Recently this column drew your attention to Warrior Nun on Netflix. In it, a young woman, Ava, is destined to toil in action for the Order of the Cruciform Sword, a secret society of fighter nuns who are chosen and trained to seek out and terminate demons from hell who roam the Earth. Or something along those lines.
Anyway, it’s a hit. A review in the U.S. declared, “You could say that Netflix’s new supernatural series Warrior Nun came right when the country needed it most.” A British review gave it the total thumbs-up under the headline, “‘Kickass girls killing monsters: Is Warrior Nun the next Stranger Things?”
Well, there must be something going on in the culture because the second season of Hanna (Amazon Prime Video) also arrived recently, and the theme of teenage girl assassin is stamped all over it. It does go deeper, however, playing with the idea of teen girls being gullible to brainwashing that turns them into elite killers. Further, it touches on a very dark theme: Youth is the enemy to be excised as a danger to establishment politics and corporations. Watching it, this column was reminded that before COVID changed everything, the moral compass of the world was in the hands of a 17-year-old Swede named Greta Thunberg, who was the target of adoration and loathing all last year.
Hanna arrived in 2019 with a core story: After being rescued from a hospital where a sinister experiment on children was under way, Hanna (Esme Creed-Miles) is raised in the remote woods somewhere in Eastern Europe by her father (Joel Kinnaman). He trains her to survive danger and to kill. The reason, he says, is that a certain woman will come looking for her. That’s the rogue and ruthless CIA agent Marissa Wiegler (Mireille Enos). Indeed she did and after many adventures and a shoot-out, it turned out the sinister experiment – to train teenage girls to be assassins – called Utrax, (of which Hanna was initially a part) was never abandoned.
In the second season, Hanna is obliged to infiltrate Utrax and try to free her friend Clara (Yasmin Monet Prince). Her ally is Marissa who is angry Utrax went ahead without her knowledge. (Enos is magnificent, by the way.) In a sleepy part of England, a group of teenage girls are being emptied of their minds and trained to be lethal assassins. Apart from the terrific action sequences, what’s fascinating is that these teenagers are being taught to absorb fictional backgrounds, backstories and manipulated to have fake emotions about their fictional families and friends. It is absolutely chilling to watch the trainee-killer Sandy (Aine Rose Daly) respond to prompts and appear as emotional as any real teenager, and then merrily set off to assassinate someone.
Both seasons of Hanna amount to an excellent binge-watch. The turning, twisting storyline shifts with laser precision, and the complex relationship between the faux-mother/daughter team of Marissa and Hanna is nicely developed. The action shifts from England to Spain where, as happens in Warrior Nun, malevolent forces operate under the cover of sunny skies and beautiful landscapes. The central tension is between Hanna, along with Marissa, and the head of Utrax, John Carmichael (Dermot Mulroney). What he’s concocting, using trained, brainwashed teenage girls, is a kind of boomer revenge plan.
Thrown into the heady thematic mix is the idea of manufactured identities imprinted on teenage girls by cunning adults – it could be any large corporation selling teen culture – and core life expectations being forced upon them. And then there’s the idea of Hanna, the character, sheltered from ordinary life in the forest, being the only moral conscience among her peers.
What Hanna (mostly written by David Farr with several contributing women writers including the Danish writer Ingeborg Topsoe) delivers, more than Warrior Nun, while still being thematically connected to that series, is the innocent-but-badass teenage girl as empowerment icon. It’s not the first series to do that but it’s another step in presenting the strength of such young women as a political, moral and aesthetic concept.
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