Netflix’s Warrior Nun is quite like a superhero origin story or, well, tries to be one. It is geared by and for the young blood, intermeshing teenage sensibilities with superhero characteristics. If I have to give a clearer description of what I mean by that, combine the brain and age of a Peter Parker and the responsibilities of a Thor. Warrior Nun is a sloppy, less-refined version of that.
Each of the ten episodes, in the first season, is invigorated by the irrepressible energy of the youngsters in the show. They are all upbeat, and full of vim and vigour. The lead of the show, and also the narrator, is a vivacious nineteen-year-old quadriplegic, Ava (Alba Baptista). The first time we are introduced to her, she is a pale corpse in the middle of a Catholic morgue. As fate strikes, Ava is later resuscitated by a divine Halo, an illuminated disc that is sentient enough to choose its host (much like Thor’s Mjölnir). She is no longer paralysed and is bursting with strength. Those who hold the Halo are called the ‘warrior nun.’
Ava, however, is a rather passable character, for the lack of a better word. Her arc is equivalent to what you’d see in a traditional two-hour-long superhero film. After her death and, almost, lifelong paralysis, she takes on the chirpy and garrulous personality we will come to know her by in the series. She’s never a victim of confusion, and neither does she have to adjust to her bodily transformations, let alone the fact that there’s a deadly disc inserted in her back. Her age, though, is what makes her feel…real. Alba Baptista is able to bring out the youthful zest of a teenager. She is impetuous, needs relationship advice like any other kid with raging hormones, and loves swearing irreverently in places of worship.
Warrior Nun is an interesting blend of the physical and the metaphysical. Relying quite heavily on Catholic motifs and symbolism, the series attempts to show what a fantastical and physical manifestation of the ‘devil’ would look like. The devil manages to ephemerally enter Earth, in pursuit of the Halo. And to shield the world from getting engulfed by Hell and to “keep evil at bay,” the church covertly trains its nuns and sisters, calling themselves the Order of the Cruciform Sword (OCS). The Halo-bearer or the warrior nun must lead them in this fight. And as the commonly known homily dictates, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Ava, who never intended for this to happen, has to take on the mantle of the warrior nun and face the imminent threat of the demons.
Ava’s dichotomy — her hatred for the responsibilities the Halo brought her and her appreciation for receiving a second chance — is one of the few absorbing character traits in the series. She does not possess the fortitude and mettle to train rigorously. She calls quits the moment she faces any obstacle and wants to return to her brief life of parties, drugs, and food. Ava’s lack of resolve and tenacity feels genuine. It is also the cause of unintended casualties and collateral damage — a reminder of what may just happen if power goes unchecked.
Individually, most of the characters are forgettable, but as a collective, the series manages to turn a lot of them into feminist badasses. Quite in contrast to the nunsploitation one ordinarily sees in films (especially in Spanish content, which is also the setting of this show), Warrior Nun puts on display uncensored and shotgun, sword-wielding nuns. The series’ feminism is never flippant. The nuns, who are often noted for their quiet pacifism and clemency, in here, have been shown as militarised ninjas. In a remarkable scene, we see a nun single-handedly take on a swarm of guards with much ease. Their fierceness and solidity are made significantly more prominent through some meticulously choreographed fight sequences. The nuns need to remain stealthy for their cover, but also outgoing as they cross swords. And the stunt team neatly brings out this duality, merging character with action.
Beyond its pacy fight scenes, the series feels stylistically incomplete. Unlike the superhero dramas and thrillers that are propelled by their soundtracks and set pieces, there is not much riding with Warrior Nun. From its two-second title track to its end credits, there is very little structural support given to its story, putting it in a tonally bland position. The background score is negligent and its occasional use of existing music hits often seems out of place. The tempo of its music isn’t as pronounced, and the liturgical track is too obvious and repetitive. Towards the end, with a season finale that had a flaky ending, it is apparent that Warrior Nun wanted to follow the strides of a superhero epic, with an added mix of its own occultist themes. And while that attempt deserves praise, you cannot overlook the limited attention it gives to the technical components that help form a whole. Warrior Nun is enjoyable but still has its flaws.
Warrior Nun Season 1 is streaming on Netflix.