Netflix’s adaptation of Ben Dunn’s Warrior Nun Areala is a series that wants you to have faith. Not necessarily faith in the biblical divinity or hellish demons that drive the uneven plot forward over 10 episodes, but faith in the narrative trope of an unsuspecting Chosen One™ being called upon to save the humanity from the ultimate evil.
Warrior Nun pulls you right into the thick of its mystical, heightened reality where the Catholic church has been waging an ongoing proxy war with the forces of Hell for hundreds of years. As the most talented (and chosen) member of the Order of the Cruciform, a young woman named Sister Shannon (Melina Matthews) wields a chunk of Heaven’s vast powers thanks to an angel’s halo that’s embedded in her back, as is tradition within the Order.
But when Shannon suddenly falls in battle, her fellow nuns end up making the unlikely choice of hiding the halo in the body of a recently deceased orphan named Ava (Alba Baptista), who quickly becomes Warrior Nun’s central focus. By introducing Ava, Warrior Nun immediately differentiates itself from its source material in which Shannon was the heroine, and for a brief moment, it seems as if series creator Simon Barry (Continuum, Van Helsing) might have been interested in bringing something new and novel to this story. As the series crawls along, though, it becomes impossible not to see how Warrior Nun’s faith in this trope’s well-trodden hallmarks are what really holds the show back from being all that interesting.
For all of its stylistic similarities to Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s final season (see: a group of young girls with the potential to become Chosen training to fight demons; also, teen drama) Warrior Nun actually plays out in a way that echoes a story like She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. Through a series of flashbacks, Warrior Nun explains how, after losing her parents in a sudden car accident that left her largely paralysed from the neck down, Ava lived her childhood in an orphanage where she spent her days being verbally and emotionally abused by vindictive nuns. By the time Ava turned 19, she ended up quite dead, which is where the series initially catches up with her, and her death is one of the central mysteries the show attempts to use to convince you to keep watching.
For a show that’s presumably somewhat interested in unpacking the nature of faith and what it is about religion that compels people to gravitate toward it, Warrior Nun does shockingly little with the headier elements of its subject matter. Instead, it favours trying to present Ava as your prototypical prophecy girl who fights tooth and nail to run away from her destiny while getting into kooky teen shenanigans and mischief. That Ava spent years of her life as a paraplegic before suddenly dying, being resurrected, and discovering that she has superpowers is never framed as anything more than a set of unimportant details about her life that, while strange, aren’t enough to make her slow down and really reflect on how wild they are.
Before Ava’s properly brought within the Order’s ranks to train among her new sisters, her wanderings around the city bring her face to face with a group of young, impossibly gorgeous bohemians who get by squatting in luxurious, largely empty mansions owned by people who spend the bulk of their time vacationing elsewhere. The show repeatedly tries to emphasise that Ava’s a girl caught between worlds — one embroiled in a holy war, the other blissfully unaware of the danger it’s in — by reminding you that though she may be chosen, she’s also just a kid who wants to do kid things.
Warrior Nun’s biggest issue is that the parts of Ava that gravitate toward normalcy come across as flat and uninspired, partially because you never really get the sense that Ava knows who she herself is. You can hear this in the show’s excessive use of her internal monologue voiceover, which more often than not doesn’t provide much insight into her emotions as much as it establishes that she somehow managed to grow into a fairly regular teen despite seemingly never being allowed to leave her bed in the orphanage while growing up.
In sharp contrast to Ava, the Order’s other warrior nuns, like Sister Mary (Toya Turner), Sister Lilith (Lorena Andrea), and Sister Beatrice (Kristina Tonteri-Young), all take their vows exceptionally seriously, and each of them brings a well-defined sort of energy to the story that makes Ava seem less well-thought-out as a character in comparison. Unlike the other nuns training within the Order, Ava’s history with religion is tenuous at best, which, in a different story, might have made for a fascinating depiction of a woman grappling to reconcile her lack of faith with objective proof of the divine’s existence. Instead, Warrior Nun leaves most of its potential for philosophical debate on the table as it highlights a number of surprisingly solid action sequences and a glut of subplots involving the show’s overlarge cast of supporting characters.
What’s most disappointing though, is how the show never attempts to flesh its world out with the sort of questions that normal, everyday people might have when witnessing a group of teen girls hunting demons. Despite the fact that Ava and her allies make no attempt at hiding who they are and what they’re doing, no one around them ever seems especially interested in them or even aware that there are monsters in their midst. It isn’t because of any in-universe magic that the existence of the supernatural is lost on regular civilians, however, it’s just that the show doesn’t bother to establish whether or not angels and demons are the sorts of things that people in this world would be shocked to witness.
Diehard fans of the graphic novel are almost certain to be flummoxed by most of Warrior Nun’s deviations from the comics because, by the season’s end, nearly every plotline ends in a hasty cliffhanger suggesting that the creative team is praying for a second season. Newcomers and casual viewers might find themselves drawn in by the premise, but ultimately the series ends up being a labour to slog through that’d be much better passed on in favour of something else within this genre of comic book adaptations.