We are weirdly fascinated by the minds of serial killers. Although we don’t know what we’ll do if we come across one, we sure like to watch the fictionalized versions of these monsters go on various kinds of killing sprees. That has led to the success of “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” “The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes,” “You,” “Dexter,” “Hannibal,” “Mindhunter,” “The Serpent,” “The Ted Bundy Tapes,” “Tales of the Grim Sleeper,” “The Confession Killer,” “Psycho,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Scream,” “Seven,” “Zodiac,” “Memories of Murder,” and more. But nowadays, this particular subgenre is facing a severe amount of backlash for forcing the victims of these serial killers to relive their trauma while production houses and streaming platforms make money off it. So, it’s intriguing that a show like “Swarm” is choosing to comment on this trend through the lens of extreme fandoms that are ready to go to any lengths for their favorite stars.
“Swarm” has been created by Donald Glover and Jabine Nabers. The episodes have been directed by Donald, Stephen Glover, Ibra Ake, and Adamma Ebo. The writers’ room features Karen Joseph Adcock, Malia Obama (yes, Michelle and Barack Obama’s daughter), Ake, Stephen, Kara Brown, and Jamal Olori. The show follows Dre (Dominique Fishback), who lives with her stepsister Marissa (Chloe Bailey). They are hardcore fans of the pop star Ni’Jah (Nirine S. Brown), and they either dream of becoming like her or being in her presence. Marissa has a boyfriend named Khalid (Damson Idris), but Dre doesn’t approve of him because of his general sleaziness. One day, when Marissa asks Dre to cover her shift at the mall, she messes things up, thereby jeopardizing their only source of income. That’s also the day Marissa decides to move to Atlanta with Khalid. Since this turn of events upsets Dre a lot, she goes out drinking and mating for the night and ignores Marissa’s calls. When Dre finally returns home, she finds out that Marissa has killed herself because of a tiff with Khalid, and that sends her into a downward spiral.
Donald Glover, Jabine Nabers, and the rest of the team are doing a lot in “Swarm.” They are talking about what it means to be a Black woman in the USA when one-half of the country is trying too hard to be inclusive while the other is unabashedly partaking in racism. The show dives into the mythos of Beyoncé through the character of Ni’jah and how the love for a popular star can play with a person’s sense of morality. It dives into queerness amongst Black women and how that’s perceived by society. As mentioned before, it delves into our ever-growing love for serial killings and questions our need to assign a reason to a person’s murderous rage while ignoring our personal problems. And on top of all that, the showrunners force us to think about whether we are with Dre or against her because one minute it seems like her murders are justified, and the next you are fighting the urge to throw up because of the gruesomeness of her violence. But does it all come together in a cohesive fashion? I am not so sure.
There’s no doubt that “Swarm” has a very consistent, darkly comedic tone. It lets the viewer marinate in the awkwardness of Dre’s perspective. You get to laugh due to the situational comedy. You feel a sense of discomfort due to Dre’s erratic and violent behavior. And, if you are in tune with the pop culture conversations going on for the past decade, you’ll be in awe of all the super meta moments and references. From a technical point of view, the music by Michael Uzowuru, the cinematography by Drew Daniels and Gabriel Patay, the editing by Sharidan Sotelo, Ali Greer, and Franky Guttman, and the overall production design, the art direction (the title designs are so inventive), costume design, hair, and make-up are top notch. Despite not being an action-oriented show, when things hit the fan in the most audacious way possible, it works. But the serial killer aspect of the show, the fangirling part of the narrative, the meta jokes, and the overarching slice-of-modern-Americana approach to the storytelling all end up feeling a little disjointed. It’s as if the showrunners are trying to say a lot of things, but the final result is a whole lot of nothing.
Another creative decision in “Swarm” that seems weird is that it isn’t really interested in developing any of the side characters. This poses a challenge to the actors because they have one episode (or two, if they are lucky) each to make their mark. To be honest, Chloe Bailey, Karen Rodriguez, Heather Simms, Kiersey Clemons, Damson Idris, Leon, Paris Jackson, Byron Bowers, Kate Lyn Sheil, X Mayo, Atkins Estimond, Victoria Blade, Rickey Thompson, Billie Eilish, and more are great in their respective roles. But their presence feels like window dressing in comparison to that of Dominique Fishback. Saying that “she’s a force to be reckoned with” or that she’s “one of the best actors working in the industry right now” will be an understatement because Fishback is truly that tremendous. Her face is a map that’s meant to confuse you so that you never get a proper reading on Dre. It’s never really clear when she’s being genuine and when she’s playing it up. The way she uses her physicality is exquisite. And there are two moments where she breaks into tears without interrupting her flow of dialogue, and that made me throw my jaw onto the floor.
In conclusion, I want to say that I am confused about “Swarm,” and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I’ve seen plenty of stories about “obsessed fans” in movies like “Misery,” “The King of Comedy,” “Cam,” “The Fan,” “Fan,” “AK vs. AK,” “The Incredibles,” “Ingrid Goes West,” and “Perfect Blue.” And “Swarm” isn’t saying anything new about this particular phenomenon. It’s a very extreme example of a fan of a celebrity who murders the haters, whereas toxic fandoms are usually racist, misogynistic, abusive, and terminally active online. So, the nuances of how such people force internet users and even celebrities to delete their social media accounts are lost in the process. I don’t exactly know what Glover and Nabers have to say about Beyoncé. If you see Dre as a straightforward serial killer, then yes, she’s an interesting addition to the proverbial “Hall of Fame,” which is mostly filled with cishet, White men. The one unequivocally amazing part of the show is Dominique Fishback. So, even if all the textual and visual reasons don’t compel you, I’d still advise you to give “Swarm” a watch for Fishback and Fishback alone.