A secret group of militarized nuns fighting demonic spirits in the shadows. That’s the definition of a kick-ass superhero show if you’re talking to Warrior Nun creator Simon Barry. He wanted to take the best-selling YA fantasy property and tailor it for the Netflix streaming crowd, hoping that a touch of mysticism, a few mentions of angels, demons, and the afterlife, and oh yeah, an army of Gen Z nuns wielding shotguns, throwing knives, and ancient super-powered objects might yield a fandom big enough to take the show into a second season.
The jury’s still out on that last bit, but his faith has been rewarded in other ways. The show’s already gained a devoted following, performing well in a quarantined era when streamers are clamoring for new content that sparks excitement and imagination. Other-worldly monsters, demonic possession, and portals to unknown realms should fit that bill, right? We chatted with Barry about the show’s still uncertain future, the fates of key characters, and infusing a bit more feminism into that dusty Biblical mythology.
So, why nuns? What got you interested in this world?
I really liked the idea that we could do this feminist superhero show that had its mythology rooted in a little bit of the typical good, evil, heaven, and hell, angels and demons. When you deal with mythology like Biblical mythology, the audience is already up to speed. You don’t have to spend a lot of time explaining the stakes. The stakes are God and the Devil. That really allows for writers to focus more on the mechanics of the new things that are coming into the show.
For us, it was then about this interesting world where nuns are trained to fight and be kick-ass martial artists and weapons experts. Then, this idea of the Halo as sort of a supernatural, superpower device that makes one of the nuns become special. I felt like this was familiar ground, but also very different from an audience point of view and the genre point of view — it was accessible, but also fresh. I liked those two things kind of commingling in the way that you could accelerate the process of storytelling and get an audience invested quickly by being curious but by also being read up on the mythology a little bit.
Yeah, you don’t normally think of “feminism” when I think of the Catholic Church.
No, and that’s why it was kind of fun. We were like, “Hey, let’s have these girls fighting patriarchy as well.”
Were you worried about taking on some of that heavier material?
We weren’t really worried. I think we were so unabashedly upfront with our wacky concept of the angel’s Halo being put inside someone and it giving them superpowers, that we felt the show was planting a flag early. We’re not trying to be a religious show. We’re just using religion to help us understand the stakes of good and evil and what bad things might happen and how angels could be involved in this pathology.
We were really just kind of honoring the mysticism and supernatural existing qualities of the church that are there and the unexplained. And it’s saying, “Hey, if this can all be unexplained, why can’t we kind of link it to our supernatural device,” which is the idea of this angel’s Halo being a physical object. For us, it was more leaning into the mythology than trying to exploit it in a way that was making a political point.
Right, okay. Enough games. Who is Adriel? What is Adriel? An angel?
That’s a good question, but I guess I could come back to you and go, “What is an angel?”
That’s the fun part of this. We exist somewhere in between, which makes the show a little bit more interesting, I think, because by not doing these hard definitions about what things are or aren’t, and by not saying, “This is it,” we’re leaving that speculation open for the audience and for our characters, more importantly, to wonder, “What does it mean?” If someone tells you that this is this and you have accepted it, are you accepting it based on what you know, what you think, or what you’ve been told to think?
I could argue that giving an answer would be rewarding to an audience who’s working hard to figure things out.
It’s only human as the audience has found out, to want to have answers. We would rather exist in that kind of parallel world where we think we know what’s going on, but we don’t. I think if we get to season two, it will allow us to continue that journey of revealing what is mythological supposition, I guess, and what is something that we can say, “Oh, our myth evolves from something real. And here’s the real thing. And here’s where the myth evolved from.” Everything in the show has its connection to Biblical mythology and art, and sometimes we just want to ask the question, “Well, what came first? The thing the myth was designed [from] or was the myth the thing all along?”
You’re sending me back to the Reddit theory threads then?
I know. I’m so sorry, but this is how we do drama. We want to drag it out. We want to torture you for a few more years.
