A modern twist on a classic format, A Murder at the End of the World is an Agatha Christie-style whodunit set at a remote Icelandic hotel, hosted by (like Rian Johnson's more comedic Glass Onion) an Elon Musk-inspired tech CEO. The show's title holds an ominous double meaning, referring both to the isolated location, and to the looming climate apocalypse — a topic that dwells in the minds of several characters including amateur detective Darby Hart (Emma Corrin) and reclusive billionaire Andy Ronson (Clive Owen). Encouraging an air of exclusivity, Ronson invites a group of accomplished guests to his Icelandic retreat, hoping to brainstorm ideas for humanity's future.
As you can probably guess, one of those guests quickly winds up dead.
We meet Darby Hart at a publicity event for her book, a true crime memoir about her investigation into a serial killer. Dubbed "the Gen Z Sherlock Holmes," she's a twitchy, socially awkward 24-year-old, visiting crime scenes from an early age with her forensic pathologist father. As a teenager she became obsessed with researching Jane Doe cases, theorizing that a group of seemingly unrelated deaths were all the work of a single killer.
A series of flashbacks depict this investigation as a morbid coming-of-age tale for Darby, who partners up with a fellow crime fanatic named Bill (Harris Dickinson). Road-tripping from crime scene to crime scene, the two young sleuths fall in love.
In the present day, a more experienced Darby tries to solve a very different murder at Andy Ronson's enclave, surrounded by an intriguing cast of suspects including an astronaut (Alice Braga), an obnoxious businessman (Raúl Esparza), and a "smart city" architect (Joan Chen). Also living at the hotel are Ronson's wife Lee (a notorious hacker played by co-showrunner Brit Marling) and their young son Zoomer (Kellan Tetlow).
A Murder at the End of the World arrives with high expectations — or at least, it does if you're a fan of Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij's cult-popular Netflix series The OA. Blending sci-fi, teen drama and New Age fantasy, The OA was compellingly strange, earning critical acclaim before its abrupt cancellation in 2019. This arguably marked the beginning of the end for Netflix championing truly original TV, and it's slightly dispiriting to see Marling and Batmanglij return to television with something so conventional as a murder mystery.
You can still recognize some thematic links between The OA and Murder: apocalyptic imagery, emotional vulnerability, a diverse cast of strangers brought together by circumstance, and a sensitively handled fascination with true crime. In most regards though, it's a more straightforward (and less distinctive) kind of show.
Riffing on vintage whodunit tropes like locked-room murders and a contained group of enigmatic suspects, Darby shakes things up as a fresh type of detective hero. As viewers, we're inclined to assume she's a genius like Holmes and Poirot. But while her obsessive nature and hacker skills make her a successful investigator, she's not very good with people — and she's prone to making stupid mistakes. Her role feels like a subtle pushback against the concept of superhuman detective heroes, dovetailing with similar questions about the supporting cast. Are Ronson's guests really all that special, or did they just spark the interest of a rich guy who envisions himself as a feudal king?
In Darby's case, we're invited to confront the reality behind her big break as a detective. It's certainly impressive that she tracked down a serial killer, but the show acknowledges that murderers don't have to be masterminds to stay free. They can just rely on cops being too lazy and incompetent to find them. Darby and Bill were more tech-savvy than the local police, but more importantly, they were willing to do the legwork.
During Darby's present-day investigation, the show's tech-thriller elements are a bit of a mixed bag. "Morally ambiguous Silicon Valley CEO" is now something of a stock character, as is "AI butler," embodied here by Edoardo Ballerini as Ronson's AI assistant Ray. He watches out for the guests like a more intelligent and personable version of Alexa. Bafflingly, Darby trusts him at face value. She's thrilled to meet Ray via an Augmented Reality app (a piece of technology she really shouldn't find that impressive), and she constantly asks him for information and advice.
This behavior strains credulity, because why would she trust a program created by her blatantly untrustworthy host? A self-described hacker should be more suspicious of AI chatbots and "assistant" tools like Alexa, which is notorious for spying on its users. Darby's lack of surveillance paranoia is a persistent flaw from Episode 1, when she blithely downloads an unlabeled app from an anonymous contact (terrible security instincts!) and accepts Ray's request to meet Ronson at an unknown location. You'd think someone who investigates missing women would have better self-preservation instincts.
It's hard to square away this oddly naive attitude with the show's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo vibes, overlapping with Clive Owen's well-cast but stereotypical role as an ominous tech billionaire. Ronson obviously isn't meant to be sympathetic — in fact, he's controlling, duplicitous and self-centered. But he's still more competent and impressive than his real-life counterparts, perpetuating the image of Silicon Valley bosses as weighty, influential futurists instead of tiresomely simple business tycoons. Even when storytellers position these characters as supervillains, they still play into Bezos and Musk's IRL marketing.
Despite frequent references to buzzy tech industry trends like AI, VR, and behavioral tracking (not to mention the underlying theme of climate doomerism), the show doesn't offer much notably interesting insight.
Of course, your mileage may vary regarding these tech-related qualms. In other regards A Murder at the End of the World is very watchable, balancing character-based drama with juicy cliffhangers and twisty new sources of peril.
Harris Dickinson and Emma Corrin give the standout performances. Darby's nervous, emotive demeanor is an appealingly unusual choice for a detective protagonist, and Corrin is fantastic at switching between Darby's teenage and adult selves. During the flashbacks, Darby seems sweet, uncertain, and visibly happier as she embarks on a tentative romance with the thoughtful Bill. Adult Darby no longer smiles the way she did back then.
Marling and Batmanglij have a rare skill for taking young people seriously. Ignoring teen tropes and generational stereotypes, they opt for specific characterization and casual, naturalistic conversation during those formative scenes between Darby and Bill. A Murder at the End of the World often has an indie movie vibe, shot with tender, evocative lighting and directed exclusively by the two showrunners. It also benefits from skillful costumes and production design: a crucial factor when much of the action takes place at a billionaire's private hotel. Sitting ominously in the middle of nowhere, this building resembles a cross between a Scandinavian spa and a flying saucer.
Stylish, unpredictable, and crafted with care, A Murder at the End of the World offers an offbeat take on the whodunit genre. Unlike most crime dramas, it focuses on sympathy for the victims rather than a perverse fascination with killers and crime scenes. If you want a grown-up murder mystery to watch as the winter nights draw in, it's an enticing choice. But if you're hoping for a successor to The OA — or a tech thriller with a meaningful grasp on the industry — you should probably temper your expectations.
Premieres: Tuesday, Nov. 14 on Hulu
Who's in it: Emma Corrin, Harris Dickinson, Clive Owen, Alice Braga, Brit Marling, Joan Chen
Who's behind it: Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij (directors and co-creators)
For fans of: Devs, Veronica Mars, Scandinavian noir
How many episodes we watched: 5 of 7