"Headless Nun"
Original airdate: Week of October 10, 1999
by Michelle Erica Green

Sydney and Nigel Get Religion

"Headless Nun" Plot Summary:

In Nova Scotia in the 1600s, a man rushes other men to boats, yelling something about how the village will be burned. Spying a black-robed figure, he chases after the intruder and chops off its head. From the crucifix hanging about the decapitated body's neck, the man realizes that he has killed a nun. Once the man carries the body back to the boat, he's told that they will all burn in hell because of his actions. As an answer, the murderer shoots his critic.

In the present, Sydney calls Nigel from her plane, saying that she's coming back from successfully recoverying a gold crown. While she speaks, her rival McKenzie opens a door in the cargo hold and steals the crown, putting it in his pack beside a parachute. Hearing him, Sydney leaves the plane on autopilot to fight him -- except that McKenzie pulls a gun and leaps out with the crown. Sydney returns to the pilot's seat too late to regain control and the plane crashes.

When Sydney awakens, she hears a choir and finds herself surrounded by nuns. For a moment, she thinks that she's in heaven, but they assure her that heaven is nicer than their convent. After finding her in the plane wreckage, they called a doctor. They also found her ID and looked her up on the Internet. "You're a relic hunter," says the delighted Mother Superior. They need someone just like her to find Sister Evangeline, the nun who died four hundred years ago. Her body was never found and they believe Sydney was sent to them for just that purpose.

Back at the university, Nigel is pondering the meaning of life while Claudia ponders her breasts and the nature of sexual oppression. Their boss calls and summons Nigel to Nova Scotia. Arriving by car, he asks a pretty girl for directions before learning that she's a nun training for a triathlon. In fact, none of the nuns are what he and Sydney expect. They run computer databases for hundreds of companies around the world. Nigel is also a bit disconcerted at having to share a bathroom with attractive, young nuns. The historians learn that Sr. Evangeline's head is buried under the statue at the center of the convent. Her body is believed to be hidden somewhere in the fort of Champlain, the French explorer who led the expedition with Emil La Foret. It was La Foret who killed Sr. Evangeline. The ruins of the fort lie under the monastery, so Sydney takes Nigel into the unexcavated tunnels.

That night, Nigel hears a mysterious singing voice and rises to see a shadowy figure outside. A moment later he realizes that the convent is on fire! In the morning, an old nun warns that Sr. Evangeline set the fire. The Mother Superior remarks that the old nun doesn't approve of their computer operations, and that faulty wiring was probably responsible for the fire. Still, Sydney finds evidence of arson in the form of volatile construction site material. One of the convent's patrons, a man named Mark, says that it's a pity the sisters hadn't completed a deal for property insurance and promises to help them.

Sydney and Nigel return to the tunnels, entering a booby-trapped dungeon where they find a corpse and a carving on the walls. There's a tree on one of the bricks, which makes Sydney think of La Foret, the murderer. Sure enough, behind the bricks is a flask engraved with La Foret's initials. It contains an old map. Sydney hypothesizes that the cross must represent where Sr. Evangeline is buried, but she can't figure out the rest of the symbols. Nigel just doesn't understand why someone would draw a map to a secret burial place for a murder victim.

The map identifies a "Bouche Diabolique," or Devil's Mouth, but no one knows what that might represent. The only thing the Mother Superior recognizes is a rock formation. She believes the groundskeeper may know more since his family has lived in Nova Scotia for more than 350 years. The groundskeeper realizes that the triangular shape of the map indicates an area where a windmill once stood which now houses a golf course. He takes them there. When Nigel discovers an ancient tree stump beneath a park bench, orienting them towards the sea, Sydney realizes that they have to rappel down the side of a 200-foot cliff to reach La Bouche Diabolique.

In spite of Nigel's heated protests about having to drop down the cliff and the groundskeeper's warning that the bottom will be underwater in half an hour when the tide comes in, Sydney drags her assistant into a small hidden cave that turns out to access a huge cavern. Man-made steps lead to a trap door from which swords fall towards them, forcing Sydney to rescue Nigel. In a chamber shaped like a cathedral, they find the remains of Sr. Evangeline--and a fortune in gold and jewels which could pay to rebuild the convent.

"No one leaves a fortune unprotected," warns Sydney, and sure enough the ground opens up as she steps forward. This time, it's Nigel's turn to save Sydney from a booby trap. When they scramble to safety, though, Mark and a henchman come in with guns. "He's a developer," Sydney theorizes, guessing that he set the fire at the convent so that he could take over the property.

Mark has no patience for her theories and plans to return for the loot later. Right now his concern is getting out before the tide comes in. He forces the historians at gunpoint to leave the chamber. "Sr. Evangeline won't be happy," says Sydney in a threatening voice. Wind fills the cave, sounding a lot like a woman's wail. When Mark hesitates, Sydney grabs his gun and Nigel siezes one of the fallen swords from the booby trap. Together they subdue the bad guys.

Nervously, Nigel asks Sydney whether she thought the mysterious noise really was the wind. Sydney shrugs. Back at the convent, the pair place flowers on the statue of Sr. Evangeline while the Mother Superior states her belief that the nun is now at peace. "Do you believe it was her?" asks Nigel, who can't let it go. The Mother Superior explains that if she could prove it, she'd know instead of believing. Since she can't prove it, she chooses to believe.

While Sydney returns to Claudia - who refuses to get her tea on the grounds that it's a form of gender enslavement, even though Sydney is also female and paying her to do the job - Nigel travels to a monastic retreat. He makes a last phone call to Sydney before accepting the order's ascetic rules, which includes no talking. She laughs at his fear of exploring his spirituality and hands the phone to Claudia. Chattering into the receiver, Claudia claims that while both she and Nigel are both oppressed, he is also repressed. The young man puts down the phone, relaxing in the suddenly welcome silence of the monastery.


"Headless Nun" is another perfectly goofy yet perfectly entertaining episode, featuring some charming humor with Nigel who acts like a panicked idiot around attractive young nuns. There are several delightful sequences in which Sydney had to save her bumbling apprentice before he redeemed himself by saving her. I was a little lost on the history since the opening sequence didn't seem to line up with the mystery. I expected the gold crucifix to have some significance, and it was not at all clear that Le Foret had greedy motives in killing the nun. Still, that didn't detract from the fun in the tunnels, and the numerous booby traps. The idea that these modern-world nuns would allow Sydney to wander around in full penguin habit was hard to believe, as was the spiritual triathlete in the bathrobe who interrupted Nigel's toilette. But, the visual image of rows of black-robed nuns at computers made the anachronisms worthwhile.

I rather appreciated both Nigel's spiritual quest and Claudia's bubble-headed, Lilith Fair-based feminism that were granted a degree of seriousness despite the comic tone in which they were presented. In general, this series does a wonderful job of not taking itself seriously. At the same time, it presents a refreshingly open, non-cynical view of people and the world. For instance, the good and bad guys are as black and white as the nuns' habits. The conspiracy theories all have straightforward answers which lead back to a few meanies in a world of decent people. In an odd way, it reminds me of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, with Sydney in the role of Hercules and without all of the darkness that permeates Xena. I have to say that I'm enjoying it more than most of this season's gloomy teen angst-fests.

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