BBC Two’s Top of the Lake
China Girl: Episode 1
Directed by Jane Campion
Written by Campion & Gerard Lee
* For a recap & review of Episode 2, click here.
After a fantastic Season 1, which I’ll eventually get around to reviewing, Jane Campion and Gerard Lee return with Season 2, China Girl. We open on a few people sitting together to eat in a small apartment. The feeling is there’s business to discuss. In a back room are a bunch of young women, crammed together on a bed. A white man and a Chinese woman take suitcases with them, out into the night. They bring one down near the ocean, it’s heavy and hard to carry. After some trouble they toss it into the ocean. Is there a body in there? I’d be willing to bet yes.
Then we switch over to see Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) once again, after all this time. Although she doesn’t appear much better than she was the last we saw her. She’s got a letter with her, one she literally holds close to her heart. Is it from Johnno? Or Tui? Who?
Regardless, Robin’s still an officer of the law. In fact she’s higher up nowadays, a bit. teaching cops how to do their job properly. When a young officer laughs at her, things get a bit tense when she has him up as an example for the others and he asks a question that does not sit well, about her shooting Al Parker. While Constable Miranda Hilmarson (Gwendoline Christie) admires her for all her work, the men are full of misogyny, piss, and vinegar when it comes to our kick ass detective. Her superiors think she’s being an “asshole” instead of standing up for herself. Ah, nothing’s really changed, has it? Men, they never change.
All the while, below the ocean’s waves, a suitcase sits still in the water, a long bit of dark hair sticking from out of it. Soon, it floats to the top. You can be sure our Dt. Griffin will end up hearing tell of this case.
Adrian (Clayton Jacobson), Robin’s boss, takes her out for a drink, to chat about things and how she’s been doing. She says she’s “celibate now” after so much bullshit, nearly getting married; then, whatever’s happened between her and Johnno. He isn’t around anymore, from the looks of it. Just wonder why. Meanwhile, Parker’s putting a civil case against Robin, saying her shooting of him was related to personal issues between the two of them. The “circumstantial evidence” may not cut it, though she believes it will. Also she mentions being drugged, waking up in his bed. What we’re seeing, more and more, is the misogyny from all angles women face. Robin’s merely a microcosm of that symptom.
We also see the man from the apartment earlier, an East German named Alexander ‘Puss’ Braun (David Dencik). He’s eerie. He waits around a school for a young girl to come out, escorting her home, yet it doesn’t feel like a father-daughter relationship. Feels sleazier than that. Either way he’s no good to be around, he’s helping to run a brothel called Silk 41, full of Asian women of various ages. And now there’s a girl missing, the others worry, knowing she didn’t take her passport with her. Puss passes it off as her running off for a bit. Seeing that suitcase, we know different. He uses his pimp charm to ease his ladies’ minds. His own history’s riddled with brutality: the bastard product of a rape.
What could be worse? The young woman he pals around with is Mary Edwards (Alice Englert). And who’s she? The daughter Robin gave up for adoption.
Puss: “No one ever gives away power. Power has to be taken.”
We hear roundabout of a girl at Silk 41 named Cinnamon, from a bunch of men who frequent the joint. The same girl the others at the brothel worry over. She’s apparently a favourite. What we witness is the undercurrent of how so many men view women as disposable, as objects, as a “transaction” and a means to an end. Whereas one guy Brett (Lincoln Vickery) actually seems to care about the girl, the others see her only as another piece of meat. He cares so much that it bothers him thinking Cinnamon would leave without telling him. A glimmer of hope amongst the shattering misogyny: at least someone cares about her, enough so it may help figure out what’s happened to her, how she wound up in that suitcase at the bottom of the ocean.
Things are shit shit shit for Robin. She’s been living with her estrange brother Liam, but things are getting too much. Oh, and that letter from before, the one Robin cherishes so dearly? It’s from Mary, the daughter she gave up. Her adoptive parents are Pyke (Ewen Leslie) and Julia Edwards (Nicole Kidman). The relationship between the Edwards family certainly isn’t picturesque. Mary and Julia do not get along, the daughter calls her a “lezzo” and doesn’t want to even hug her. Pyke is sort of caught in the middle, an easy going dude who plays referee. Makes things all the more uneasy for the fact Mary wants to bring Puss over, calling him a “professor friend” instead of that pimp she’s dating from the local brothel.
They have him over for dinner. Chatting away about Puss’ supposed research, sussing out who he is, what he’s about. Stark contrast between a pimp and Julia, a self-professed feminist who studied in great places, taught politics. Plus the pimp busts out his bullshit chauvinist rhetoric while calling himself a feminist. Enough to want to make her jump down his throat. All the while Mary thinks her mom is trying to hit on the guy. Poor young girl’s indoctrinated, like so many today in real life, into believing feminism is out to hurt women, when it’s out to help everyone, men alike.
Worse still, Puss is asking to marry their daughter. Christ almighty. Not to mention Robin’s semi-stalking the daughter she gave away to adoption, lurking outside the house and likely regretting the decision she made.
Julia: “I‘m just trying to survive”
Robin ain’t doing well. She has horrible dreams, so much so it wakes Miranda across the hall from her at her new place. She checks in on Dt. Griffin, who isn’t happy to have a fellow officer hear her screaming in her sleep. Nevertheless, Constable Hilmarson is hilarious and ridiculous and weird enough to make Robin feel comfortable.
Simultaneously, on the shore that suitcase drifts in, and a lifeguard pulls it onto the beach. Where it’s horrifying contents are all but clear. This sends Dt. Griffin and Constable Hilmarson down to investigate. Inside the suitcase, of course, is the body of a young Chinese girl. Surely our Cinnamon.
Fantastic opener to Season 2 of Top of the Lake! God, I love this series. Was so thrilled to hear Campion and Lee were going to bring it back, and with a few additional talented acting talents to boot. Excited to watch where this goes. I have a feeling we’re going to go even darker, deeper than Season 1, as well.