SERIES REVIEW – Darby Hart (Emma Corrin) is a pink-haired, introverted Generation Z girl who is both a famous mystery writer and detective: in other words, she’s a modern-day Agatha Christie and Miss Marple rolled into one. Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij’s Hulu series invites us into a strange investigation with this lead character after tech guru and billionaire Andy Ronson (Clive Owen) invites an odd, highly intellectual and oddball group like Darby to an exclusive Icelandic luxury hotel to discuss issues like the climate crisis and saving the planet, but an unexpected murder upsets his plans. In the Disney Plus series, who better than Darby to lead the investigation, if only because she’s also deeply involved in the tragedy?
When a reclusive and eccentric billionaire invites you to his home – say, a futuristic luxury home in an unknown Icelandic city where an artificially intelligent butler named Ray will kindly attend to your every need and wish – you’d better say no. We’ve seen just enough movies and TV shows about this to know that it won’t end well, at least one person (but more) will turn up dead, and the hunt for the killer will be twisty and difficult.
Agatha Christie-style mystery with many twists and turns
It’s a truly twisted and emotionally turbulent situation for lead character Darby in the exciting new Disney Plus miniseries A Murder at the End of the World, created by Brit Marling and OA creator Zal Batmanglij. Tech mogul Andy Ronson, played by Clive Owen, invites a group of eight “thinkers” to Iceland, including our heroine, ace hacker and true crime writer Darby Hart, played by the extraordinary Emma Corrin. Naturally, things go horribly wrong and someone turns up dead. The other guests, including an astronaut and a movie director, think it was an accident. But Darby, who grew up at crime scenes with his coroner father, is sure it was murder and is driven to solve the crime.
It’s a standard Agatha Christie setup, but the seven-episode series differs in a few key ways. First, Darby is an unusual and complex sleuth with a difference. She’s fragile and extremely sensitive to the people and places around her – but she’s also a rebel whose hacking skills can do a lot of damage. She seems innocent, and in a way she is – but she’s also super-intelligent and can see through those who lie and those who deny. She’s a bit like Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, with her dyed hair, androgynous looks and constant introversion, but ultimately she’s a compassionate, empathetic soul. Corrin, best known for her Emmy-nominated performance as Diana in The Crown, is captivating and versatile in the role. If this miniseries is a success, we may get to see more of her.
The amateur detectives meet again
The special atmosphere of A Murder at the End of the World – the isolated, cold, Icelandic setting, full of quirky characters in stylish, colorful clothes, and extravagant ideas such as the super-intelligent and quite human AI assistant who is almost everywhere and helps Darby (at least in the first three episodes) – also adds a lot to the series. Although the basic concept is Agatha Christie-esque, we are light years away from the usual clichés of Christie mysteries. The mystery plot, both around the murder and stretching back into the past, is rock solid, the red herrings typical of such mysteries largely work, the action scenes are convincing, and all of this is tightly interwoven with broader questions about our online way of life, the depravity of power, and the insidiousness of misogyny. The series is thought-provoking enough to satisfy those who want to think their way to the end.
Throughout, we see flashbacks to the more emotional story of Darby as a little girl, or even as an adolescent, which is directly linked to the present. A few years before Iceland, Darby and Bill (Harris Dickinson), another amateur crime solver she met on the Internet, team up to track down a serial killer. Together on a cross-country road trip, living in rundown motels, they work to uncover what the cops can’t, and in the process form a love affair between two lonely misfits. Their dramatic investigation and time together becomes the subject of Darby’s book, and part of the reason Andy invited her. In addition, Andy invited Bill himself, who had been estranged from Darby for years. Can Darby and Bill, now a famous artist, reconcile?
A unique atmosphere and a great story, but will you find out who the killer is?
Few of the other Icelandic visitors stand out, but that doesn’t matter in the long run. The most prominent characters are Darby, Bill, Andy and Andy’s wife Lee, played by Marling. Before marrying Andy, Lee was a hacker who was discredited and made impossible by revenge porn, making him one of the heroes of Darby’s novel. As a mystery, A Murder at the End of the World has all the genre trappings you’d expect, including closed-circuit TV in the house to help you solve it.
In fact, it’s the show’s unique atmosphere, well-crafted story and great characters that draw viewers in, so if you’re looking for a reimagined Agatha Christie-esque mystery series where the main character is a 24-year-old super-intelligent young detective instead of an older Miss Marple, don’t miss Disney Plus’ latest series, of which three episodes are available on the streaming giant’s service so far.
-Gergely Herpai (BadSector)-