Speaking of, are there plans to reveal more of what happened to Lilith if you get a season two?
Yeah, for sure. If we get more seasons, we’ll definitely expand on the journey. It’s one of those imperatives that we dig down and understand what she’s going through and what’s happened to her. When we designed the characters out of the gate, we definitely had a big overview of some of the prototypical character set-ups that we liked, but we also wanted to defy those and do the unexpected and surprise the audience wherever possible. In building Lilith as the presumptive Halo bearer and the most eager to be selected, we knew we were dealing with a trope-y character study that exists in many, many other stories, but we didn’t want to use her the way other stories would have used her, which would have been to be the classic foil for Ava.
By doing all we did to her, by forcing Lilith, someone we thought we knew, to change, it meant that the audience had to go through this re-examination as well. The journey that Lilith took was very much part of our plan from day one. In fact, if she ever comes across in the first three episodes as being a little bit one-note, it’s because we knew we were going to flip it.
I was always a bit suspicious of her. Lilith is not the kind of name you’d give a nun, you know?
[Laughs] That’s us honoring the graphic novel. Lilith is a character from Ben Dunn books, Warrior Nun Areala and I think the fans, if they know the books, would go, “Ah, I see what you guys are doing here. Very crafty, I know where this is going.” For everyone else, they should just enjoy the journey and see what happens.
Are Ava and Beatrice going to go on a journey, maybe a romantic one, next season?
We always intended Beatrice and Ava to become very close, and it had nothing to do with sexuality. It was really knowing that Ava was a neophyte and not religious and not feeling like she belonged, that she should have a best friend or a connection with someone who had had similar feelings, but was actually on the opposite end of the spectrum when it came to how seriously she took her role.
Beatrice might feel like she is an outsider, but that’s just the way society and her parents have treated her. That sense of being an outsider was something we knew that Ava had and we wanted to have them bond as friends first. The one thing you don’t want to do is ever say that sexuality defines the character. As writers, our job is to define the character and then let the sexuality play out as it would normally.
Ava and Beatrice’s journey for us is not something that is an easy definition, and we like it that way. We don’t want it to be defined as one thing. We want it to be defined as 10 things. We’re going to service all of those components — a great friendship, a great relationship, camaraderie, and love. But, we’re not there yet in the story, so we’re not going to do something that isn’t honest as it relates to them just to service potential.
I’m worried if this ship doesn’t sail, you might have to find a bunker to hide in.
[Laughs] It’s already happening. I mean, look, this is the nice thing about it. We don’t have to write it in to know that it exists. You know it’s already there. People can see it with their own eyes. Just because we don’t label it as such, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. And just because we don’t have someone say it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It exists for everyone to see and experience. I think the audience has made their decision. I don’t have to make that decision. I’ll just build on it and make it better and better and better, hopefully. That’s my job.
What about Shotgun Mary? Where will we pick up with her?
Is Shotgun Mary going to be okay? I think so, but you never know. Nothing’s off the table. I think that’s sort of a question that remains for if we officially get a season two. We’re all aiming to be truthful to these characters as much as possible and to the audience by honoring who these characters are — their strengths, their weaknesses. We’ll always try to do right by Mary, by Lilith, Beatrice. It’s our job to make sure that they never are abused in that way as characters, that we keep them on their line and make them interesting.
Do you think the OCS will survive after the disaster of season one, particularly Father Vincent’s betrayal?
I think that regardless of what happens institutionally, the definition of the OCS for our show will always be driven by the girls. Obviously, the Vatican will try to have a say in that, but like you said, this is a major upheaval. The OCS is attacked from various angles right now, whether it’s political, whether it’s just from a story point of view with Adriel emerging, whether it’s because Duretti has now become Pope and has much more power. That is something that we really feel is a catalyst for season two if we get one. I’m curious to know what happens to the OCS too.
Netflix’s ‘Warrior Nun’ is currently streaming.