Spoilers for FX's Black Narcissus ahead.
When Rumer Godden’s 1939 novel Black Narcissus was adapted into a film in 1974, many regarded the movie as an almost perfect project. Now, FX is trying to recreate that same magic with its eponymous miniseries. More than 80 years after its original publication, the story of the Order of The Servants of Mary has a deeply unhappy ending that we saw coming from miles away, even if we didn't read the book.
Black Narcissus follows a devoted group of Anglican nuns who make the long journey to a tiny town at the tip of the Himalayas with the goal to establish a mission at the ancient Mopu palace. Though the women of faith are excited about the prospect of furthering God's word in the area, what awaits them at the palace is sobering. Dilapidated and abandoned, their new home requires a lot of elbow grease and constant labor. On top of that, the cultural gap between them and the community that they wish to reach is almost too wide to bridge.
Sister Superior Clodagh attempts to lead her fellow nuns nonetheless, intent on fulfilling the directive she was given. But the palace itself is...off, to say the least. The spirit of its last inhabitant, a long-gone princess desperate for freedom, still haunts the halls and influences the young Sister Ruth to act out. As the days pass by in the St. Faith school, Ruth grows more aggressive, more mean-spirited. She doesn't take well to the locals and avoids them as much as she can while harboring a deep and very frowned upon — she's a nun! — obsession with gruff handy man Mr. Dean, who has a bit of chemistry with Clodagh.
To top things off, there's also a forbidden romance brewing between local girl Kanchi and royal Dilip Rai, and in this town, that kind of love story is simply unacceptable. While Clodagh might sympathize with the young lovers, their relationship threatens to destroy the careful balance that the nuns have built with the townspeople, and she's got too much to lose to simply let them be.
Over time, the chaos at the mission comes to a head thanks to Ruth's burning bitterness towards the Sister Superior. When taking up wearing red lipstick and abandoning her traditional habit for the late Shrumati's clothes aren't enough to win Mr. Dean's affections, Ruth makes a rash decision: she has to kill the one person standing in her way. Meeting Clodagh at the same bell tower where the princess fell to her death years before, Ruth goes on the attack, attempting to push her mortal enemy off of the ledge. However, when she realizes that Clodagh actually wants to save her from herself, the former nun reaches the end of her rope. Dead in the eyes, Ruth launches herself off of the tower and falls to her death.
The trauma of Ruth's tragic passing is ultimately too much for Clodagh and the remaining nuns at St. Faith to endure; after commemorating the life of the youngest nun in their group with a simple grave, the nuns descend from the mountains to return to Darjeeling. Their mission of bringing the Mopu community closer to God was a failure — if anything, the nun's brief time at the palace only caused them to stray from the faith they had devoted their lives to. Perhaps some places are not meant to be "saved."