A Murder at the End of the World Recap: Venus Fly Trap

A Murder at the End of the World

Chapter 4: Family Secrets
Season 1 Episode 4
Editor’s Rating 3 stars

A Murder at the End of the World

Chapter 4: Family Secrets
Season 1 Episode 4
Editor’s Rating 3 stars
Photo: Lija Jons/FX

At this point, you know what you’re going to get with A Murder at the End of the World: some intriguing character drama, some romance, some interesting (and occasionally ham-fisted) dialogue about topics like artificial intelligence, and a slightly half-baked murder mystery. While the show is still overall invested in the question of who killed Bill Farrah — with the tension slowly ratcheting up each week — it also isn’t working overly hard to develop the ensemble and create compelling characters outside of Darby, Bill, Andy, and Lee.

That’s not to say that I’m not enjoying the experience of watching this show; it just mainly comes down to the vibe and performances so far. Still, it can be a little frustrating when the show teases a leap forward in plot before pulling back. The final line of last week’s episode, and the underground bunker scene of this one, teases a sort of locked-room mystery vibe, with Darby as the brilliant young detective questioning each of the other guests at the retreat. But before there’s any time for the antsiness to build into something dramatic, the security check is over and everyone is allowed back upstairs. So we’re back to a somewhat average episode structure, with Darby finding a new ally before beginning to doubt her trust.

If Rohan was the focus of “Chapter 3,” Sian is the focus of “Chapter 4: Family Secrets.” Now that everyone knows Rohan was almost definitely murdered — his pacemaker was hacked using a home monitoring system from the medical suite, leading to a series of fatal shocks to the heart — Sian recognizes the double standards that kept her from taking Darby’s suspicions seriously. It’s nice to see her apologize and go so far as to side with Darby over Andy Ronson, insisting that he should’ve listened to her, too. Both women recognize that they need to take the investigation into their own hands; with a big storm rolling in, the police won’t be able to check out Rohan’s body for two or three days, and who knows how many other people could be dead by then?

Like Darby’s short-lived bond with Rohan, it’s a decent team-up, especially after Darby fills Sian in on the details of the Morse code signals that Rohan was sending. It’s basically the only real lead they have, so they set off into the mountains on a snowmobile clad in sealed climate suits designed to withstand radiation and chemical poisoning.

I have to say, I’m not totally clear on what Darby and Sian expect to find on this trip, and I’m not even sure what valuable information they do find outside of the existence of an inflatable boat that Rohan left behind. It feels like a little reward for how risky the trip is, especially considering what happens next. It’s also not quite enough progress to feel like a meaningful step forward for the story itself. At the end of the day, all they know is that Bill and Rohan had a plan related to the secret Bill wanted to share with Darby the night he died and that Rohan planned to carry it out without him.

There’s a brief scene during the trip when Darby and Sian have a discussion about running down some of the possible suspects. According to Sian, Lu Mei has the strongest motive for killing Bill since his most famous installation critiqued smart cities. David also strikes Darby as fishy, though Sian points out he’s more likely to kill Lee for taking all of Andy’s attention once she got pregnant. I’m not convinced any of this matters much, though. It’s hard to imagine a satisfying scenario where Lu Mei or David is revealed as Bill’s killer a few episodes from now; the same holds true for most of the supporting players, like Martin or Oliver.

When the snowmobile engine dies on their way back, Darby and Sian are forced to walk until they find a Volvo at the guard shack. Sian manages to hack into a terminal to start up the car, which arouses Darby’s suspicions since she’d led Darby to believe she had no hacking skills whatsoever. Again, though, the episode doesn’t seem interested in sustaining that distrust for very long, even if it’s still possible Sian was Bill’s killer. The paranoia goes away quickly after the car overturns on the icy roads, and Sian is left to drag Darby’s concussed, scratched-up body back to the hotel.

That flip made me gasp, and it leads to easily the most harrowing scene of the episode: Sian almost dying when her helmet jams and she runs out of oxygen. This idea is keeping with the show’s general techno-pessimism: We try so hard to save ourselves with clever technology without considering the ways our own creations could kill us. It makes for a very intense scene, especially seeing it through Darby’s delirious point of view.

Ronson only saves Sian by performing an emergency tracheotomy, a delightfully nasty solution. But the episode saves the biggest reveal for last when Darby awakens to open the blinds and notices Zoomer’s sudden sneezing. It turns out he has Autosomal Dominant Compelling Helioopthalmic Outburst (ACHOO) syndrome, a common hereditary condition that Bill also had. It sure seems to imply that Zoomer is Bill’s son, which I’ve speculated about for weeks, though the earliness of the reveal makes it feel like a potential misdirect.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but the flashback sequences are still working best for me when it comes to forming an immediate emotional connection with a clear, legible story. This week’s glimpse into the past starts to bring that story full circle, with the silver pin from last week leading to the final unidentified Jane Doe found with silver jewelry. Carmen Perez left behind a silver engagement ring marked “E. Bell” — the very ring that Darby and Bill returned to its long-dead owner in the first long flashback of the first episode. As Darby speculates later in this episode, it most likely belonged to the killer’s first victim, who was probably someone he knew.

As usual, most of this stretch of the episode lingers on the romance that developed between Darby and Bill on the trail of their serial killer. We can see the seeds of the conflict that will tear them apart not long from now: Darby is deeply, disturbingly desensitized to the horrors they’ve spent months investigating, and it confuses her when Bill doesn’t have the same attitude. She’s so fixated on working up the courage to make a move on him that it doesn’t occur to her why he might feel uncomfortable being intimate right now. They’ve both spent so much time lately trying to get into the head of a monstrous man who hurt many women, and it has made Bill extra aware of the gender dynamics in their relationship.

But with a wordless Coke-and-coffee peace offering and a little communication, the two are able to move past the awkwardness the next morning, having sex for the first time after she asks him to hold her. The vibe is much more comfortable and relaxed in the daytime, especially without Darby pounding shots from the motel mini-bar. Despite the darkness of their circumstances, it makes for a cozy portrait of domestic bliss — and the cut back to Darby’s bleeding face against the snow in the present is brutal.

These moments keep me watching this show: not the halfhearted efforts to suggest potential suspects in a murder mystery without fully following through, but the feelings it produces on a scene-by-scene basis: suspense, fear, intrigue, empathy. While I can’t say “Chapter 4” left me more captivated than ever by the question of who killed Bill, I’m still very invested in Darby finding justice — for both his sake and hers.

Zeroes and Ones

• Most of the class and climate commentary in this episode comes from Sian explaining that Ronson’s secret end-of-the-world projects, like this very bunker, have left him without any funding for the space program. He refuses to release his dire climate projections to the public, focused more on protecting himself and his rich friends, which makes sense for him.

• It is very smooth how Bill manages to grab them a free motel room for the night by figuring out the name and room number of a recently checked-out guest. And he didn’t even need to hack anyone!

• A nice detail: All of Darby’s old music comes from her mom’s iPod. She’s not interested in seeking out someone who left her, but in this small way, they’re connected.

• A psychic told Bill’s mom that he’d have one kid, and the mother would be someone he slept with just once. Obvious foreshadowing alert!

• On that subject, this episode definitely could’ve used more Lee.

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