At first glance, the title of Warrior Nun seems to be a study in contrast, but Netflix’s newest original show actually continues a long held cinematic tradition. From The DaVinci Code to Constantine, all the way back to The Exorcist: warriors who fight in the name of god are not new and come with their own brand of stoic masculinity. However, where Warrior Nun seeks to differ itself from its cultural predecessors is in its centring of a predominantly young and female cast.
Loosely based on the manga style comic series Warrior Nun Areala, the show focuses on ‘The Order of the Cruciform Sword’, an ancient Catholic sect of female warriors dedicated to fighting demons. The Order is led by Sister Shannon Masters (Melina Matthews), bearer of the ‘halo’—both a heavenly weapon and a heavy burden. In a twist of fate, the halo ends up inside the body of an uninitiated civilian, Ava (Alba Baptista). Previously a dead quadriplegic orphan, Ava not only finds herself able-bodied, but the unwitting wielder of supernatural powers. Worst of all, she’s a non-believer!
Warrior Nun attempts to embrace its unashamedly pulpy source material—full of vigilantes and demon princesses—while contrasting it to life as a savvy teenage girl. Ava is not motivated by the eternal fight between good and evil, and just wants to go inter-railing with her crush, free spirit JC (Emilio Sakraya). The influence of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is keenly felt and, like Sarah Michelle Gellar, Baptista is a multi-faceted talent who grounds uneven dialogue in a truthful performance.
Refreshingly, although Ava is the chosen one, she’s not alone. Fellow warrior women Shotgun Mary (Toya Turner) and Sister Beatrice (Kristina Tonteri-Young) are there for support, as well as Jillian Salvius (Thekla Reuten), a vaguely sinister scientist with an endless supply of white business wear. Shotgun Mary is the most closely adapted from the comic, and undeniably a badass: “I have two shotguns. When you have two shotguns, baby girl, you don’t need combat class.” The show comes close to giving Shotgun Mary nuance, primarily through her tender relationship with the deceased Sister Shannon. But actor Toya Turner is limited by an unimaginative script, as more than one reference is made to how ‘close’ the two warriors were. There’s something inherently queer about hot girls fighting evil together, but though Warrior Nun may flirt, it doesn’t quite commit to giving the queer viewer something to sink their teeth into. If Netflix does commission a second season, Warrior Nun has a lot of promises to keep.
But if the Catholic Church has anything going for it, it it glamour, and Warrior Nun knows it. The sets—on location in Spain, are truly stunning. Turquoise sea, rustic mountains, ancient sun-drenched towns and candlelit cathedrals (so many cathedrals); the series is like a virtual cruise of tourist hot-spots. The wardrobe department have also done an incredible job, successfully marrying components of armour and clerical clothing together to create costumes which are functional and attractive—a far cry from the comic, in which Sister Areala’s get-up is somehow both a bikini and a habit. The women of Warrior Nun look hot, ready to kick ass and yet, unmistakably, like nuns.
However, not all aspects of Warrior Nun are as lovingly detailed. Rosie Knight explores the presence, or lack there-of, of disability in Warrior Nun at length in her article “Warrior Nun and Problem of the Magical Disability Cure”. However, it bears repeating: using the halo to “cure” Ava of her quadriplegia is lazy writing, especially when it is so shallowly depicted that it is a wholly unnecessary component of the series.
An outlier is one brief scene, where Ava’s excitement over a high-tech wheelchair is contrasted with JC’s disinterest. His lack of enthusiasm isn’t because he’s a bad person, but because he’s never been faced with his own physical limitations the way Ava has. There are ways to explore the impact physical disability continues to have on someone even after they have recovered, but Warrior Nun chooses not to. Instead, Ava’s quadriplegia is only referenced to reinforce her tragic childhood. ‘That girl was already broken,’ her mentor, Father Vincent (Tristán Ulloa), laments. Can we say, yikes.
Yet, despite being a bedbound orphan who suffers an untimely death, Ava is subject to social flagellation at the hands of the other nuns who quickly decide that she is a spoiled and selfish millennial: “warrior bitch” one nun says. Since Ava’s an unlucky nineteen-year-old trying her best, this spiritual reckoning feels pretty unwarranted and points towards the double standards for female heroines. Like Buffy before her, it seems Ava must suffer to be deemed ‘worthy’: perhaps if she was just given power with no pain, she’d be considered a Mary Sue. It’s a disheartening element of a show ostensibly geared towards girl power, but Catholicism and guilt does often come as a package deal.
You may be asking, isn’t this meant to be a fun show about demon-fighting nuns? Why so serious? And, yes, Warrior Nun does provide enough twists, campy ass kicking and escapism to hook the casual viewer. But the truth is, to attract the kind of youthful cult following needed to survive the saturated world of Netflix content, it’s got to have a bit more soul.
Warrior Nun Season1 is available to stream now on Netflix
by Suki Hollywood
(She/her) Born on Valentine’s Day in Belfast, Suki Hollywood is a pop culture junkie first, a writer second. Raised on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, her favourite films include Moonlight and The Wizard of Oz, but truth be told, television is where her heart lies. A graduate of The University of Glasgow, she has contributed editorially to Knight Errant Press and had her creative work featured in publications such as From Glasgow to Saturn and clavmag. Find her at sukihollywood.com or @miz.possible on Instagram.