TV Series Review: Prime Video’s Swarm

Year: 2022
Episodes: 7 (~35 minutes)
Creators: Donald Glover, Janine Nabers
Stars: Dominique Fishback, Narine S. Brown, Chloe Bailey, Damson Idris, Kiersey Clemons

By Tom Moore

Writer Janine Nabers (“Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce”) and “Atlanta” creator Donald Glover come together to craft a twisted concoction for Prime Video that acts as a horrifying character study of fandom and showcases the incredible prowess of Dominique Fishback.

“Swarm” follows Dre (Fishback), a young girl from Houston whose obsession with a fictional pop singer named Ni’Jah (Narine S. Brown) takes a nasty new form after she suffers a grave loss. Dre’s growing grief and obsession fuel her to go on a vicious killing spree targeting people who spread hate about Ni’Jah online. As Dre leaves more carnage in her path, her desires to meet Ni’Jah begin to twist her reality and put her in a destructive downward spiral.

Although the series’ characters and story are fictional, its horrors surrounding fandom are heavily tied to reality. Ni’Jah and her fanbase, The Swarm, are visually and ideologically inspired by Beyonce and her Beyhive fanbase, and The Swarm’s “defense” of their idol is sadly a glaring reflecting of toxic modern fandom. When thinking about how The Swarm targets and attacks anyone who speaks ill of Ni’Jah on social media, their reminiscence to Swifties, the BTS ARMY, or even “Star Wars” fans can’t be ignored. They quickly form a resistance and say some pretty awful stuff that makes their stings leave quite an impact. For most, The Swarm’s trolling would be seen as just mean comments that are best to brush off, but they mean so much more to Dre.

Dre uses The Swarm’s posts on social media to target Ni’Jah’s detractors, fuel her bloody murder spree, and validate her obsession. Their attacks essentially give Dre a hit list to work with and help drive her actions. While they may not be intentionally helping Dre, they do play their own role in her actions and the connection between The Swarm and Dre is a key part to the series’ dissection on foul fandom. The series really establishes how mass opinion can have damaging ripples when it starts to turn toxic and the devastating influence it can have. The Swarm might be a small part to “Swarm’s” overall story, but they make a huge impact on Dre and her destructive personal journey.

Now, while its depiction of The Swarm is pretty flawless, it would’ve been nice for “Swarm” to do a little more when delving into toxic fandom. Dre rarely comes across many characters that actually challenge or discuss her views of fandom or fandom, in general. Even the ones that do talk about fandom don’t offer many unique perspectives. It just would’ve been nice to see the series do more with dissecting modern fandom as a whole since it has such strong tethers to reality and shows potential to offer a greater view into this growing issue. Perhaps though, “Swarm’s” greatest showing of toxic fandom is through Dre, herself, as her story presents a terrifying character study that’s immensely captivating to watch.

Although Dre is initially shown to be socially awkward and essentially the opposite of her sister Marissa (Chloe Bailey), her compulsion to protect and see Ni’Jah drives her to break past her outer shell. It’s actually remarkable to see how Dre gets out of sticky situations and finds ways for her disturbing goals to be achieved. Dre is unrelenting in her killings as well and her ability to just flip the switch and become a cold-blooded killer emphasizes how unpredictable she can be. As much as “Swarm” is a portrait of fandom, it’s also the portrait of a killer and it’s what makes Dre’s journey an unnerving, blood-soaked thrill ride.

Yet, Dre’s brutal nature isn’t what makes watching her story compelling. Rather, it’s both Fishback’s performance and the storytelling that slowly digs into her mindset. Fishback has shown herself to be a rising talent to watch out for over the last couple of years and her work in “Swarm” is her best yet. She totally owns your attention with how well she makes Dre an unpredictable force through the incredible range she brings to the character. From devastation to devotion, Fishback really brings a wide range of emotions to Dre that make her personal arc a real rollercoaster and shows how deep her obsession is. It’s that kind of unforgettable performance that screams award-worthy for the vulnerability and unexpected ferocity that Fishback brings as Dre, and she really solidifies herself as a top young acting talent.

The series’ storytelling also creates some good complexity for Dre’s backstory as well as her personal depiction of fandom. There are details that are slowly unveiled in the second half of the series about Dre and her dysfunctional upbringing that shed some good light on her loneliness and lack of purpose that connect well to her fandom. Through Dre’s personal story, the series touches on how fandom sort of fills in the gaps of ourselves and how it can be utilized to “fix” issues we see in ourselves. For Dre, her love for Ni’Jah completes her and it’s why anyone that attempts to “attack” her or threatens that relationship is at risk of her rage. Dre’s sense of fandom is what makes her more uniquely complex than a standard serial killer and its connections to reality make it surprisingly cathartic too.

The only aspects of “Swarm’s” storytelling that can be a little messy are some of the choices made in the final episodes. In episode six, the series attempts to take an ambitious approach to its storytelling by parodying a certain type of documentary style. The series breaks the fourth wall and pulls the camera back to show a different perspective on the events of the series. While this approach does help get the series solely out of Dre’s perspective and sheds more details on her backstory, it’s too much of a tonal departure and doesn’t feel cohesive with the series. The parody execution is a little too corny at times and the comedic demeanor of it doesn’t always land well. Plus, it presents an ending that contradicts what’s shown in the “fantasy-driven” ending of the final episode, so you do leave the series feeling like the lines of reality are blurred too much.

While it does have some faults and aspects that could’ve been elevated to more meaningful heights, “Swarm” is a total must-watch for its wildly terrifying tale of fandom becoming something much more sinister led by a fantastic performance from Fishback.


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