Jon's notes from his Episode 18 pitch:
We open on a young woman banging on the door of a convent in the driving rain. She slides down the door in exhaustion as it opens and light spills out illuminating her. She looks up wide eyed, her face bathed in light and smiles warmly.
We see a different woman in her early twenties coming to the same convent. She is called Sister Mary Ava but just usually goes by Sister Ava as she has just taken her final vows and has come to the Convent of the Blood of the Holy Family, which is an inner city mission. She is introduced to her fellow sisters including Mother Superior Bernadette who is very friendly and greets Sister Ava kindly but does appear to go slightly vacant a few times during their conversation. Sister Ava is also introduced to her roommate Sister Rose who is quite young but clearly excited to have a new friend. The whole first day is one of bright sunlight and cheer as she is shown her various daily duties which include cooking for the soup kitchen and mending clothes to be given to the homeless. She gets told that she should meet Sister Ariel when she returns as she will love her, her love is what keeps this convent together, particularly since Mother Superior Bernadette is becoming increasingly absent.
A few days later Sister Ava is awoken in her room by a noise. In the pitch black she sees a shape crouching on the floor in prayer. Her breath catches in her throat and the figure raises its head to reveal a beautiful middle-aged nun. Ava switches on the light and the crouching nun smiles broadly with tears running down her cheeks. She moves quickly from the floor towards Ava and squeezes her in a hug. As she sobs and laughs she exclaims that she is so excited that her family has grown once again and that she is Sister Ariel and she will love Ava like no other until she goes to God. Ariel laughing joyfully holds on to her for a long time, until Ava says that she is tired. Ariel lets go of her and suggests they offer a quick prayer to thank god for each other. Ariel looks intensely at Ava one last time before saying that she knows that Ava is different, just doesn’t know in what way yet. After this she leaves. As Ava turns off the light, she sees Sister Rose’s frightened face staring at her before she quickly turns over. Sister Ava goes to say something but decides against it for now.
The following day Sister Ava is preparing the donated clothes alongside Sister Rose. Rose seems happy and chats about how this kind of work is so useful and fulfilling. Outside the window Ava sees the Mother Superior sitting in the courtyard outside with her legs spread out in front of her. Sister Ava points out that Bernadette appears happy out there, Sister Rose goes to look and panics, saying that she has been doing this a lot, sometimes even late at night. She takes Ava’s hand and says they should go outside and bring her in. Clearly the Mother Superior is unwell and the nuns all know this. By the time they arrive, Sister Ariel has already begun to lead Bernadette away. Ava attempts to stop her by saying that they should call an ambulance for her, but Sister Ariel assures her that they are family and can look after their Mother Superior just fine. This leads to a tense confrontation which clearly upsets Rose so Ava backs down.
So we get more scenes establishing the routine of the nunnery. The Mother Superior often wanders the corridors, and either Sister Ariel or another of the senior nuns makes sure she returns to her quarters. At least once a month the bishop arrives to oversee the work there and check in on things. Excuses are made for the Mother Superior and Sister Ariel takes the lead on these occasions. When it comes to dinner and it is just the assembled nuns Ariel does give sermons before they eat.
She talks of the meaning of their family and their love. She says that their love is direct from God as he is their husband and father and as long as they have his love in their heart then everything they do is also directly from him. Sister Ariel speaks cryptically of sacrifice and that they are all
disconnected from God while they are alive with only his love as a connection, like a string in maze that will return them to him. She demands that they never try to join God themselves, for that will lead them to hell. They will return to him when there is nothing more for them to do, but that is not yet! Sister Ariel also tells them that she knows the way for them to return to God and she will make sure no one stops them!
Sister Ava attempts to speak to Sister Rose about the sermons on many occasions but is always rebuffed. Until one day she asks her directly why Ariel tells them not to try and join God themselves. She asks what she means by this and why she repeats it so much. Rose mutters that there have been Sisters who have found their calling too much. Through this conversation Ava discovers that over the years there have been a number of suicides at the convent. Although this is explained away as their community work is particularly emotionally taxing due to savage poverty and hardship they constantly see. Sister Ava is horrified, their work is difficult but they do reach so many, that doesn’t make sense. Rose offers no more answers.
The sermons increase in length as Sister Ariel repeats their love for each other and God is how the divine will is shown. Sometimes she speaks for so long that the food is completely cold before they are permitted to eat, although with increasing frequency many of the nuns stop eating altogether in the evenings as the emotional toll of Sister Ariel’s speeches leaves them exhausted. Eventually Sister Ava decides she must talk to Sister Ariel directly and tell her that her sermons as causing too much distress for the other nuns. However Sister Ariel is increasingly difficult to reach as the more fanatical sisters tell her that Sister Ariel needs to rest and should not be disturbed. Ava tries to tell the Mother Superior her concerns but declining mental and physical health makes this impossible.
Sister Ava manages to communicate with the Bishop (during one of his visits) with the help of Sister Rose. She frantically tells him that Sister Ariel is quickly becoming a zealot and it may not be healthy for her or the other sisters. The Bishop asks for evidence of this and Ava recounts the sermons which preach about love, family and their connection to God. At this the Bishop laughs and points out that they are nuns and that is exactly what they should believe. He leaves her saying that Ava should question why she is finding that so worrying and maybe she should question her own faith. Later that day she seems Ariel and the Bishop talking, the Bishop says something unheard to Ariel and laughs while Ariel stares at Ava.
