Let’s establish something from the start: Netflix’s new supernatural action series Warrior Nun isn’t must-watch. It’s far too inconsistent for that. It does, however, effectively satisfy a craving for vicarious, smart-mouthed badassery in the vein of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It has its flaws, but Warrior Nun is fun. It delivers mindless escapism with style, and a surprising amount of heart.
For the record, Warrior Nun is very loosely based on a mid-Nineties comic, from the era of sexy “chosen one” demon hunters like Witchblade, Magdalena and Avengelyne. Netflix’s Warrior Nun has far more contemporary sensibilities of course, ensuring its heroines are practically dressed and relatably fleshed out.
So the audience is introduced to 19-year-old Ava (Brazilian-Portuguese actress Alba Baptista), an inner-monologue-prone quadriplegic dumped in a Catholic orphanage in Spain. Ava is given a literal second chance at life, along with some nifty superpowers when, in a moment of necessity, she becomes the Halo Bearer. Translation: An angel’s halo is transplanted into her body, making her the head of the Order of the Cruciform Sword, a band of nuns who’ve defended the world against demons since the Crusades.
As the role of Halo Bearer is traditionally bestowed on the most deserving of the Order, Ava finds herself caught between two factions: those who see Ava’s surprising selection as divine providence, and those who consider it a mistake – and therefore want to rip out the Halo and give it to a more accomplished Sister. In the first camp is Giles-esque Father Vincent (Tristan Ulloa) and Sister Beatrice (Kristina Tonteri-Young), while scheming Cardinal Duretti (Joaquim de Almeida) and Sister Lilith (Lorena Andrea) head up the second group.
In-fighting isn’t the only thing Ava has to contend with. Apart from demons drawn to the Halo, there’s medical pioneer Jillian Salvius (Thekla Reuten), who believes the Halo, and closely-related metal Divinium, can be harnessed to open a portal to another dimension. All this heady “science meets spirituality” stuff when non-believer Ava would rather be partying, and making out with a hunky conman.
There’s a lot going on Warrior Nun. Yet, like a good many Netflix shows, the first season feels like it could have been a few episodes shorter, capping at 7 or 8, instead of straining to reach the count of 10. Amplifying this sense of padding is the fact that Ava spends the majority of the season running away from the Order, and her new responsibilities. This rinse-and-repeat behaviour becomes increasingly annoying, as Ava’s internal and romantic struggles are far less compelling than events at the Order, with its mystery-shrouded backstory.
At times you feel like Warrior Nun would have been better if it just let Ava take up her title, and stuck to a simple one-new-demon-per-episode structure. It may be formulaic but audiences aren’t expecting anything more from this kind of escapist fare. The approach would have also liberated the series from the task of stretching and binding together a dozen narrative threads over a single season.
Still, there are enough pleasures in Warrior Nun to keep the viewer engaged. Apart from some demons that look like they escaped a video game circa 1997, the series has plenty of premium polish. It makes the most of its sun-blasted Spanish locations – itself a novelty for this kind of show – and clearly hasn’t been shot on a single recycled soundstage. CGI beasties aside, Warrior Nun has strong production values.
It looks great, the combat ticks wish-fulfilment boxes, and Warrior Nun isn’t afraid to get very bloody at times. More importantly, the show knows how to have fun. In comparison to fellow Netflix fantasy Cursed, which suffers for being so one-note serious, Warrior Nun has a healthy sense of humour. With the tagline, “Fucks given? Nun,” would you expect anything else?
Ava is consistently quippy, especially when interacting with members of the Order. It’s these moments when Baptista is her most charismatic, and she’s surrounded by a cast of likeable young women playing similarly likeable characters. Even when your interest in the series wanes, you’ll probably keep watching Warrior Nun because of the interplay between the nuns. Special mention goes to Toya Turner’s no-nonsense rule breaker “Shotgun” Mary, who calls Ava out on her immature behaviour. The series MVP, though, is Tonteri-Young’s Beatrice, the Order’s resident over-achiever, who combines brutal combat efficiency, wit and deep insecurities.
On that note, characters are rarely what they seem in Warrior Nun. For a show with a hefty Catholic Church component, you’ll find implied same-sex relationships and even a trans character. And despite so many figures being dressed in stark white and black, the series is all about moral and motivational shades of grey. There are some enjoyable plot twists as a result, and topic-sensitive viewers don’t have to worry about the Church being glorified or vilified. It’s simply a striking, iconography-rich backdrop for this particular battle between good and evil.
No doubt some people will be angered by the way that Warrior Nun Season 1 ends, with a cruel cliffhanger. Fans will be praying for a second season to resolve the many unanswered questions and mysteries unearthed by Ava and her allies. But that really is the mark of an entertaining series. Flaws aside, I’d happily be back for Warrior Nun’s next service.
Last Updated: July 23, 2020