The Swarm – Season 1 Episode 1 Recap & Review

Episode 1

Episode 1 of The Swarm begins on a beach somewhere in Peru. A fisherman readies to go out into the sea and catch his trade. It should be straightforward as he throws down the net. But for some reason, the net is pulled down, out of his hands. He is dragged into the water by it. The net settles down at the seafloor, stuck in the pointy crevasses of rocks. Before he can untangle it and surface, a swarm of fish attack and kill him. 

In Shetland Island, Scotland, marine biologist Charlie Wagner also notices strange events transpiring in the ocean. She is stationed at the place due to some mistake she made with AUVs in the past. AUVs are autonomous underwater vehicles that are used for surveillance purposes and the identification of new forms of marine life. Wagner works for the Insitute of Marine Biology, in Germany. It is headquartered in Kiel. She gets instructions from Rahim, her co-worker at Kiel, to map a section of the seabed by running the AUV 25m from the bottom. Previously, Charlie had run one of these vehicles aground by starting lower.

That is why Professor Lehmann, who heads the program, wants her to start safely, even if it “takes all summer,” according to Charlie. She is annoyed but it is penance for her earlier mistakes. Charlie notices that one of the AUVs has stopped working and goes out to sea to inspect. The object is found to be stuck in the chains of a buoy. She dives underwater to untangle it. Charlie senses something strange around her but quickly gets the work done. She floats back to the surface and realizes that her boat is drifting away from her.

She scampers towards it and gets ahold just in time. We shift focus to Canada, where members from the Vancouver Marine Institute discover a washed-up orca at the beach. It also has strange bruises on its body that point towards human intervention. Leon and Jack, from the institute, visit Kit, who is a local fisherman over at Murray Cove. He reveals that the orca uncharacteristically attacked their boat earlier that morning. They tried to avoid it but had no other choice but to fight back.

Jess and Tomas from the IMB are flown to Shetland as Charlie needs his help to get the AUV operational again. He is surprised to find its state but Charlie swears that she did not make any mistakes. That night, she goes to a local bar to blow off steam. There, she meets Douglas McKinnon, who is a fisherman. The irony of the interaction is that Charlie, before she knew he was a fisherman, called the region “overfished” as the fish stock is on the verge of a collapse. They end up spending the night together.

In Canada, Leon is concerned by the absence of migrating whales this time of the season. They have never been this late to arrive. This rare phenomenon is also starting to affect local marine tourism in Canada. Lizzie, Leon’s girlfriend, runs a small boat that takes spectators to see these whales in open waters. They often end up performing tricks and just showing off their magnificence to the onlookers. She confesses to Leon when they meet that she will have to rethink the trip they had planned together due to money constraints. She might even be forced to sell the boat if the whales do not arrive soon.

Douglas tags along with Charlie to launch the AUV in the water. Although it launches successfully, something else catches their attention. They spot many pieces of methane hydrate floating on the surface of the water. It is strange to see something like this and Charlie records it. Professor Lehmann reprimands Charlie for taking unauthorized non-employee personnel on the boat. In case of an accident, the institute would have faced liability issues. She also asks Charlie to investigate further in other locations as well to check if this has been repeated elsewhere.

Alicia Delaware is an Italian-American reporter who works for the World Oceanic Congress. She is based in Canada for a month but is frustrated by the lack of migrating whales. She meets with Jack from the Canadian Institute and learns that he was dishonourably discharged from the Navy a while ago. He was in charge of training dolphins who could expertly clear underwater mines in the Persian Gulf. After they were retired, the Navy put them in entrapments in the sea since they couldn’t be released in open waters. Jack released them anyway and was caught doing it.

The next day, Leon jumps out of his seat as he hears signals from underwater indicating the whales have returned. He is surprised by the fact that all of them have come at the same time. Lizzie has taken this opportunity to take a boat full of people out to the ocean. Leon heads out too. He is paid a visit by a whale that bizarrely surfaces for moments and stares at him, after which it swims away toward Lizzie’s boat.

Leon hears the sound of multiple orcas advancing toward the boat at a great speed. He is disturbed and starts to go in their direction. Although a whale performs a few flips for the onlookers, it lands directly on the boat on the next attempt. And it does not seem accidental.

Leon posits it was done intentionally for the orcas to feed on the passengers. The apex hunters start taking them one by one as Leon tries to help the stranded people. The episode ends on a haunting note as Leon is unable to save Lizzie, who is dragged down by one of the orcas. 

The Episode Review

Episode 1 of The Swarm presents a potentially intriguing plot that unfolds via a network of connected subplots. Frank Schatzing’s works are a mix of fiction and non-fiction, so the series will try to tackle important questions of critical ecological importance as well. We already see glimpses of that in the season opener. However, one of the most disappointing aspects of the episode was the uneven quality of special effects.

The final scene with the orcas is done really poorly and leaves a sour taste, especially given its explosive importance. It is too early to make a call about the underwater scenes though, which will be pivotal in deciding the show’s fate. There are some instances in the episode where the dialogue isn’t in sync with the actors’ mouths either. The casting seems on point and I am really interested to see how these characters are built up during the course of the story. 

Small yet glaring shortfalls like these make the experience less enjoyable. Episode one’s unpolished finish and lack of creative refinement force us to not rate this highly. We’ll be closely tracking any improvements from the next episode on.


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You can read our full season 1 review of The Swarm here!


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