Sunday, May 26, 2024

Warrior Nun’s Early Episodes Are Not Weak

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By now, you probably realize how much we like Warrior Nun around here. I came to the show a bit later than most of my fellow writers, and so I had plenty of discourse to read up on once I finished the first season. There was a pretty common opinion among many of the reviewers and fans of the first season; things start slow, but they get better and more interesting in the second half. The background of the Warrior Nun starts coming to light, the plot and action kick in, and the groundbreaking stuff happens. You have to struggle through a weaker first-half to get there, though.

And here is my disagreement. I do not think the early episodes are weak at all, and I don’t think any mistake was made to pace the season the way Warrior Nun paced its episodes. I am surprised to see this as such a common opinion.

warrior nun ava
Why are you booing me? I’m right!

Yes, the Order of the Cruciform Sword is awesome, the other soldier nuns are precious and amazing, and the plot involving the Vatican, ARQ-Tech, and the death of Sister Shannon are more exciting than the buildup to pull Ava into the OCS fold after she wakes with the Halo in her back. I do not deny that.

That does not make those early episodes any less important, any less fun, or any less good to watch. Ultimately, season 1 of Warrior Nun focuses on one very important character arc more than any other, and that is Ava’s journey from paralyzed orphan who literally gets her life and limbs back to eventual acceptance of the powers the Halo gives her. It is about her journey to become the leader of the OCS. Damn near everything that happens in season 1 ties back to her character arc.

When a season of a show focuses so heavily around one character, you need to convincingly sell that character to audiences. You need to make sure that, when we reach the end point of the arc, we look back and feel like the journey made sense.

In other words, most of what you like about the more exciting second half of Warrior Nun’s first season would not have worked if the first half did not exist.

You only need the most basic read of Ava’s character to understand why she needed her independent adventures to begin the season, and why she was so resistant to joining the OCS. The car accident that killed her mother also paralyzed her from the neck down and landed her in an orphanage in the care of a horribly abusive nun. This nun eventually killed her when Ava was about to age out of the orphanage. When the OCS find her, they kidnap her and have some of her hostile future sisters beat up on her as training. It is far from a warm welcome and gave Ava, who has spent half her life with an abusive nun, no reason to stay.

Neither does the response, which is to send two different members of the Order to hunt her down. One tries to kill her and the other tries to make her come back (though Mary admittedly tries to talk and convince more than force). When you put so much emphasis on why your main character should not respond positively to the recruitment methods offered to her, you should follow through.

Then there is the simple fact that when Ava wakes up with the Halo, it is her first chance to really live life since the accident that paralyzed her. It is a chance she never thought she would get to live the normal teenage experience. Who passes up that chance? Who gets rescued from drowning by a hot himbo who welcomes them into his group of hot friends and decides instead to again cloister themselves away without living their best life?

Ava is basically left with a choice that feels an awful lot like choosing between her previous life and something new. It is important to her eventual choice to join the OCS that she resists initially. It is important that they give her a reason to want to be there.

Is this a bit selfish? From our POV, of course it is, but you cannot only judge a character based on information you have as a member of the audience.

This happens often in fiction, where audiences judge characters based on information we have that they do not. Skyler White is hated for nagging on Walter White, when she is doing what you would expect of a woman whose husband suddenly starts living a completely different life after finding out he had cancer. Ava is avoiding a destiny we know she will eventually have to take up, and she is avoiding all the interesting content that comes with that duty.

But Ava knows little or none of this. All she sees are a bunch of nuns like the one that tormented her for so long, and who do almost nothing to make her feel truly welcome.

Her journey is a gradual process that occurs mostly through action and things Ava sees with her own eyes. Seeing the Tarask is more convincing than anything Mary could say. Her day trip in the town she visits with Mary gives her a sense of the necessity of being the Warrior Nun she otherwise would not have experienced. This trip is also the first time Ava feels like she can actually do what everyone expects of her.

And above all else, Ava is an intensely curious person who needs to figure things out on her own terms. Even after her adventure with Mary and the rack of ribs exorcism that results, Ava going to Jillian Salvus first is what makes sense to her. The church she knows is one that hides knowledge from her, so maybe Jillian would be more truthful.

She returns to the OCS in her own time, and obviously at the right time considering what happens when she returns. With everything we learn about her during these episodes, it is a minor miracle she ever goes back to the OCS at all. Ava was fully in her rights to ditch them forever and leave them to their mess.

Now, you may be reading this and thinking “I know it makes sense, but making sense does not make those episodes better.” I also disagree about the early episodes being a turnoff or significantly inferior to what comes later. The early episodes sold me on the show because of one important, indispensable factor. Yes, again, that factor is Ava Silva. Quite frankly, she is an endless joy at the start of Warrior Nun.

