A Murder at the End of the World Chapter 4 Spells It All Out for You (Episode Recap)

“Family Secrets”

Sian and Darby out in the snow in their climate suits in A Murder at the End of the World Chapter 4
CR: Lilja Jons/FX

The following recap contains spoilers for A Murder at the End of the World Chapter 4, “Family Secrets” (written by Brit Marling & Zal Batmanglij and directed by Zal Batmanglij)

It feels a bit like the point of A Murder at the End of the World Chapter 4 is to confirm a number of things we already knew or could have reasonably guessed. I’d expect those who watch TV completely passively will probably enjoy this one more than those of us who are paying attention to every detail and trying to figure things out, which is about the biggest criticism I can level against a show like this. I don’t begrudge anyone’s enjoyment, but I am curious to see the reaction of those who’ve been speculating their heads off week to week.

We open with the guests making their way to a bunker beneath the retreat, in light of Andy (Clive Owen) telling Todd (Louis Cancelmi) at the end of last week’s episode to get everyone underground. Besides the fact that Rohan (Javed Khan) is dead, there is a superstorm bearing down on Iceland, but going to the underground bunker (which frankly looks more like a conference room than anything) would seem to have more to do with the fact that a second guest has died than with the weather.

Darby and Martin in the bunker
CR: Chris Saunders/FX

Andy does not join the group underground, which isn’t that surprising, though it does raise the question as to what he was doing during the period of time when the others were down there. Lee (Brit Marling) and Zoomer (Kellan Tetlow) are in the bunker, and that undercuts the idea that Andy wants to protect himself from the others, at least to some degree. Presumably, he’d also want to protect his wife and child.

Regardless, the group does not seem to be down there for very long before they get the all-clear to return to their rooms, where they are supposed to stay on lockdown throughout the impending storm. Darby (Emma Corrin) wants to examine Rohan’s body, but is denied the opportunity, officially. And as he escorts the guests back to their rooms, Todd takes away everyone’s electronics.

This is probably as good of a time as any to lament the continuing lack of characterization A Murder at the End of the World is providing to the guests at the retreat. Perhaps the structure is to give us more of one character an episode, with Chapter 3 being devoted to Rohan and Chapter 4 to Sian (Alice Braga), but Sian already had a little more depth than the others, and there aren’t enough episodes left for that to really work out as a plan.

We’re four episodes in and I haven’t found a way to make some kind of Twin Peaks reference with regard to Lu Mei (Joan Chen), because I haven’t seen much need to mention her at all. She seems nice.

Martin (Jermaine Fowler) made a movie with the help of AI, which I don’t respect, but he seems relatively interested in what Darby might have to say, so I guess he’s alright.

David (Raúl Esparza), on the other hand, makes a dismissive reference to Darby’s age and is just thinly characterized as a rich asshole.

Oliver (Ryan J. Haddad) makes robots.

Ziba (Pegah Ferydoni) is I think an activist of some sort, who likes Bill’s art.

I have virtually nothing else to say about any of these people as we pass the halfway mark of this series, and that’s a bit disappointing. The OA was incredibly rich in its ability to provide an ensemble of characters with depth, so I’d hoped for the same here. I’m starting to fear that given The OA’s abrupt cancellation, Brit and Zal may have overcorrected for A Murder at the End of the World.

David and Eva stand in the bunker
CR: Chris Saunders/FX

Sian comes to Darby’s room after they’re supposed to be under lockdown, and Darby tests her with a tech line that went over my head to prove that she isn’t a hacker, since she’s pretty sure someone hacked Rohan’s pacemaker in order to kill him. Sian passes that test, and Darby proceeds directly to trusting Sian and telling her everything she knows and has been thinking about it.

They sneak through the hotel to Rohan’s body, which Darby briefly examines to confirm her suspicion about his pacemaker being hacked. But, given how she’d earlier been concerned about evidence being lost by waiting three days before the authorities could examine the body, it’s striking how unthorough this examination is. It basically just serves to confirm something we’d already been able to easily infer.

Along the same lines, the dialogue throughout the course of Darby and Sian’s adventure is rather painful. It tends to feel mostly like explicit exposition telling us things we already know or gives voice to easy inferences. For example, Darby tells Sian about the message Rohan sent in Morse code (“One down. Still a go.”) and we’re subjected to a voicing of the interpretation that this means that, although Bill is dead, the plan is still on. What else could this mean? The only thing that would feel intriguing would be any suggestion that it might mean something else.

They get to the ocean and find a capsule that says “Last Chance” on it, which Darby is sure to remind us is the name of Rohan’s boat. I don’t know if Sian already knew that, but it would be reasonable to think that she did. The bigger issue with all of this is that if they knew the ocean was in the direction Rohan was signaling, and knew he had a large boat… well, there was a pretty easy inference to make that would have made their whole dangerous trek through the snow otiose. The crux of the episode thus feels a bit undermotivated.

But, trek through the snow while a blizzard is impending they do. At least they have climate suits to protect them from the elements, and at least they have a snowmobile… until that breaks down.

They walk until they find a guard outpost, and there is a car there. Sian uses a terminal attached to the car to get it started, which makes Darby second-guess her judgment that Sian is not a hacker, but off they go on a slip-sliding ride back to safety.

Along the way, Darby and Sian discuss Andy’s overall plans, and this provides what might be the most intriguing bit of Chapter 4. Sian says that she thinks Andy has been diverting money from the space program she’s supposed to be the face of in order to fund what’s going on here in Iceland. Why is there a bunker? Why are there these climate suits? Because he thinks unpreventable climate collapse is going to happen way sooner than people think.

