pale woman wearing a hood peering around a dark corner
(Hulu)

Why Hulu’s Moody New Murder Mystery Is the A.I. Whodunit We Need Right Now

Hulu’s much-anticipated limited series A Murder at the End of the World begins with the mournful strains of “The End” by The Doors, perfectly setting the grim tone. On November 14, Hulu released the first two of the murder mystery’s 7 episodes, introducing viewers to Darby Hart (Emma Corrin), the “Gen Z Sherlock.”

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Darby has grown up tagging along with her medical examiner father while he worked. By the time she reaches adulthood, she has investigated 56 murders. She becomes a hacker and quasi-vigilante, using her technical skills to solve the cold cases of missing women and people of color who continually slip through the justice system’s many cracks. While pursuing the potential serial killer behind those missing women, she meets (and falls in love with) a fellow amateur sleuth named Bill Farrah (Harris Dickinson).

Cut to present day: Darby has written a true crime memoir about her experience hunting the killer with Bill, whom she hasn’t seen in six years. Her minor fame earns her an invitation from tech mogul Andy Ronson, played by Clive Owen (and his blindingly white mouthful of veneers). Andy asks Darby to participate in a group-think with nine other “original thinkers,” and the topic of discussion is meant to be centered around environmental changes that effect all of humanity.

woman in red hoodie giving a reading in a bookstore
(Hulu)

Darby agrees to go, but only because she wants to meet Andy’s wife, Lee Andersen (Brit Marling, who also co-wrote and directed). Lee used to be a hacker like Darby, but she retreated from the public eye after some sort of online scandal. Our heroine joins the other guests on Andy’s private jet (that flying library—swoon!), and lands in a frigid high-tech hotel perched atop a literal glacier in Iceland.

Oh, and surprise! Bill is there, too.

Welcome to “the end of the world.” Now, on to the murder!

By the end of the second episode, someone in the group has met a rather suspicious demise. Naturally, Darby can’t help but start covertly investigating the death, which she suspects is actually a murder. Here, the actress’ quiet style gives depth to a rather lackluster script. Through her skulking about the icy property and silent observations, she’s transformed into an internet-dependent, hoodie-wearing Hercule Poirot, minus the curly-ended moustache.

In fact, there are more comparisons to Agatha Christie’s work here than we can count. The very concept of gathering a group in a remote location so a detective can solve a murder is so common that it’s a murder mystery trope. Most recently, the Netflix movie Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery used the exact same notion. There’s a reason it’s so common: it works.

A woman with blonde hair in profile
(Hulu)

It’s also an intentional choice by the show’s creators. Marling told Elle, “I think the whodunit came to popularity for the first time between the First and Second World Wars because I think people at that time were looking around and being like, ‘Okay, how have we gotten to this place, and who’s responsible?’ And so it felt like it was due for another cycle.”

As for why they chose to set the series in Iceland: “And I guess if the old seat of power had been the English manor house and all the intrigue that unfolds in there, it felt like the new seat of power is Silicon Valley and technology retreats and the sort of fiefdoms of some of these tech billionaires.”

In A Murder at the End of the World, the whodunit trope feels new again, and it’s all thanks to the A.I. twist and the incredible location of the action. Iceland really is the “land of fire and ice,” and wide shots of Andy’s remote hotel look like a spaceship that just landed on a distant planet. The isolation is the scariest thing about being trapped with a group of strangers, one of whom is definitely a killer.

Incidentally, it’s kind of funny to learn that while some scenes were indeed shot in Iceland, much of A Murder at the End of the World was shot much closer to home in Utah and New Jersey.

man and woman with flashlight cautiously entering a dark room
(Hulu)

Where modernity meets the past

A Murder at the End of the World was written and directed by Marling and Zal Batmanglij, the same duo who created Netflix’s The O.A. This series has the same atmospheric and tech-heavy feel, yet the writers’ use of the sort of age-old murder mystery tropes favored by Agatha Christie feels like a throwback to a simpler time. Indeed, the juxtaposition of modern and old fashioned is at the heart of A Murder at the End of the World.

For starters, Andy isn’t only interested in the environment; he’s also got a vested interest in A.I., or “alternative intelligence,” as he insists on calling it. He’s created a Siri and Alexa-like A.I. called Ray (Edoardo Ballerini), who appears like a Star Wars hologram whenever he’s summoned. Ray is always there, listening, even when he’s been silenced. I have a feeling this fact will become more evident as the story continues.

There’s also the matter of Andy and Lee’s young son, Zoomer (Kellan Tetlow), who joins the group for dinner on their first evening in Iceland. At first glance, Zoomer seems like your typical precocious only child, a rich kid growing up in virtual isolation whose only interactions are with adults … and A.I. But there’s something off about Zoomer, and I’m not just talking about that name. When Andy admonishes a guest for offering Zoomer a piece of bread, my ears pricked up. Is it possible that Zoomer is not a human child at all, but a sophisticated piece of alternative intelligence?

man stands smiling at the end of a candlelit dinner table
(Hulu)

A chilling glimpse into a possible real-life future?

With A.I. creeping into our world more and more each day, A Murder at the End of the World feels like a cautionary tale. How long will it be before we rely on A.I. (like Ray), so much that we forget how to do things on our own? How long until we can’t tell the difference between an intelligent child and an artificial intelligence?

There’s one particular scene I’ll leave you to ponder. During the dinner scene, Andy shows off one of Ray’s many talents by having the A.I. read a “brand new” chapter of “Harry Potter,” written in the voice and tone of Ernest Hemingway. Ray obliges in an instant, without missing a beat.

Are we freaked out yet?

The five remaining episodes of A Murder at the End of the World air every Tuesday on FX on Hulu.

(featured image: FX on Hulu)


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Author
Beverly Jenkins
Beverly Jenkins (she/her) is a contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She writes about pop culture, entertainment, and web memes, and has published a book or a funny day-to-day desk calendar about web humor every year for a decade. When not writing, she's listening to audiobooks or watching streaming movies under a pile of her very loved (spoiled) pets.