This may be where I differ from many people. Ava is THE reason I latched onto Warrior Nun. I did not particularly care about the OCS at first or see any reason why she should join them immediately. I just wanted Ava to live her best life. I had a great time watching Ava find her himbo friend, his group of hot wanderers, and live her natural Glorious Dumbass state of being. Alba Baptista does a terrific job carrying these episodes and making me care about Ava beyond the halo in her back. These episodes are funny, interesting, and exactly what I needed to make me care about the show’s main character.

Each episode also has more than enough content to justify their existence.

I might agree that these episodes were weak if they dragged or had some kind of obviously slow character work that skimped on plot. Can you really argue that such a thing happens, though? Just because Ava’s not out there hunting demons or taking on the church from episode 2 does not mean these episodes lack vital plot info or exciting set pieces. Each of them has something exciting that kept me plenty entertained as Warrior Nun introduced its cast to me.

Obviously the pilot introduces basically everything that matters, from Ava and the halo to the OCS to Jillian to the Tarask, and much more. The second episode has the ARQ-Tech party Ava crashes and introduces divinium. The third episode focuses on Ava’s first experiences with the OCS and its history, and Mary’s investigation into Shannon’s death. Episode 4 has the OCS break-in at ARQ-Tech and the iconic Beatrice fight scene, as well as Ava’s trip back to her orphanage. By this point the show has kicked into high gear anyway, with the next two episodes featuring Mary and Lilith dueling each other while hunting Ava, the Tarask “killing” Lilith, and Ava’s rib rack exorcism adventure with Mary.

Every episode has some exciting adventure that tends to be crucial to the characters and plot. Maybe you could cut this down to one fewer episode? Maybe Mary and Lilith’s back and forth duel over Ava could have had less parts to it? I don’t know, there’s nothing egregiously time-wasting about any of this. The worst I think you could say is that not all of the exposition needed to be known exactly at this point, and that the show could have revealed some of it later, when the larger plot with Ava, Duretti, and the OCS was more exciting.

The worst part is that most if this criticism is directed at Ava and her adventures with JC and his friends. I get it. A normal coming of age teen drama romance with normal people is not what you signed up for with a show called Warrior Nun.

It’s not like any of this is disconnected from the larger OCS and halo plots, though. At best you could argue that the first episode was, but even then, most of the Ava/JC stuff had to do with telling you who Ava was and establishing what the halo had done for her. Everything afterwards ties directly to either Jillian Salvus, the OCS, or both. I haven’t even mentioned the character dynamics established within these episodes.

Besides, Ava is just such an endless joy to watch live life. How can you not be entertained by her?

Some criticism goes to JC and his friends as being too boring and typical, but is that not the point of them? They literally only exist to be as normal as possible since Ava lacks that normalcy. Considering all the weirdness surrounding them, they serve as a nice contrast and are certainly not so bad or pointless as to criticize them like some have. They provide something of a blank slate for Ava’s excellent charisma to run wild.

They also serve the main arc of the show, which many seem to misunderstand. People get frustrated with the show not having Ava join the OCS and accept her destiny as a Warrior Nun early on. The thing is, she NEVER accepts this destiny. That is not her arc. Her path is explicitly NOT to embrace that destiny. She literally says she wants to end it. The normalcy Ava craves is central to this viewpoint and expressed in her time with JC and his friends.

Ava was never supposed to just assimilate into the OCS. She is taking them to strange new places.

The normalcy of these early episodes of Warrior Nun is also always balanced out by the weirdness of the halo and the OCS. And honestly, even in the episodes they are central to, the normalcy plays such a small role compared to everything else. Even if you can’t stand these scenes, even if Alba Baptista’s heavy lifting is not enough to let you enjoy them, they do not last very long.

Plus, just think about how many of the best scenes of the season take place in these early episodes. Ava’s beach run, Beatrice’s beat down, the Mary/Lilith fight, Mary yeeting Ava off a cliff, the exploration of ArqTech, all these and more kept me interested in the show.

Maybe I am just too much of a veteran of real slow-burn dramas to ever recognize Warrior Nun as such. Shows like The Americans or Better Call Saul demand constant patience and appreciation for episodes focused entirely on character evolution, without the one moment every episode that at least keeps you having fun like Warrior Nun does. So maybe it’s just me.

I know every determination of a show’s quality comes down to individual tastes. If you just cannot find interest in the show, that is just fine. I do not think Warrior Nun is some must-see masterpiece. There are many, many flaws in the storytelling. Warrior Nun is a cheesy, fun show with a specific appeal to a specific audience. If you are not part of this audience, well, you can move on without me arguing.

My problem is that I do not find the early episodes to be this slog to get through to reach the more interesting material. And this is where I will debate you all day.

Images Courtesy of Netflix

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