Then Sian loses control of the car, it flips over a few times, and Darby ends up out in the cold with a head wound before Sian drags her back to campus. Here, Darby freaks out as Eva (Britian Seibert) wants to give her morphine (that’s what killed Bill!), but Eva does it anyway.

Meanwhile, Sian can’t get her helmet off, which is kind of weird despite mentions of some kind of manual override. She’s running out of oxygen, so Todd tries to drill into the helmet, but that doesn’t work. Ultimately, Andy orders an emergency tracheotomy and Sian seems to be saved. I say “seems” because Darby passes out at that point, and the only confirmation we get that Sian is OK after that point is Lee saying so.

We could be suspicious of a lot of things with regard to all of these plot elements, but it’s hard to tell what is paranoid thinking and what isn’t. That should be the strength of “Family Secrets,” but I’m not sure it is.

Regardless, it’s possible that Sian was dissembling to Darby for most of the episode, and it’s even possible that she intended to injure Darby. At the end of the day, though, I think she was just being reckless in how she was driving, and she really does want to help Darby figure things out. Honestly, it would strike me as a bit ham-fisted if that turns out not to be the case—almost as ham-fisted as their dialogue throughout this episode!

What feels a step more likely is that someone was trying to kill Sian by making her helmet malfunction. If that is the case, and we can further presume that all of the murders taking place stem from the same motive/killer, then Andy would be removed from suspicion, unless he wanted to make a show of saving her for the moment. And the same would go for Todd and Eva. If nothing else, they all seem surprised by what’s occurring.

Eva could be giving Darby good medical treatment, or she could be incapacitating her beyond what is necessary because Darby is a thorn in Andy’s side. Of course, if it is the latter, Lee is in on it. Or maybe Lee is behind it. Maybe Lee is the one killing people.

At the end of the episode, Darby wakes up to Zoomer examining her with his stethoscope, which isn’t something I would be suspicious of at all if it weren’t for the fact that he examined Bill in that way just shortly before he died. I think the kid is just playing doctor. I don’t think he’s a killer robot. He seems like a sweet kid being raised in weird circumstances.

I also think he’s Bill’s kid (biologically).

Indeed, Chapter 4 takes a theory many of us had and practically beats us over the head with confirmation. In the flashbacks, Bill tells Darby that a psychic his mom saw told her that he would only have one child, with a woman he’d only been with once. He doesn’t believe that, of course, but it lands as a big clue if you’ve been thinking about this, since Lee told Darby that she and Bill only hooked up one time, and he’s dead now. (I don’t know at all if A Murder at the End of the World is intentionally referencing this Faye Winter with the psychic’s name, since I know nothing about her, but it doesn’t look like she was famous yet in the timeframe in which this dialogue occurs, for what that’s worth.)

If that wasn’t enough (which it isn’t, because psychics aren’t real), flashback-Bill has a little sneezing fit, which he explains stems from a genetic condition. “Family Secrets” ends with Zoomer sneezing in the same way, and Darby clearly drawing the conclusion that he’s Bill’s biological son.

My question is: So what?

I don’t mean to be dismissive of the interpersonal stakes, and I can certainly empathize with how this realization lands for Darby at that level. What I’m wondering about is whether this should feed into our theories about who killed Bill. It might provide Andy with a motive to kill him, but I keep inferring that he’s not guilty by virtue of how he’s been behaving. Maybe the motive was to keep Andy from learning this truth?

Sian tells Darby that David hates how Andy has become distracted by his family, which might rule him out as a suspect if we’re thinking along these lines. On the other hand, if the motive lies in hiding the truth, that might put our sights on Lee.

Personally, I tend to think this might be a red herring. It could be the case that Bill discovered that Zoomer was his biological son, but it’s hard to see how that would feed into some kind of plan that Rohan would be into. The biggest question in my mind remains this one: What were these two planning, and is it still a go? And how does whoever’s on Rohan’s boat factor into this?

If Sian is to be believed, we can infer that Andy is setting up a kind of sanctuary in Iceland to ride out the climate catastrophe he thinks is on the horizon. Maybe the point of the retreat isn’t some meeting of the minds—maybe it’s a question of deciding who he’s going to save along with him.

We could imagine Bill wanting to expose that Andy is gearing up to give up on the great masses of the world in order to save himself and a select few, and that Rohan would have been with him in that. And I imagine Darby would certainly be with him in that. So, maybe that’s the story, though if so it puts Andy back at the top of the suspect list in terms of motive, and I don’t think he did the murders. I suppose my current theory is that Lee did, because she’s completely on board with his beliefs and his project, and she doesn’t want to risk being cut out of his good graces.

Young Darby and Bill sit on a couch
CR: Chris Saunders/FX

The flashbacks in Chapter 4 deepen the relationship between Darby and Bill more than anything else, though these scenes do feel like they’re inching close to what we saw back in Chapter 1. With three episodes to go, it will be interesting to see how much gets filled in between the moment when the pair stands in the basement, staring down the Silver Doe killer, and when Bill abandons Darby in the motel. Given how these flashback scenes feel integral to the structure of A Murder at the End of the World, I suppose they could proceed even further than that, but I’m not sure what we’d gain by seeing either Darby or Bill after their split in 2016.

Overall, “Family Secrets” has me a little worried about this series. It plays as the most straightforward hour of this show so far, and though I can work at making intrigue out of it, I find myself fearing that I’ve figured things out already. And, frankly, the Vivaldi needle drop for the end credits does not help.

I hope that A Murder at the End of the World subverts what I think I know as it enters its final stretch.

See you next week.

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

Caesar non est supra grammaticos

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