Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij’蝉 last collaboration, the woefully short-lived thriller The OA, took viewers on a spiritual, dimension-spanning journey. So it might come as a surprise that their upcoming FX show, A Murder at the End of the World, is a moody mystery very much grounded in reality. It was an intentional and explicit departure for the longtime collaborators. “Metaphysics is something we really gravitate towards, Brit and I, in our storytelling,” Batmanglij tells Vanity Fair in the pair’蝉 first interview about their stylish new show. “We wanted to tell a metaphysical story with our hands tied behind our back, without any magic.”
Through those self-imposed restraints, the duo discovered that there is actually quite a bit of magic in the way that time can shift perspectives. Your past can inform your present, sure, but what if your present could also reanimate your past?
These temporal twists are on full display in the trailer for A Murder at the End of the World, which you can watch exclusively above. The seven-part limited series, which is set to bow November 14 on Hulu, centers on Emma Corrin’蝉 Darby Hart, a skilled hacker turned amateur detective who, alongside her sleuthing partner, Bill (Harris Dickinson), obsessively searches across the Midwest for a serial killer’蝉 victims. Sometime later, after gaining notoriety for her investigation, she’蝉 invited to an exclusive Icelandic retreat hosted by an enigmatic tech billionaire, played by an imposing Clive Owen. But the snowy expanse begins to feel increasingly claustrophobic after one of the guests is found dead.
“I sometimes wonder, would it have been better not to go?” Corrin says in the opening moments of the trailer as a haunting, synth-infused cover of Depeche Mode’蝉 “Strangelove” plays in the background. “I think about it like a coin toss, when your life can go one way—or another.”
Throughout the clip, cool blue-tinged footage of Darby in Iceland is interspersed with richer, warmer shots of her past. “We were thinking a lot about how the story would move between these frozen tundras of Iceland and these open desertscapes of the American West,” says Marling. “We kept thinking about going back and forth between those worlds. They’re so disparate, and yet they’re both places animated by wind. The feeling of wind is this current of time in the story. It’蝉 the winds across Iceland that keep bringing us into the past, and then the desert winds bring us back into the winds of Iceland.”
Marling—who created, wrote, and executive produced Murder at the End of the World alongside Batmanglij—is making her solo directorial debut with the show. She directs the tone-setting first episode and two others. Batmanglij directs the rest.
The duo says that the seed of the project was planted in 2019 as they became interested in telling the story of an amateur sleuth. Stories about young female detectives—think Nancy Drew or Harriet the Spy—don’t always treat their lead characters with much seriousness. But they were struck by how much knowledge Gen Z could obtain through crowdsourcing on the internet. “A young person could potentially, by their mid-20s, build a really impressive skill set in terms of sleuthing,” Marling says. “They’ve logged their 10,000 hours a lot sooner than previous generations,” Batmanglij adds, finishing Marling’蝉 thought—something that happens frequently in both directions when the two are together.
From there, they decided to make their hero a coroner’蝉 daughter, a girl who’蝉 grown up without a mother and with a deep familiarity with small-town crime scenes. Corrin, the British nonbinary actor who broke out playing Princess Diana on The Crown, brings a steeliness to their signature doe-eyed stare. “We like the idea that Darby, as a 10-year-old or whatever, when she encounters the first dead bodies that her dad is working on, she feels a kinship with the victims,” says Batmanglij. Marling adds, “She’蝉 not interested in the psychology of the killer the way we are often culturally obsessed with the dark creativity of the killer—how they did something and how they eluded capture.” Batmanglij finishes that thought: “She’蝉 more interested in the victim.”
Murder at the End of the World’蝉 flashback timeline might be inspired by the nation’蝉 true-crime obsession, but its present-day timeline is all whodunnit. The mystery at the center of the retreat in Iceland unfolds like a modern-day retelling of an Agatha Christie novel. “We read that whodunnits became really popular between the two wars in the last century, and that makes total sense because everyone was looking around to each other and trying to figure out who done it,” says Batmanglij. “When we started working with this in 2019, we also felt that people were looking to each other and trying to figure out who done it. If the British manor house was the old seat of power where Gosford Park was set, for example, then the modern seat of power might be at a technologist’蝉 retreat.”
The other guests represent exactly the type of exclusive crowd you’d expect to attend a retreat seemingly inspired by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt’蝉 secretive Montana confab—or an alt version of a getaway hosted by Glass Onion’蝉 Miles Bron. There’蝉 an Iranian activist (Pegah Ferydoni), a filmmaker (Jermaine Fowler), and an astronaut (Alice Braga). The expansive supporting cast also includes Marling, who, after a starring turn as The OA’蝉 titular character, appears in Murder at the End of the World as a well-known female hacker.
Technology is a constant presence in the series, from Darby’蝉 use of chat boards to crowdsource her investigations to the AI assistant that tends to the needs of the retreat’蝉 guests. Though the show was written more than three years ago, many of the innovations discussed in the script feel prescient today. In one scene, a character shows off deepfake technology with frightening implications. “When we set out to write this story, everything we were writing about was science fiction,” says Marling. “In the course of making it, everything that was science fiction is now becoming science present or science near-present.”
These are issues that have become particularly thorny in Hollywood as striking writers and actors fight to protect themselves from an AI incursion. “Now is a watershed moment to really think about how we protect these professions and the art of storytelling so that it doesn’t reach a place where it’蝉 lost the thing that we all come to it for, which is human soul and substance,” says Marling. “We’re in a system that is unhealthy, and the entertainment industry is just one microcosm of it. The gains that the entertainment industry makes are so important. It sets the tone for the rest of the country and workers everywhere.”
“We have to start working together to solve some of these issues,” Batmanglij chimes in. Marling adds: “That’蝉 what ultimately was the most appealing to us about amateur sleuthdom, the idea that the amateur sleuths don’t really go it alone. Part of how they function is that they do it together. That’蝉 the version of technology that’蝉 promising and powerful, the idea that it can spur collective action or unite people in a way they haven’t been able to unite before.”
Murder at the End of the World is Marling and Batmanglij’蝉 fourth collaboration, and with its tightly plotted, thrillingly paced mystery, it’蝉 the one with perhaps the broadest potential appeal. FX will release two episodes and then roll the rest of the show out weekly. “The feeling I love when I come into a story is that somebody’蝉 thought it all out, all the beats of a delicious mystery, and now I get to just sit back and be on a wild ride,” says Marling. “If we’ve done our jobs on this, then it’蝉 just the pleasure of getting to buckle into a roller coaster and have no idea where it’蝉 going.”