A Murder at the End of the World Review

In a 2018 article for Slate, critic Kathryn VanArendonk decried “the manspreading of TV,” her term for the then-subtle increase in television runtimes. This creep, she noted, was especially evident as streaming services produced longer episodes, eager to give their originals the air of prestige enjoyed by the premium-cable competition. Five years later, when this problem only seems to have gotten worse, VanArendonk’s essay is a bleak read. But it’s a useful tool with which to criticize A Murder at the End of the World, an FX/Hulu whodunit whose telling is as overlong as its mouthful of a title.

A Murder at the End of the World is sort of what it says on the tin: Someone is dead by the end of the pilot, but the immediacy of the apocalypse is more up for debate. The show takes place primarily in Iceland, where nine bright minds have convened at the request of tech mogul Andy Ronson (Clive Owen) and his ex-hacker wife, Lee (Brit Marling), to discuss solutions to climate change. Our protagonist is Darby Hart (Emma Corrin), a 24-year-old internet sleuth. When a guest goes down, she is on the case.

A Murder at the End of the World Gallery

Er, sort of. Because of its aforementioned unnecessary length, nearly all of Darby’s actions are padded with emotional backstory. This will be no surprise to those familiar with the show’s creators, Marling and Zal Batmanglij, who were also behind Netflix’s cult hit The OA. That meandering tale of near-death experiences and alternate dimensions was meant to span five seasons before its cancellation – but while The OA was original enough to sustain itself almost entirely on vibes, A Murder at the End of the World is, ostensibly, a murder mystery. You might expect narrative urgency and high stakes. What you’ll get are gorgeous visuals, moving performances, and a plot that moves at the speed of molasses.

Of course, beautiful scenes and stellar acting are hardly negligible, and A Murder at the End of the world has both in spades. The cast is stacked, and it’s fun to watch everyone bounce off of each other, even if this show is concerned with Darby’s inner life at the expense of her colorful compatriots. Corrin and Harris Dickinson, who plays Darby’s complex first love, bring gravity and sentimentality in their many scenes together (though it’s worth noting that Corrin is also a powerhouse alone). Marling and Owen are as menacing as they are mysterious. Other characters, like a pleasantly blank AI (Edoardo Ballerini) and a bitchy corporate goon (Raúl Esparza), add some much-needed flavor.

The show’s camerawork, production design, and costumes are unflaggingly on point. Darby has enviable, androgynous style. The tech Marling and Batmangli have dreamed up is believable and aesthetically pleasing. Perhaps most impressively, the creative team actually has a tenable grasp on young people and modern technology. Iceland has never looked better, thanks to cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen. Marling and Batmangli are also clearly concerned with the epidemic of missing and murdered women, and have no compunctions about linking it to misogyny in general.

The pilot, which Marling directed, does a fine job acclimating viewers to Darby’s complicated world, but A Murder at the End of the World never picks up its pace. Of the first five episodes, only one has a runtime under 60 minutes. (While FX distributed the full seven-episode series to the press, it requested that the final two episodes be excluded from review consideration ahead of the premiere.) Despite nearly every other character calling her smart at some point, Darby stumbles into most of her leads as she aimlessly bobs from one suspect to the next. Sure, it’s a little refreshing to see an amateur detective behave amateurishly, but it keeps viewers even less alert. Add on mesmeric shots of its Nordic setting and countless dawdling flashbacks and you’ve got a very sleepy mystery.

Though its plot is apt to draw Glass Onion comparisons, A Murder at the End of the World is more into meditation than mayhem

It’s entirely possible that the show’s final two episodes will prove me wrong – both clock in at under 50 minutes, for one! – but Hulu is certainly taking a gamble by expecting this stylish, lollygagging show to become appointment viewing. Though its plot is apt to draw Glass Onion comparisons, A Murder at the End of the World is more into meditation than mayhem. If, after five out of seven episodes, your protagonist is barely closer to figuring out whodunit, you’ve got another conundrum on your hands: the case of the unfocused script.