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The OA’s success made Murder at the End of the World’s culprit clear to its creators

You might already know who did it

Darby (Emma Corrin) turning around and looking somewhat surprised Photo: Chris Saunders/FX
Zosha Millman (she/her) manages TV coverage at Polygon as TV editor, but will happily write about movies, too. She’s been working as a journalist for more than 10 years.

You don’t have to be familiar with the specifics of the mystery of The OA to know people are obsessed with The OA. The show, co-created and starring Brit Marling, is often pretty high up on the rec list for people looking for twisty, cult sci-fi hits, thanks to its humanistic approach to a zigzagging and even outright bizarre mystery. And the fanbase is still hungry for more.

So it’s no surprise that when crafting A Murder at the End of the World, Marling and her OA co-creator Zal Batmanglij were aware fans wanted more of what The OA offered — a mystery balanced between its thoughtful characters and its ambitious themes — even if the scope of the show felt totally different.

Still, OA fans will notice that the new series encompasses a lot of the same genre-bending techniques that The OA did. A Murder is a whodunnit at a remote retreat in Iceland, hosted by a mysterious tech billionaire. Like The OA before it, the central mystery is blended against one from the past, with flashbacks to Darby (Emma Corrin) on the hunt for a serial killer. Marling and Batmanglij said the main pressure they felt from OA fans when crafting another mystery was how rabid the hunger is for “rich, layered, mysterious storytelling,” which they hoped to replicate here.

“I think [the genre-blending] just happened sort of naturally; we are drawn to different things. And we think, Oh, let’s weave the whodunnit with a sort of road trip love story,” Batmanglij says. “It just came to us and then we rode those two trajectories out.”

Darby (Emma Corrin) and Bill (Harris Dickinson) sitting in a car looking out Photo: Chris Saunders/FX

It was the same way they approached their lead, Darby. The character came to the writing duo first in what they describe as a “childhood memory” of a young girl exposed to crime scenes through her father’s work as a medical examiner.

“That experience there is very intense for her, because unlike her dad, or the other cops that are there — all the male authority figures — she’s 10-years-old, little girl, looking at the ground level, and connecting with a victim who’s also a woman,” Marling says, “and feeling a weight and a sense of responsibility about wanting to solve some of those cases that fall through the cracks.”

From there the story felt clear to them: This early radicalization would send Darby the same place it would send any young Gen Z person: to the internet, where she becomes “electrified” to find out more about unsolved cases. From there, Darby’s path — both through the warm Utah flashbacks and the frigid tragedy in Iceland — unfurled clearly for the co-creators. As Marling puts it, “the story tells you what it wants, and you do your best to fulfill” that path.

And if audiences are paying attention, they may already be able to follow the breadcrumbs to the “who” of the whodunnit — as Marling and Batmanglij did with Darby, they let the culprit of A Murder at the End of the World flow entirely from the story they set up.

“I think the world and the character existed in the idea of this whodunnit where, you know, a tech billionaire is inviting people to a retreat, and we don’t quite know where, and that sense of mystery and all the luminaries that he brings together,” Marling says. “And then really as the theme started to take shape, it became obvious pretty quickly what the mystery itself was, and what the answer would be to the whodunnit. It all kind of comes organically, from the character and from the ideas you’re trying to communicate with the characters.”

A Murder at the End of the World season 1 is now airing on Hulu.

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