We are at a place where humanity exists between two spheres. The “real world” is our tangible environment. We can touch things, unpacking textures, tastes and scents. And then, there is another world. Though artificial, and born of the internet and technology, AI is more life-like than ever. Innovation, after all, is infinite. While many of us glide between both sectors, Gen Z and the Alpha generation are coming of age, having only ever been interconnected and heavily online. For better or for worse, this way of living will affect human beings until it all goes dark.
For Darby Hart (a captivating Emma Corrin), the character at the center of creators/directors Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij’s ominous but wholly fascinating “A Murder at the End of the World,” tech and the internet are lifelines. Raised by her single father, a coroner in the tiny town of Lost Nation, Iowa and abandoned by her mother at a young age, Darby has always been interested in the darker aspects of humankind. Shadowing her father at crime scenes and examining bones and dead bodies, mostly of young Jane Does, fuels Darby’s preoccupation with the dead. From her adolescence, she has tried to learn about these women and what happened to them. A skilled hacker and investigator, Darby scours the web for clues. Her online adventures inadvertently connect her to Bill Farrah (Harris Dickinson), a fellow coder who is becoming increasingly disillusioned by the internet. Drawn together by a case and a brewing chemistry, the pair spend the better part of 2016 tracking a serial killer—a grisly figure whose calling card is the silver jewelry found near his victims.
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When “A Murder at the End of the World” opens, Bill and Darby’s serial killer hunting days are in the past. In the present day, Darby, age 24, spends her evenings at book signings, nervously reading passages of her debut memoir “Silver Doe,” a recounting of her and Bill’s time together. At home in her loft, she spends her days sleuthing in forums. Still enamored by the internet and her hacking community, Darby is finally persuaded to come out of her introverted shell after receiving an intriguing invitation.
Fascinated by Darby’s book, Andy Ronson (a glowering Clive Owen), a mega-billionaire and reclusive tech genius, invites the pink-haired amateur detective to a remote resort where she is set to mix and mingle with some of the greatest minds from varied industries. For an up-and-coming author, it’s too big an opportunity to pass up. Initially delighted by the glittering Iceland views, Andy’s AI assistant Ray (Edoardo Ballerini), and by Andy’s wife, legendary hacker Lee Anderson (Marling), Darby is determined to make real-life connections. However, when a guest dies just after the retreat begins, Darby’s world is turned on its axis as she tries desperately to prove they were murdered.
The retreat attendees include Sian, a doctor turned astronaut (Alice Braga) and the first woman to walk on the moon. Martin (Jermaine Fowler) is a master filmmaker looking to partner with Andy. Lu Mei (Joan Chen) is China’s most revered tech titan. David (Raúl Esparza) is a venture capitalist and Andy’s second-in-command. Ziba (Pegah Ferydoni) is an activist and anticapitalist. Oliver (Ryan J. Haddad) is a legendary roboticist. And finally, Rohan (Javed Khan) is a climatologist who has been off the grid for nearly two decades.
To label “A Murder at the End of the World” a murder mystery would be far too simplistic — the limited series moves well beyond that. As Darby tries to unpack Andy’s secrets while deciding who among the guests she can trust, her adventures with Bill and their whirlwind romance often come rolling toward the forefront of her mind. The muted color tones of her 2016 odyssey contrast against the vibrant, stylized, hypermodern hotel. The series is a massive interwoven web of the past and the present that slowly reveals clues about what’s happening at this elusive retreat, and why Darby has found herself at the center of it.
The themes outlined in the series are immense and haunting. A compelling commentary on misogyny — stemming from the countless murder victims who speak to Darby’s soul, to Lee’s career as a hacker being destroyed after she was doxxed and stalked — it’s clear how women are given the short end of the stick in both the “real world” and online. As the youngest and least accomplished on the retreat, Darby is also constantly gaslit and underestimated, even as it becomes glaringly apparent that something is very wrong. With disparate interests, the guests are at odds about everything from ableism and capitalism to technology’s role in the future of humanity. These differing ideals are all thrust to the surface, clashing and colliding as Andy’s motives reveal themselves and Darby gets closer to the truth.
A massive puzzle of a series, the beauty and innovation of “A Murder at the End of the World” is its ability to merge two starkly different environments and, with it, two contrasting versions of Darby. There’s the 18-year-old who was slowly coming into herself and the 24-year-old woman determined to expose the truth no matter how sinister it may be. While the mystery is a central component of the story, Marling and Batmanglij’s latest spellbinding series is all about power. It examines who gets to wield control over others, and how unfettered ambition can quickly become a virus.
The first two episodes of FX’s “A Murder at the End of the World” premiere Nov. 14 on Hulu, with new episodes dropping weekly on Tuesdays.
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