“Swarm” is a fascinating examination of survival and human arrogance.
This recap of Love, Death + Robots season 3, episode 6, “Swarm”, contains spoilers. You can check out all of our coverage of this show by clicking these words.
“Swarm” isn’t set underwater, but it feels like it. The episode, which has the same realistic CG style as “Bad Travelling” with the same faintly eery body proportions, all arms and faces slightly too long and necks and waists slightly too thin, has a slick, almost Cthulian vibe that evokes fluid and depth and has a uniquely organic texture. Space, the ocean floor, what’s the difference, really? Both are deep, unknowable, and terrifying.
Love, Death + Robots season 3, episode 6 recap
“Swarm” is about two human scientists, Afriel and Galina, studying the ancient, titular spacefaring species, an interconnected hive of insectoid creatures presided over by a queen and organized by a caste system. But Afriel and Galina don’t study the swarm from a remove, but swim through it in their underwear, riding its lifeforms deeper into its heart. It’s as much Aquaman‘s Atlantis as anything else. Even if we didn’t learn that the Swarm had essentially absorbed various species over its long years and devolved them into symbiotic parasites, it still wouldn’t seem like the kind of place you might ever be able to leave.
Of course, human involvement in any alien race can only mean one thing — exploitation. Afriel wants to use the perfect order of the nest to build a slave army of drones for the benefit of the human race, with the fact they’re simply organic machines with no real sentience providing a convenient moral justification. Galina agrees to help him run tests on how to control the drones using synthesized pheromones and also procure one of the queen’s eggs, on the proviso that no harm will come to the nest. Woven into this is a love story, as Afriel and Galina fall for one another and become more and more ensnared within the nest and its culture.
But as it turns out, a species doesn’t survive for millions of years without having a ruthless streak. When the creatures within the hive begin to turn on Afriel and his “springtail” allies, the episode quickly pivots into cosmic horror, as an intense chase sequence leads Afriel to an intelligent being, one with its tendrils deep in Galina’s brain. With her as its puppet and mouthpiece, it explains that the Swarm survives by breeding tougher, unswervingly loyal versions of the species that attack it and use them to destroy their own from within. Afriel and Galina’s experiments triggered ages-old genetic defense protocols. The Swarm must protect itself. And by using Afriel and Galina as breeders, greedy, intelligent humanity will always be at the Swarm’s mercy.
Afriel takes this as a challenge, one he accepts. Arrogant until the end.