Warning: The article contains spoilers for Swarm, the limited series now streaming on Prime Video.
Debuting to critical acclaim and lots of theories about its parallels to Beyonce and the Beyhive, Swarm is a wildly captivating comedy-horror series about a young girl whose obsession with a pop star and deep love for her sister sends her down a violent path.
“It’s also just really the story of a woman, who by any means necessary, is trying to get to the one thing that she understands in her life and the one thing that completes her,” showrunner Janine Nabers said.
Co-created by Donald Glover and Nabers, the seven-part story stars Dominique Fishback as the central antihero, Andrea “Dre” Green, and Chloe Bailey as her sister, Marissa, with the likes of Billie Eilish, Damson Idris, Kiersey Clemons and Paris Jackson appearing as some of the ill-fated characters who come across with Dre.
“When I was younger, I watched Monster with Charlize Theron… And I watched Heath Ledger do the Joker and you see all of these people get to really tap into different characters,” Fishback said of wanting to take on this role. “I was like, ‘Man, I want to get the opportunity to really just stretch myself as an actor and explore the human psyche in ways that I would never do.’ …And, I feel like I got that freedom to do so at Dre’s expense. She’s so angry.”
While speaking to ET, Bailey, Fishback and Nabers broke down key moments from Dre’s murderous journey, which is kickstarted by Marissa’s suicide and includes a bloody pie scene that is sure to become an iconic moment for both Swarm and Fishback’s screen career.
Marissa’s Tragic Suicide
As Nabers explained, the first episode, “Stung,” which includes Marissa’s unexpected death, is a catalyst for Dre’s entire journey. “The pilot has always been the origin story of a villain in a lot of ways for us. This is a reaction to that,” she said. “The journey that she takes throughout the pilot and what we see her become released at the end of the pilot propels us into the rest of the story.”
And without Marissa’s suicide there would be no journey. “Marissa had to die in order for Dre to live,” Nabers said. “That is part of what this story is. And her living, however we see her do it, that’s her true self.”
For Fishback, she saw Marissa’s suicide as a release for Dre — just not in the way one might normally process that kind of emotion. “Trauma is stored in the body, and we know that Dre — obviously to be how she is, even in the beginning – had a lot of trauma and a lot of emotions that she doesn’t know how to process and didn’t have the support to move through it,” she said. “So, it’s all stored in the body.”
Fishback continued by adding, “Dre doesn’t know how to talk about those things. And the only person that she felt understood her at all is now gone. And she doesn’t know what to do with the feeling of loss and grief. She’s angry, she’s hurt and she doesn’t know what to do with it in a healthy way. And I think that is the motivating factor that kind of catapults her into, what I guess Janine is calling her villain story, the anti-hero villain story.”
Adding to that, Bailey said that for Dre, Marissa “was her safe haven and the person that she really felt she couldn’t live without.”
“So, when she lost the one thing that she felt was keeping her steady and afloat, she literally lost it. She’s trying to get justice for her sister in this weird twisted way because she knows what the world has done to her,” Bailey continued, explaining that with Marissa “committing suicide, she did it because of what all of the people did to her and she couldn’t take it anymore. So in a way, Dre is fighting for her sister.”
Bailey noted, “There’s only so much a human being can take and we all have our breaking point.”
Dre’s Bloody First Kill
That initial breaking point for Dre is the murder of Marissa’s boyfriend, Khalid (Idris), whom she holds responsible for her sister’s death. And at the end of the first episode, which was directed by Glover, Dre kills him in a wildly unexpected scene that sees her covered in blood as she pulls her body from Khalid’s and then eats a cherry pie.
Filmed in one take, the scene garnered Fishback a standing ovation from Glover and the rest of cast and crew who witnessed her stunning performance. “Afterwards, everybody was clapping and that was cool,” the actress said, before recalling what went into making it happen on set.
“If we didn’t get it right, it would set us back in time to clean up, to reset, to do everything,” Fishback said of the intricate, yet bloody moment. “So, Donald had a talk with all of us and said, ‘Hey, listen, we only have one shot to do this… And I really want it in a oner.'”
