One of the characters in the German television series Dr. Sigur Johanson, while justifying his concern over the increasing crisis in the show, screams at the top of his lungs and says that if the ocean dies, we all will also die. If you think that the character is exaggerating, well, it might be high time you woke up from your status quo because an eco-apocalyptic reality is not a subject of the distant future. The oceans, with melting ice caps and rising sea levels, are probably trying to tell us that enough is enough. Although we live in the Age of Anthropocene, at the end of the day, we shall have to accept our defeat in front of the destructive malevolent forces of nature. Frank Doedler, one of the producers of the epic fantasy HBO series “Game of Thrones,” has converted his penchant for spectacles into this larger-than-life, sometimes overwhelming, sometimes intimidating ecological thriller for the German Network ZDF.
“The Swarm” is based on the eponymous novel by Frank Schatzing and is believed to be the biggest television series to be produced out of Germany. The series is presented to us in the form of a sci-fi thriller interwoven with a realistic apprehension of global warming. It all starts when several anomalies and mutations are observed in various species of marine animals. These alterations are somehow not restricted to one particular area in one ocean; rather, this happens to be an all-pervasive phenomenon in oceans across the globe. The rapid adaptations in marine biology ring a bell of concern for a bunch of international marine biologists. Apart from this, there are strange cases of bioluminescence, eruptions of dormant methane volcanoes, and uncommon tsunamis in the Norwegian Sea caused by terrestrial shifts. Added to these is a water-borne viral infection spreading from the crustaceans.
The 2004 novel by Schatzing anticipates in more than one way something like the COVID-19 pandemic in the viral infection that spreads along the coastal towns of France, only this time it is water-borne. In the series, crustaceans like lobsters and crabs make their way to the land to claim the coasts from the residing population. It is as if the Sea has weaponized its inhabitants to drive humans inland. The scientist draws the conclusion that there is an intelligent force residing in the ocean that is attacking mankind in an attempt to show that it was the long-term abuse of human beings that had turned a nurturing force of nature into a nasty, malevolent, malicious, and destructive force. In other words, the ocean seems to be intent on taking revenge on the human race. The series follows the action of a bunch of scientists who form the primary characters as they make an effort to trace this source of oceanic intelligence, which they call ‘YRR,” in the Arctic Ocean.
They want to find a way to calm the “YRR” and, in some way or another, restore the ocean to its previous state of normalcy. In the course of time, they find that the ‘YRR’ is an ancient oceanic spirit—a single-cell organism that has resided in the oceans since the time of Panthalassa and possesses the power of combining with any organism to cause high rates of mutation in them. From this point on, the series becomes similar to that of human beings trying to fight aliens off the face of the earth. The characters are interesting, and the series even lays out a strong range of interpersonal relationships for these scientists who devote all their energies and give up their familial lives to save the planet. Here is a list of important characters with details about the actors who play those roles:
Leonie Benesch As Charlie Wagner
Charlie Wagner is a final-year Ph.D. student at a marine institute in Norway. At the beginning of the show, she was posted in an isolated observatory off the northern shore of Scotland. It was here that she first began to observe that numerous chunks of sea ice or methyl hydrate had started to break off from the floor of the ocean, making her contemplate if something was wrong with the ocean. Charlie comes from a family of marine biologists. Both her parents spent most of their lives on the Sea.
In a later scene in the show, she tells Leon Anawak that she saw her parents for the last time when they were on an expedition in the Arctic. After she was sent home in a lifeboat, they died in a violent storm. The fact that the ocean took her parents away from her did not make her hate the waters; rather, she developed an unbreakable bond with the Sea that did not let her imagine that anything that resides in the depths of the ocean, in this case, the ‘YRR,” would cause harm to anyone. So, while some of the people aboard the ship Thorvaldson that was looking for the ‘YRR’ wanted to destroy it, Charlie took the initiative to offer herself to the ‘YRR’ and mend the ocean’s health once and for all.
Leonie Benesch does a commendable job as Charlie Wagner—she is bold, beautiful, smart, and greatly inclined to do good even when the circumstances around her become increasingly challenging. The German actor is known for her roles in major television productions like “Crown,” “Around the World in 80 Days,” and “Babylon Berlin.”
Alexander Karim As Dr. Sigur Johanson
Sigur Johanson is an established marine scientist and a professor at Trondheim University in Norway. When an energy company based out of Bergen asks for Johanson’s help regarding some strange creatures they had discovered at the bottom of the Sea, Sigur is quick to realize that they have discovered a new species there. When he reached out to the Mifune Foundation regarding the worms, they confirmed that they, too, had discovered similar worms in other parts of the world. There is a slim track in the series showing Dr. Sigur Johanson getting involved in a romantic relationship with Tina Lund, his colleague from the Norwegian energy company, but the way he suppresses his grief after her death in the tsunami only shows how devoted he is to his profession and his objective of curing the ocean of the recent crisis. It was through his efforts that a group of international scientists gathered to find out what was wrong with the ocean. It was he who, for the first time, connected all the strange things that were happening in and around the oceans and called the intelligent force causing all the mishaps to be ‘YRR.’ Dr. Johanson was the leader amongst the scientists who sacrificed their well-being and gave up the familial life to rescue the oceans.
Alexander Karim is convincing as Dr. Sigur Johanson. This Swedish actor has appeared in works like “Tyrant,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Dying of the Light,” etc.
Cecile De France As Dr. Cecile Roche
Dr. Cecil Roche is a pathologist from a coastal town in France. When a number of people start to get affected by a water-borne and, in turn, a sea-borne disease, she discovers that it is actually a viral infection caused by crustaceans like lobsters. Soon we will see white-shell crabs, which generally reside at the bottom of the Sea, attacking coastal towns across the world. She joins Dr. Sigur Johanson and his team in their expedition to locate the ‘YRR’ in the Arctic Ocean. There she establishes that the ‘YRR’ is a single-cell organism that has been present in the ocean since the beginning of time on earth. They communicate by sending a certain wavelength of sound and are capable of producing bioluminescence. She also discovers that ketamine can be used to destroy the ‘YRR.’ Apart from being a concerned scientist, it is heartwarming to see that Cecil Roche is a perfect mother who has cracked the code of work-life balance.
The Belgian-born actor is known for her roles in films like “Russian Dolls,” “Hereafter,” “Pot Luck,” and “Switchblade Romance.”
Joshua Odijick As Leon Anawak
Leon Anawak is a cetologist who belongs to the First Nations community in Canada and is also a Ph.D. student at the Vancouver Marine Institute. He examines the dead orcas that wash up on the Canadian shore before the arrival of the migratory whales. The fact that the first whale of the season turns out to be a dead one is very concerning to Leon and the other people at the institute. He soon begins to observe strange behavior in whales as they attack small boats and kill the whale watchers. The humpbacks diving deeper than they are supposed to, along with the strange source of bioluminescence, is concerning for him, so he joins the team of scientists in the Arctic Ocean as they begin their search for the ‘YRR.’
Joshua Odijick is a fairly new actor who is known for his roles in “Wildhood” and “Dusk & Dawn.”
Apart from the above-mentioned characters, the television show also features the “GoT” famed actress Rosabell Laurenti Sellers as Alicia Delaware and Oliver Masucci from the sensational German show “Dark” as the captain of the ship Thorvaldson Jasper Alban, among others. “The Swarm” is now streaming on Hulu.