That night Sister Ava stirs in her sleep and sees that Rose’s bed is empty. She quietly calls to her friend and creeps around the convent to find her, all the other beds are empty. Eventually she hears noises and sobbing from the courtyard, so quietly she makes her way there. All her fellow sisters are standing around someone in garden. Flickering candlelight illuminates Sister Ariel’s weeping face. Ava moves to a better position and sees a naked Sister Rose heaving with sobs as she beats herself. All the nuns are crying and swaying around her. Droplets of blood covering the floor all around her twinkle in the sparse light. She runs to try and stop her friend but Rose begs her to let her continue as she needs to show her love for her family and God. Ava recoils in horror and catches Sister Ariel’s gaze, who just stares at her while joyful tears flow freely down her cheeks.
Over the next few days Sister Ava is completely isolated from her sisters, even Sister Rose, who is noticeably haggard and pale, now keeps her distance. The sermons become more intense as Ariel preaches about how she will guide her family back to God’s love, and that she will try to save as many people as possible from this wicked world.
The intensity increases until the day of the next soup kitchen when people start to react badly to the food. They double over in pain and vomit blood violently, choking to death. Panic grips the whole soup kitchen as the choking sounds of the dying homeless becoming deafening. The nuns who are present back away from the horror. We pull back to see the carnage as the hall of the soup kitchen is littered with the bodies of the people the nuns were meant to help. Ava looks on in horror as Sister Rose looks her straight in the eye and eats some of the now clearly poisoned food. Sister Rose’s eyes are stained with lack of sleep and exhaustion as she trembles whilst chewing the tainted food. Ava tries her best to make Rose be sick but she dies in her arms. The police arrive and question everyone and it becomes clear that Rose poisoned the food and the wounds all over her body make her appear a fanatic.. It takes them days to clear away the bodies and the blood. They search and clear Rose’s room and the Mother Superior is also removed from the convent due to her declining health and lack of oversight. The Bishop temporarily puts Ariel in charge as the media swarm outside the convent, looking to find out about the ‘merciless sister’ who murdered so many poor and homeless.
Ava becomes increasingly paranoid as she is now constantly alone in her almost empty room. Every night she can hear her fellow nuns walking the corridors outside her room and disturbing her sleep. Also the self-flagellation appears to be increasing as many of the nuns now seem pallid and in pain. One of Ariel’s senior followers bleeds through her habit and collapses in front of Ava but is quickly taken away. She stops attending the sermons and misses meal times, taking quick bites to eat whenever she can. Although since the massacre, all their charity work has ceased, so the daily routine has been abandoned in favour of Sister Ariel’s relentless preaching and praying. The other nuns make cross signs and mutter prayers whenever she goes to approach them. They are becoming clearly hostile and almost fearful of her. Also the soup kitchen is still off limits as a crime scene as the investigation still appears to be ongoing, which increases the mood of paranoia in the convent.
This builds until one night when Ava is violently dragged from her room by the other nuns and brought before Sister Ariel in the chapel. She desperately tries to appeal to her captors but they ignore her completely, their eyes blankly staring ahead. Sister Ariel is in mid sermon as she is telling her followers that Sister Rose’s heroic sacrifice to bring so many poor souls back to God at the expense of her own eternal life was beautiful but sadly it may bring down the whole convent. This is proof that the Devil controls the world outside the convent as those who try to help are treated this badly. She shouts that soon they will all be taken away and that paradise will be denied to them if they are not strong enough to resist. Ava is dragged to the aisle before Ariel, who points at her as an example of one such enemy who has made it impossible for their good work here to continue. Ariel demands that Ava beat herself to show her family that she knows she has done wrong. Ava refuses and struggles to escape, causing Ariel to strike her forcefully with a candle stick. Ava falls to the floor, her head bleeding and as she dips in and out of consciousness she sees Ariel standing over her shouting and screaming to her congregation. She cannot hear what she says but Ariel is practically foaming at the mouth with intensity, her eyes are wild with excitement.
As Ava’s hearing returns she can hear Ariel telling the nuns that they need to hurry as the Devil is coming for them, to stop them doing what they need to. She rants that they need to save each other, because if they saved only themselves then God would deny them. It takes Ava a few moments to realise that Ariel is commanding the nuns to kill each other. As she does the most fanatical of Ariel’s followers immediately descend on those sisters who were clearly more doubtful, killing them mercilessly.
The nuns at the back scream some attempt to escape while others face their insane sisters. Either way they are cruelly and brutally murdered. Sister Ariel’s followers stand over the bodies of their former sisters, panting with exertion, their habits stained with blood. Then the fanatics turn on each other violently like starving dog and we cut away from the carnage as blood pools on the floor of the chapel. It laps against Ava’s legs and feet. Sister Ariel appears to be weeping tears of pure joy at the slaughter as Ava lifts herself up. Ava tries to wrestle the bloody candlestick from Ariel but she is still groggy from her head wound. Yet she manages to overpower Ariel who falls to the floor and looks up at Ariel, smiling broadly (like the opening) and says that she is pleased her Sister will help her return to their father, God…that Sister Ava is doing God’s work. With police sirens sounding off in the distance, the beaten and bleeding Ava, utters a short prayer and brings the candlestick down.