Khan, Louis Cancelmi, Edoardo Ballerini, Clive Owen
Storyline: As people die at a tech retreat in a remote location, it is up to a hacker to find out whodunit

The show, served up by The OA’s Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, follows two timelines. There is the present, where author, hacker and amateur sleuth Darby Hart (Emma Corrin), is invited to a retreat by tech billionaire Andy Ronson (Clive Owen). There is also a past where Darby, who knows her way around the dead, thanks to her coroner father (Neal Huff), joins forces with another hacker, Bill Farrah (Harris Dickinson), to track down a serial killer.

Darby has written a book about Bill and her trek through America hunting down this person who killed women, leaving silver jewellery on the bodies. At one of her father’s autopsies, 18-year-old Darby finds silver earrings beside the bones, and when she posts about the earrings on a message board, she meets Bill. The two follow the breadcrumb trail to its decidedly creepy end — the basement of an abandoned house.

We first see Darby at a reading of her book, The Silver Doe, detailing the hunt for the killer. Six years later, Bill and Darby are not together anymore, and Ronson invites Darby to a retreat at his fancy hotel in Iceland. As Darby enters the plane, she sees the other guests—all titans in their own right. There is Sian Cruise (Alice Braga), who walked on the moon, Lu Mei (Joan Chen), who builds smart cities in China, film maker Martin Mitchell (Jermaine Fowler), robotics expert, Oliver Marwan (Ryan J. Haddad), climatologist, Rohan Ravjit (Javed Khan), activist Ziba (Pegah Ferydoni) and the mysterious David Alvarez (Raúl Esparza).

Ronson is married to the legendary hacker, Lee (Brit Marling), who was doxxed, hunted and had her dog decapitated (gosh!) for writing about how misogyny was destroying the internet. The couple have a precocious five-year-old son, Zoomer (Kellan Tetlow).

At the hotel, Darby meets her AI assistant Ray (Edoardo Ballerini) and other staff, including the manager Marius (Christopher Gurr), Eva (Britian Seibert), Zoomer’s nanny who is also a qualified doctor, Tomas (Daniel Olson), a server, and Ronson’s head of security, Todd, (Louis Cancelmi).

At dinner, Darby is shocked to meet Bill who is now an artist and activist called Fangs, well known for his takedown of capitalism (he painted out the ‘S’ in Shell hoardings!).

There is a death, a snowstorm leading to all in the hotel being snowbound, and a killer on the loose. There are secrets and lies, questions about paternity, rivalries and jealousies. With the internet compromised, it will take all Darby’s ingenuity as a hacker to bypass the many eyes, virtual and offline, to uncover the truth.

While Darby is a millennial Sherlock Holmes, she seems to share DNA with that other tattooed hacker, Lisbeth Salander — Darby has a tattoo designed as a question mark on her hand. Holmes however, has become an archetype, and so all investigators and hunters of the truth will naturally share some of his characteristics.

Incidentally, Emma Corrin, who makes for such a brilliant Darby, played Lady Diana in The Crown, and Claire Foy, who plays Queen Elizabeth in The Crown, played Salander in The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018). Apart from being a smashing murder mystery complete with a closed circle of suspects and red herrings, the show, like great crime stories, addresses the concerns of the time.

In an interview, Marling quotes sci-fi writer Ted Chiang’s description of AI as a “force-multiplier for capitalism”. It is also one of the thoughts running through the show. There is the fear of AI taking over our jobs as Ray creates a new Harry Potter novel in the style of Ernest Hemingway and helps Martin write a movie. There is Bill’s theory of “death by GPS” on the habit of trusting the GPS rather than your senses and the inherent misogyny and racism of every aspect of life.

ALSO READ:‘The Crown’ Season 6 Part 2 review: The reign of what was once a gorgeous show stumbles to a kitschy, melodramatic close

The writing and world building is exquisite. The visuals are heartbreakingly lovely. The shadowy chase through towering cliffs, silently standing sentinel as they have for millennia, reminds us of the non-effect of our fleeting presence on this third rock from the sun.

A Murder at the End of the World is a fine murder mystery, with clues, suspects and a quirky investigator, as well as a heartbreaking love story, an acute character study and a keen indictment of the present state of the world.

A Murder at the End of the World is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar

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