From the creative duo of Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling that caught the eye of international audiences with their excellent blending of fantasy and mystery in The OA (2016-2019), comes A Murder at the End of the World, a 7-part cozy murder mystery aspiring to introduce a modernized spin on the genre. The screenwriters imbue the show with references to emerging societal issues with the emphasis given primarily to the impact of technological developments on the lives of the population which witnesses the progress without having the time to evaluate and assess the possible ramifications. The ever-expanding interpolation of A. I.-generated content in several fields of social action, artistic or otherwise, is one of the predominant issues that lie at the core of the series. Other challenges faced by twenty-first-century man such as the newfound phenomenon of digital dependency that grows worldwide, even though it's the Western world that is chiefly afflicted, are given due consideration by the showrunners. That is succinctly reflected in the words uttered by the protagonist, a young woman named Darby, in the first episode of the series when she is asked to hand over her smartphone. "Half of my brain is in there" she retorts looking nervous in the face of surrendering the gadget which functions both as an intelligence supplement and stimulant.
The show commences with Darby, an acting tour de force by Emma Corrin who you may remember from playing young Lady Diana in the fourth season of the majestic production The Crown, wearing a hoodie and listening to the iconic Doors song "The End" while she is walking towards a local bookstore. Soon, we learn that she is a soi-disant sleuth and true crime writer who has solved the infamous "Silver Doe" case involving the workings of a deranged serial-killer stalking the streets and taking the lives of budding women. Darby's narration regarding this case will permeate the entirety of the show as the action unfolds in two distinct timelines: the present and the past. In the past, Darby along with her sobering, ace hacker boyfriend Bill (Harris Dickinson) are chasing the Silver Doe killer at the risk of their lives. In the present, Darby gets invited to an exclusive retreat in Iceland as a formal guest of a tech-mogul Andy. Andy summons 7 more exceptional artists, innovators, and modern-day prognosticators in an attempt to seek the answers to the questions tantalizing contemporary civilization. Climate change, A. I. potential, and other scorching issues are included in the itinerary of this idiosyncratic gathering but everything changes when Bill is found dead, allegedly by overdosing on a hefty intravenous dose of heroin.
Darby is a restless spirit by nature and immediately suspects that there is foul play involved in her ex-boyfriend's death. However, the rest of the chosen few seem to embrace the theory suggested by Andy that this was nothing else but the sad, nevertheless foreordained, ending of a man who had submitted to his vices. But nothing can intercept Darby's investigation which will be the narrative thread that connects the present timeline.
Of course, the story setting and the employment of saturated tropes such as the dual timeline narrative technique don't positively predispose the viewers who have watched a vast array of the genre's television productions and now tend to think that they have forever lost the privilege of getting surprised by any gimmick featured onscreen. Murder at the End of the World is a risky bet on behalf of the Batmanglij and Marling dyad as their latest project hangs on its -alleged- capacity to mount a fresh spin on an old recipe. The question that lingers is: Do they succeed? Yes and no. Of course, to be fair, one should complete watching the totality of the episode to assess whether it offers something new in terms of plot creativity and characterization. From what I gathered during the course of the first two parts, the story is engaging, and the to-and-fro jumping of time is handled expertly. The show features a stark protagonist who is supplemented with background information that explains her impulsive attitude. As she aptly summarizes her demeanor during the presentation of her book: "I didn't know how to give up or sense danger when danger was closing in". Darby is a likable character who becomes more identifiable as she relays her struggle with the loneliness of a bright mind. Her relationship with Bill is highlighted in the past timeline and I guess that there is a lot more to watch in the forthcoming episodes. Murder at the End of the World is, among several other things, the tale of an idiopathic romance.
The only issue is that only Darby and Bill radiate plausibility as characters as the secondary roles are neglected and the performances by the supporting actors come across as rudimentary or even underdeveloped. That's the only sin that I've managed to discern as I was watching the first two episodes. Nevertheless, I will definitely keep on watching as I find the story to be alluring while the high production values make the experience even more aesthetically luxuriant. Murder at the End of the World is one of the most fascinating works of the genre for 2023 and it deserves wider recognition.