Before I begin, I’d like to issue a Public Service Announcement to readers. If a reclusive and eccentric billionaire invites you to his or her home — for example, a futuristic deluxe lodge in Nowheresville, Iceland, where an AI butler named Ray kindly fulfills your every need and desire — please just say no. We’ve seen enough movies and TV shows about this to know that it won’t end well, that at least one person will be found dead, and that the hunt for the killer will be twisty and difficult. Knives — or perhaps guns, or poison, or fists — will be out.
It is indeed a twisty and difficult situation in the intriguing new miniseries “A Murder at the End of the World,” which was created by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij of “The OA.” Clive Owen’s tech mogul Andy Ronson invites a group of eight “thought leaders” to Iceland, including our heroine, the ace hacker and true-crime author Darby Hart, who is played by the extraordinary Emma Corrin. Naturally, things go horribly wrong and someone is found dead. The other guests, including an astronaut and a filmmaker, believe the death was accidental. But Darby, who grew up visiting crime scenes with her coroner father, is certain it was murder, and she is driven to solve the crime.
It’s a standard setup, in the spirit of Agatha Christie, but the seven-episode series is distinguished in a few significant ways. First of all, Darby is an unusual and complicated sleuth. She’s fragile and acutely sensitive to the people and places around her — but she’s also a rebel whose hacking skills can do plenty of damage. She looks like an innocent, and in some ways she is — but she is also brilliant when it comes to seeing through those who dissemble and those who deny. She’s a bit like Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, with her dyed hair, her androgynous look, and her introversion; but ultimately she is a warm, empathetic soul. Corrin, best known for her Emmy-nominated turn as Diana on “The Crown,” is riveting and faceted in the role. If this miniseries is successful, perhaps we’ll see more of her.
The atmosphere of “A Murder at the End of the World” — the off-the-grid look, the cold Icelandic location against colorful clothing, the big ideas that are afoot — also gives it a lot of character. It’s worlds away from the coziness of Christie-styled whodunits. While the mystery plot is solid, and the red herrings work for the most part, and the action sequences are compelling, they’re all wound tightly into broader questions about the way we live our lives online, the corruption of power, and the insidiousness of misogyny. The show, which premieres Tuesday on Hulu, is cerebral enough to satisfy those who want to think on their way to the denouement — a denouement, by the way, that I found satisfying enough.
There are flashbacks throughout to a smaller, more emotional story about Darby that feeds directly into the present tense. A few years before Iceland, Darby and Bill (Harris Dickinson), another amateur crime-solver she met online, joined forces to pursue a serial killer. Together on a road trip, staying at dated motels, they worked to uncover what the cops hadn’t, and in the process they formed the sweet bond of two lonely outsiders. Their dramatic investigation and time together become the subject of Darby’s book, and her book is part of the reason she has been invited by Andy. Furthermore, Andy has also invited Bill, who has been estranged from Darby for years. Can Darby and Bill, now a famous artist, make amends?
Few of the other guests in Iceland stand out much, but it doesn’t matter in the long run. The most significant characters are Darby, Bill, Andy, and Andy’s wife, Lee, played by Marling. Before she married Andy, Lee was a hacker who was doxed and driven underground, events that have made her one of Darby’s heroes. As a whodunit, “A Murder at the End of the World” has all of the genre moves you might expect, including closed-circuit TV footage at the lodge to aid in figuring it all out. But the miniseries is as much if not more about the characters going through those motions, their anguish, and ours.
A MURDER AT THE END OF THE WORLD
Starring: Emma Corrin, Clive Owen, Brit Marling, Harris Dickinson, Joan Chen, Raúl Esparza, Jermaine Fowler Alice Braga, Edoardo Ballerini
On: Hulu. Premieres Nov. 14