Swarm from Amazon Prime.
Contains spoilers.I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a show like Swarm before, unless you count its sister Atlanta. They’re co-parented by the same Zaddy, Donald Glover, with the former gaining directorial and writing florals from Janine Nabers.Like much of Glover’s previous work, Swarm’s minimalistic cinematography and rich, visceral visuals (shot on film), creates an otherworldly effect that’s been connected to the Afrosurrealism school of thought – a notion that in art, fantasy and mythology are tied to reality, extending an expression of black culture.
There’s a certain discomfort that the visuals, dialogue and characters press onto viewers, pushing a feeling that things aren’t quite real or right. Jordan Peele or Boots Riley, the directors of Get Out and Sorry To Bother You, respectively, also exist within this plane. And as it carries over to Swarm, it makes the story of Dre, an obsessive superfan of Ni’Jah (a fictitious version of Beyonce), as endearing as it is horrific. Since Swarm’s release, Dominique Fishback, who plays the titular character, has gained praise for her performance. And rightfully so. She masters a character that you simultaneously empathise with and fear. She tips between blank-slated motivation and uncontainable obsessiveness as she quests towards a finale of meeting her pop star hero. It’s a journey that starts following the suicide of her foster-sister Marissa – who Dre also seems to have a slight obsession with. Along the way, she commits dozens of sloppy murders, mostly to those that speak ill of Ni’Jah on Twitter or who get in her way towards meeting her. Witty and subdued dialogue gives Swarm moments of humour while continuing as a satire of the serial killer genre. It also explores themes of black womanhood, the dangers of being terminally online and grief. Throughout are impressive cameos from people like Paris Jackson (a stripper with an abusive boyfriend) and Billie Eillish, the enigmatic leader of an all-women cult (and yes, Billie Eillish is fucking amazing in this show).
Decidedly, the show is one of my favourites of the year. That is, until the end. Open endings are the overplayed motif of the cinema world, especially when it comes to mental health. But filmmakers far and wide wank over it. You want to leave things open for interpretation; you want audiences to make up their own mind; you want them to THINK. We get it. Some would argue that it’s lazy filmmaking – an easy end to a complex story. Others would say they like being pushed to pander over the what if’s. Inception did it. Parasite did it. Black Swan did it. Why can’t Swarm?In this case, there is something lazy about its open ending. I’d liken it to resolving a story by saying it was all a dream – nothing really happened but the characters learned some kind of lesson in the end. In Swarm’s last episode – after viewers are taken on a journey of pure diabolical obsession and murder – we end without any explanation of what is real and what’s not. Dre does meet Ni’Jah and they seemingly become friends. Maybe?But the audience is left with questions: Did she actually meet Ni’Jah? Was it all real or was it just some hallucination? Maybe it was a combination of both? Did she even kill anyone?And it was all purposeful. “You don’t know where she really is in time and space,” Janine Nabers told the LA Times. “We wanted to give that very ambiguous ending where people can put their own thought process onto it if they want to…At the end of the day, this is about a woman going through grief in her own way. What she sees in that moment is a manifestation of a lot of the things that she’s been dealing with, especially from the pilot, that set her on this journey to begin with."
But endings that need explanation are not really endings. In this case, the use of mental health and the ambiguity it creates in reality, especially in Hollywood in general, is as overplayed as it is boring.Despite the show being incredibly clever and creative throughout its episodes, the ending feels incomplete and unfulfilling, a fruitless finale to an amazing show. It’s a combination of the rise in popularity of open endings and the use of mental health as a major plot or character device.I would have been happier with an alternate ending where Dre was finally caught for her crimes. Instead, it’s a stereotypical end to an unstereotypical show. If you are currently experiencing difficulties with mental health call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.Follow Julie Fenwick on Twitter and Instagram.Read more from VICE Australia and subscribe to our weekly newsletter, This Week Online.