While the film and TV industry is nowhere near lacking murder mystery stories, we are in desperate need of one that reinvents the genre. Just this year, “A Haunting in Venice” made nearly double its budget back at the box office, and it feels like every week, various production companies greenlight a new miniseries adapted from a popular thriller novel. The genre, along with its audience, is transforming, but the creators behind many of these projects don’t truly understand what makes this genre intriguing. Audiences who crave a murder mystery aren’t going to be satisfied with a plot twist here and there if there’s nothing for them to sink their teeth into along the way. “A Murder at the End of the World” is the case of a show that gives us much to chew on initially before becoming dust in our mouths.
The seven-episode FX miniseries follows Darby (Emma Corrin), an amateur sleuth-turned-true crime writer. We’re first introduced to her as she reads an excerpt from her first novel to a crowd, “beginning at the end,” as she says. The story then goes into flashback mode, where she and her partner in crime, Bill (Harris Dickinson), are on the case of the elusive Silver Doe Killer. While Darby is adamant about catching him, Bill is more nervous and believes they’re putting themselves in danger. After all, they did meet on an online forum and have no history of solving murders. “I didn’t know how to give up or how to sense danger when danger was closing in,” Darby says to the audience, admitting early on that her ego and drive have the power to put not only herself in danger but others as well.
While it’s easy to get sucked into the climax of Darby’s book, with the flashbacks leading up to an intense showdown before she abruptly stops reading, this series isn’t about the first case Darby worked on. “A Murder at the End of the World” starts once she is invited to a secret retreat by tech billionaire Andy Ronson (Clive Owen). Though Darby is skeptical, Andy is married to hacker Lee Ronson (Brit Marling), who was once doxxed online and forced into hiding by her online community. Darby is infatuated with Lee and her story and sees the retreat as the perfect opportunity to meet one of her heroes.
Invited on this trip is Bill, Darby’s old partner and romantic interest. Though the two haven’t spoken in six years, there’s still an invisible rope drawing them to each other, almost as if the powers that be are forcing them into close proximity again for a reason. It appears that this trip will allow them to reconnect, though it all crumbles once someone is murdered. Though this plotline promises an intriguing watch filled with a cast of unreliable characters, the series, unfortunately, stumbles quite early.
Beyond its first two episodes, “A Murder at the End of the World” just isn’t thrilling. Twists and turns fizzle into bland exposition dumps. It becomes clear that the show’s first mistake was introducing us to a more intriguing story in Darby and Bill’s past.
Flashbacks shouldn’t be the most intriguing aspect of a show, especially a murder mystery. Watching two young amateur sleuths go from Reddit forums to real-life detective work is ten times more interesting than watching a run-of-the-mill thriller unfold in real-time. The flashbacks of Darby and Bill chasing the Silver Doe Killer are filled with great chemistry between Corrin and Dickinson as their respective loner characters learn to open themselves up to love and teamwork along the way. In the present, though, the emotional heat from the flashbacks becomes as frigid as the Icelandic landscape the two now find themselves in.
“You grew up on crime scenes, and you think this is one too. It’s not,” Andy says to Darby after a second murder occurs, introducing a thread that’s present throughout but never really goes anywhere. Is this all happening inside Darby’s head? Have the people who’ve died simply succumbed to secret addictions or health problems? And what does being obsessed with true crime at a young age do to someone’s psyche down the line? Despite these interesting questions, the show uses them most of all for middling discourse about tech and wealth.
Though masterfully directed, “A Murder at the End of the World” never delves deep enough to flourish into a great show. Talent like Louis Cancelmi, Jermaine Fowler, and Alice Braga are wasted on characters who aren’t given enough to do until they almost bleed into the stark walls of Andy’s mansion. From beautiful cinematography that captures the harsh Icelandic landscapes to its looming and ominous score, all the ingredients for a thrilling miniseries are here. Unfortunately, it isn’t enough, and the dull middle episodes of this mystery miniseries kill its initial promise.
Five episodes were screened for review. “A Murder at the End of the World” premieres on FX on November 14th.