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praise God and kick some ass: Warrior Nun (Season 2)
Several things I love about one of Netflix's most visually stunning shows. Spoilers: the good guys win.
Michael: “We’re a decentralized cadre of like-minded people working toward the abolition of Adriel’s crypto-fascist religious formation through disruption and intimidation.”
Ava: “So… like a book club?”
Knowing that Netflix had already canceled Warrior Nun, I finally finished watching Season 2 last week. I’m genuinely surprised at how the show improved on Season 1.
If you’re not familiar: the story centers around the Order of the Cruciform Sword, a group of devout women who have devoted themselves to fighting ancient evils not just with prayer but with fists, knives, machine guns, and canes with hidden blades. Their martial leader is the nun who bears the Halo, an angelic relic that gives its bearer superior strength, speed, and miraculous healing and physical abilities.
However, you don’t choose the Halo; the Halo chooses you (and it can reject you as it sees fit). And in this story, it’s chosen Ava, a girl who joins the Order not because she wants to but because the Halo is the only reason she’s alive. (Warrior Nun is based on a comic book series of the same name.)
In Season 2, the OCS faces up against Adriel, a being from another realm who portrays himself as a divine savior and sways the world with plagues, signs, and miracles—and also by submitting his most ardent followers to demon possession. Adriel turns high-ranking members of the Vatican, the Church of England, and other religious bodies to his side. (The Church of England representative at an emergency meeting of church leaders in Episode 5 is named “Justin” and looks like, well, the current Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Heavy winking going on here.)
I’m a sucker for speculative stories that pull threads of angels, demons, religious relics, church mysteries, and magic into a single narrative, and do so with an air of realism. Warrior Nun delivers on all those counts. One Vatican leader declares the conflict over Adriel “the greatest theological fight of our time.” The chief MacGuffin is the Crown of Thorns. And a central plot line revolves around a machine that harnesses energy from prayers and uses that energy for nefarious purposes. (“Is Adriel stealing prayers from God?” Camila asks in horror.)
I’ve pointed out in other places that the dialogue often leaves much to be desired, but here’s some cool stuff I enjoyed while wrapping up Season 2 (in no particular order).
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visual aesthetic + cinematography
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: the show’s visual energy is impressive. The color palette, the consistent (if somewhat repetitive) scenery, the costumes, the character design. Lilith’s wings! It’s steady and beautiful all the way through. The cinematography is peak; the CGI is better than that of some recent big-budget films. Warrior Nun is easily one of the most optically-pleasing things I’ve watched.
fragile, beatable heroes
The sisters of OCS are strong; there’s no doubt about that. But these heroes are also fragile and believably beatable. In the penultimate episode, I thought Ava was down for the count. Warrior Nun could have easily been a girl-power fever dream, but it roundly avoids the Mary Sue-ness that’s often complained about in other franchises (ahem, Star Wars). The genuine possibility of failure for the good guys is necessary for a good story.
fight scene choreography
The fight scenes aren’t perfect, but they’re consistently impressive, especially for a Netflix budget show. Mother Superion single-handedly obliterating bad guys with her cane and a handgun in Episode 5 will live rent-free in my head. (If the sight of blood makes your stomach weak, you’ll want to skip a few scenes.)
peak soundtrack energy
Whoever matched songs with scenes for this show did an outstanding job. Every selection heightens the accompanying scene’s energy in a way that doesn’t overwhelm what’s happening on screen.
lots of existential wrestling
I love a fish-out-of-water story; but I also love a fish-in-water story where the main fish aren’t certain about everything fish are supposed to be certain about. Like the fact that water is the way, the truth, and the light of their existence. Ava is the Warrior Nun—the Halo lives inside of her and she does all the things the Warrior Nun is supposed to do. But she also doubts and questions things she’s supposed to accept. A lot. She’s still a rebellious teenager who mouths off about God and church tradition and often comes across as an unbeliever, someone unworthy to bear the Halo. On the edge of battle, she spontaneously inducts a sister into the OCS, making the sign of the cross and declaring “praise God and kick some ass” as Sister Beatrice protests her unorthodox manner. (Ava’s witty asides and saucy comebacks grew on me this season; but I’m still glad they dispensed with the awful voiceovers from Season 1.)
Ava: Semantics, huh? That’s what we’re betting our lives on?
Michael: We’re betting our lives on faith
Ava: Ah, even worse
How do you maintain faith in a god you can’t see when it’s so easy to believe in a god you can? Especially when this visible god is killing your friends.
Make no mistake: the sisters show up and fight with grit and zeal. But in the quieter moments, they question what they believe and wonder if prayer is pointless. They fear that the path they’ve chosen might not be worth it and weigh the possibility that they won’t be received into Heaven as faithful servants if they die by Adriel’s hand. Perhaps the universe is not as they believe it to be.
I love the interplay that happens when the character everyone in the story is supposed to believe in has the most doubts. (The same interplay runs through Shadow and Bone: Alina is worshiped as a “living saint,” but she sees herself as just some girl trying to survive and protect the people and country she loves.)
the restoration of Father Vincent
At the end of Season 1, Father Vincent betrays the OCS and reveals his allegiance to Adriel. He’s on Adriel’s side through most of Season 2, but toward the end, he has a change of heart, and it’s thrilling to see him on the path of redemption, restoration, and reacceptance. This stands out because creating art in a culturally oblivious vacuum is almost impossible. And if one succeeds in doing this, the art will be seen and interpreted through a cultural context anyway. It would have been very easy to code the one “old white guy” closest to the sisters as just like all the other “old white guys” it’s become popular to blame for the world’s problems. While there’s lots of blame to go around and lots of old white men deserving of blame, I love a challenge to a prevailing narrative, and this deviation from the script was cool to see. We love counter-culturalism, do we not?
Warrior Nun doesn’t end with any of this love-will-save-the-world, believe-in-yourself, romance-over-sacrifice nonsense that comes out in so many stories nowadays. None of the sisters get their perfect happy ending. That’s because beating the shit out of a truly evil dude and his demon-possessed followers is what saves the world sometimes. (See: World War II.) It’s cathartic to witness evil getting a proper comeuppance, even in a fictional story. We always need the reminder that evil can be defeated, but it often takes blood, sweat, and tears. And Warrior Nun has that in spades.
This is probably my favorite shot from Warrior Nun. I’ll take that “Falling Angel/Last Hope” graffiti as a poster please. Click here to browse dozens of stunning stills from this visually delicious show.