Then, when asked if she thought she could handle it, she said, “Consider it done.” And right before she started filming, she told herself, “It is now or never,” Fishback recalled. “And I just kind of let myself do it.”
As for having to end the scene by eating a cherry pie, Fishback admitted that she was initially unsure how it was going to turn out. “I was like, ‘I don’t really know about this,'” she said, revealing, “I don’t even like pie.” Luckily for her, “I only had to do that part once.”
Marissa’s Looming Presence
Not long after Marissa’s death, Dre starts texting her – and getting messages back. While there’s no supernatural element to the series, it adds to the many layers of Dre’s fragile mind and makes her an unreliable narrator in her own story.
“Marissa’s like her guiding light in this weird, twisted, dark way because she’s finding everyone who’s talked anything negative about her sister online and she’s like, ‘No, you’re not going to do that to her,'” Bailey said. “So, she’s fighting back. She’s fighting for her sister.”
By episode six, which unfolds like a true-crime documentary following an investigator who starts putting together all the pieces in Dre’s story, there are several revelations about Dre: she’s adopted and not Marissa’s blood sibling, she’s has a dark, unresolved past and Marissa’s scars are the result of a sleepover prank gone wrong.
These are the “nuggets you can find,” Bailey said of “watching all the episodes.”
She added that what she loves about the series is how it was edited all together. “They edited it in a way to match the pace of hour our human bodies would react to something. When my character passed, it was in such a quick way that you couldn’t even truly digest it,” she explained. “So, what I love about this show is that you feel every emotion, not only through the acting but also through the cinematography. And it all being shot on film makes it feel that much more raw and close.”
That Complicated Finale
Of course, the first episode is just the jumping-off point for Dre’s downward spiral, which sees her killing one person after another, especially anyone who challenges her faith in Ni’Jah, the singer she’s long been obsessed with and thinks can do no wrong. And for Hailey (Jackson), Eva (Eilish) and Rashida (Clemons) that sees them murdered in increasingly shocking and violent deaths, with Rashida’s being particularly brutal.
“The final episode, that was the hardest episode for me,” Fishback said, explaining that Rashida’s murder was the hardest for her to film. “It was really, really emotional to do that particular kill that she does. I didn’t want her to. And then you kind of had to just do it and you had to do it a couple of times.”
Dre’s killing spree doesn’t come to an end until she finally encounters Ni’Jah at a concert. After storming the stage as Tony — her latest identity as she continued to evolve throughout the series before seemingly embracing her “stud” era — she has a moment with Ni’Jah, who stops the secret from pulling her away. But when the two finally embrace, it’s not Ni’Jah who Tony sees, it’s Marissa.
“I cried when I had to do ADR for it and three scans of my face,” Bailey said of the finale. “I was crying because I thought it was done in such a beautiful way where it showed her sister again and death not keeping them apart. It was like she was finally able to be in her sister’s arms. That was the beautiful way that I took it.”
To play Marissa, Bailey pulled a lot from her own experiences with her sister, Halle. “With my relationship with my sister, it was very touching to me,” she said. “I think when people see this show, that’s when they see that it’s truly about sisterhood and when you love someone, you don’t want anyone to harm or hurt them, so you’ll do anything to protect them.”
For Nabers, “Dre ends up exactly where she’s supposed to be,” she said. “The ending, for me, it’s very much through her own perspective. But because she hasn’t been the most reliable narrator for us, I think there is a question at the end of, ‘How real is this moment? What am I watching? And am I watching the truth? Am I watching something that’s maybe more internalized?'”
She added, “It’s supposed to be a complicated ending. I think people are supposed to be left with a feeling of questions. And I think that’s very purposeful.”
When looking back on the references that inspired this series, like The Piano Teacher, Nabers said what makes that work so well is that “you always end with this question of, ‘What did I just see? What is this person doing? What is this person about to do? Who is this person really?'”
“And I think all of that, I feel like that’s the feeling that we wanted,” Nabers continued, “and I think that’s the feeling that we nailed.”
Swarm is now streaming on Prime Video.
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