A new comic-book adaptation is coming to Netflix, and it’s sort-of three shows in one. Each of these mini-shows are entertaining in their own right, though bringing them together isn’t entirely smooth sailing. On one hand, Warrior Nun is a superhero origin story where the hero in question is reluctant to rise to her appointed challenge. On another, it’s a coming-of-age tale of a young woman who’s been confined in a few contexts, not only by her own body but by religious figures. On still another, the show is an often-schlocky creation that arrives with certain expectations from the title itself.
I first felt inclined to embrace this show (or not) on the basis of the third aspect. It’d be easy to oversimplify things with a title like Warrior Nun, which is arriving in the middle of the summer (right before a holiday weekend), based upon how its title suggests escapist and not-too-complicated fare. It’s certainly not unreasonable (no matter what else the show offers) to desire the following elements from this show: (1) Plenty of warrior-ing with frequent action scenes and hefty amount of general badassery; (2) A gathering of nuns, doing kickass things to qualify them as, you know, Warrior. Nuns.
The title feels like an explicit promise, and if only things could be that clear-cut, and I could blame Satan for this show not having enough outright warrior-ing and nun-ning while rolling around in Catholic imagery. Yes, I initially did try to evaluate the show on the simple basis of whether it lived up to two words in the title and failed — because Warrior Nun has complexity tucked inside and is actually a pretty enjoyable show, even though the 10-episode season feels overpadded in this adaptation of the manga-style Warrior Nun Areala comic from Ben Dunn. I’ll still organize my thoughts that way below, since it doesn’t hurt to use digestible subheadings.
Warrior-Ing: This show’s got some strong supporting warrior-like characters ^^^ with names like Shotgun Mary (Toya Turner) and Sister Lilith (Lorena Andrea) pulling off much of the badass quotient. Like The Highlander, though, there can be only one Warrior Nun (at a time). That would be the series’ lead character, Ava (Alba Baptista), who’s 19 years old and suffers a mysterious death before waking up in a Spanish crypt with a mysterious halo embedded in her back and apparent superpowers. What appears to be a group of combat-trained nuns (including Shotgun Mary and Lilith) have been quarreling in proximity, and demonic clouds are hovering, and it sure looks like we’re going to get a nice, pulp-filled series with a healthy dose of self awareness as Ava sets out to enjoy her new life while vanquishing demons.
However, Ava’s got other priorities and would rather go dancing and running around on the beach. For the first time in her life, she’d also like a little romance.
Ava’s not exactly down for the life for which she’s been chosen, and it’s hard to blame her. She suffered a physically debilitating trauma, and I’m pretty sure that most of us would want to do what she’d like to do: live a little and travel and be young and funky. This phase of the show lasts for several episodes, so there’s definitely some inertia and unevenness at work once the full-on, butt-kicking vibe does take root. I think that if the show wasn’t so linearly organized and blended the coming-of-age story with the action scenes (the warrior-ing) that people will crave, things would have flowed better. Also, we get too much of Ava’s plentiful inner monologues, where she wonders what it’d be like to kiss the guy she’s talking to, and if she’s as nerdy as she feels.
Overall, I would say that, yes, there’s a sufficient amount of warrior-ing in this season, although its distribution is uneven.
Nun-ning: Some wiggle room can be allowed here because (probably) no one expected this series to be authentic to the Catholic experience. Sure, there’s a fair amount of nun-related clothing, although there’s not much adherence to the sacraments in sight. That’s likely for the best, given that the show already spends a fair amount of time diving into the whole coming-of-age stuff, and the show certainly doesn’t need to take more time to wade through the religious paces. So it’s perfectly alright that this show doesn’t dive too far into the nun-related business. There’s already plenty of angel-and-demon territory at the end of the show, and let’s get real: nuns have already been trope-d into oblivion in Hollywood. I don’t think anyone will get upset that it’s happening here, too.
And there are those ultra-nun superpowers to consider. They can be heavy-duty at times. Ava’s been implanted with a powerful weapon (that glowing halo) to help the order of badass nuns fight demons and settle the score between Heaven and Hell. Further, she’s obviously experiencing a miracle by being able to walk again after being confined to a bed for much of her life, but it’s quite easy (also due to her teenage experience) to understand why she doesn’t trust the church or wish to embrace its tenets. Ava never takes vows to become a Catholic nun, so although she eventually assumes the Warrior Nun title, she’s not really a nun at all. If I used that as a sticking point, then I’m being silly. Ava makes a suitable quasi-nun, and I’ll leave it at that.
Bringing It All Together: Alright, so there’s definitely enough of the “warrior” and “nun” aspects to justify the show’s title. I still maintain that this show would have felt less disjointed with a shaken-up timeline that flips back and forth between Ava’s exploration of life’s pleasures and getting on with the spiritual crusade at hand. That would have helped to ease some of the bloated, overpadded feel with all the travel-and-dance club scenes (along with more nuance than people are expecting) that overtakes the first half of the season. There’s a good show that sometimes gets lost inside of ten episodes, and really, six or eight episodes would have gotten the job done and set this show up for what I assume is a desired second season.
Warrior Nun is a fine show, though. It’s got plenty of schlocky thrills and wonderfully smartass dialogue to add a fun vibe to the whole production. The butt-kicking of demons does happen, and once the action really does kick in, it’s cool as hell to witness, so I do recommend the show, just be sure to arrive with a little patience.
Netflix’s ‘Warrior Nun’ streams on July 2.