queen bee

Swarm vs. Yellowjackets: Which Hymenopteran Toxic Femininity Cult Is Right for You?

Photo-Illustration: Vulture. Photo: Prime Video; Showtime

The Hymenoptera order (which contains bees, yellowjackets, wasps, and ants) is having a moment on television. Swarm, the limited series from Atlanta’s Donald Glover and Janine Nabers, takes on the Beyhive in its examination of toxic fandom; when Dre (Dominique Fishback) starts itching to inflict some blunt-force trauma, the soundtrack is awash with buzzing sounds. Meanwhile, literal yellowjackets are a major motif in Showtime’s Yellowjackets promotion, with wasps landing on the faces of girls who seem both alive and dead in season-two teases. The actual Yellowjackets of Yellowjackets are members of a girls’ soccer team, the one that gets stranded in the Canadian wilderness for 19 months. While there, all sorts of maybe-mystical-maybe-mundane horrors befall them. But beyond all the bee stuff, Swarm and Yellowjackets have a lot in common: Female rage, toxic friendships, cults, “ripped from the headlines” energy, and characters who aren’t entirely sure how many murders they committed. We’ve put together this handy-dandy guide to help you figure out which apiary (place where bees live) to join.

Who’s More Trustworthy?

Technically, neither show has a “narrator” since there’s no voice-over — Richard Dreyfuss isn’t explaining what happened to everybody after that one crazy summer. However, both series have extended sequences that appear to be characters’ dreams or hallucinations. Yellowjackets seems like it’s more invested in separating gory truth from mystical fantasy, while Swarm is so dedicated to not answering questions that it has fans second-guessing the show’s entire premise.
Winner: Swarm

Who Casts Harder?

Swarm is Billie Eilish’s first acting role, if you don’t count her Simpsons short. The show also features performances from Chloe Bailey, Damson Idris, Rory Culkin, Paris Jackson, and Rickey Thompson. Meanwhile, Yellowjackets stars the entire 1990s. You’ve got Tawny Cypress, Juliette Lewis, Melanie Lynskey, and Christina Ricci, and now in season two, Lauren Ambrose and Elijah Wood. That’s an entire wall of Blockbuster Video right there.
Winner: Yellowjackets

Which Cult Seems More Fun?

Both Swarm and Yellowjackets feature that most dangerous of Teen Girl Squads: a cult. The Yellowjackets sect is more religious in flavor, with precognitive visions, cool headdresses, and just a soupçon of ritual cannibalism. Swarm’s cult is loosely based on NXIVM and led by Billie Eilish. (Until it definitively isn’t, IYKWIM.) Both cults demand giving up your personhood and autonomy, but the girlies in Yellowjackets have very little else going on. It’s join the cult or die alone in the woods. In Swarm, you could easily drop a fortune on fake Beyoncé tickets.
Winner: Yellowjackets

Which Has More (Literal) Buzz?

The bee thing again. Swarm uses the bee imagery more concretely, slapping down drones to represent violent urges, mental confusion, and hive-mind mentality (get it?). Yellowjackets keeps the buzzing to marketing and most episodes’ closing credits. The sticky-ickiest Yellowjackets ever gets in the sound mix is the Lost-esque “whoosh” before flashbacks.
Winner: Swarm

Which Has Worse Toxic Friendships?

Golly. This is a tough one. On the one hand, Swarm’s Dre goes on a killing spree in part to avenge her BFF, Marissa. On the other hand, Shauna kinda-sorta lets Jackie freeze to death on Yellowjackets. The latter also has more dysfunctional friendships at different stages of life thanks to the show’s multi-timeline approach. But the documentary episode of Swarm seems to indicate that all this unpleasantness stems from a sleepover, and that’s classic toxic female friendship shit.
Winner (or Loser?): Tie

Which Has More Women’s Rage?

Again, this is a real toughie. Yellowjackets, and Melanie Lynskey’s performance in particular, has been praised for its depiction of female rage. Pissed-off ladies are having a moment! Thanks to all the bad stuff that keeps happening to us, I guess. But the seed of Swarm was a tweet demanding representation of Black women serial killers. The show hinges on putting the ugliest emotions onto a Black woman and making the viewer interrogate whether they can hang with the show, and whether it would be more palatable if a white woman was doing the serial killing.
Winner: Swarm

Which Is More Bite-y?

Swarm is based on several moments in the Beyoncé canon, including that time someone allegedly bit Bey at a party. Dre bites Ni’jah, the object of her obsessive devotion. But she doesn’t swallow. Meanwhile Yellowjackets, for lack of a better term, ate.
Winner: Yellowjackets

Which Hymenopteran Toxic-Femininity Cult Is Right for You?