BBC Two’s Top of the Lake
China Girl: Episode 2
Directed by Ariel Kleiman
Written by Jane Campion & Gerard Lee
* For a recap & review of Episode 1, click here.
* For a recap & review of Episode 3, click here.
Flashback to the day Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) is meant to be married. That very day Johnno is arrested by the police. So they have the ceremony through the bars of his cell. Problem is Johnno was out having a bit of fun with a young blonde in the woods when he was picked up. His bride-to-be knows it, too. So the rumours of her walking away on her wedding day aren’t entirely true as others now see it. She walked away. Because of him and his untrustworthy cock, his unfaithful mind. Heartbreaking, considering all they went through up to that point. But not entirely unforeseen. Don’t forget, he let horrible things happen to her when they were young, in love. She took him back after all that, yet he was willing to throw it all away.
This sent Robin off, away from home. There’s nothing left, really. So why stay? Tui, everyone else, they’re moving on. And in present day, not long later, she and Constable Miranda Hilmarson (Gwendoline Christie) are facing a horrific, misogynistic murder. A young Chinese girl, Cinnamon, washed up on the beach. We know she worked at Silk 41, a brothel at least in part run by Alexander ‘Puss’ Braun (David Dencik).
Not only the crime reeks of misogyny. The cops both Robin and Miranda deal with are full of that shit, which they only take because this garbage world forces women to choose either their pride or their job in too many situations. The “China girl” is nearly unrecognisable in her decomposition. Robin begins uncovering whatever possible, along with the medical examiner. Strangulation is a possible cause of death. It’s early, but Puss is a clear front runner suspect. On top of that, Cinnamon was pregnant with a little boy; “17–20 weeks” is the estimate. Double murder. Whoa.
The great thing about Top of the Lake is it takes the whole damaged police officer angle and turns that concept on its head. We never get to see such a fragile, wounded cop played by a woman, at least not often, and certainly not this well written. A woman’s perspective is illustrated with such depth here, unafraid of getting dark, dangerous, not scared of exploring territory on the edges of morality. At times it’s almost suffocating: what I imagine it’s like to be a woman, day in, day out, unfortunately.
Sussing out to the crime offers nothing any more positive. The male police haven’t a clue. Meanwhile, Robin’s got a better grasp on sexual assault and other sex-related crimes, as well as a personal understanding of it in her own traumatised past. She’s tough, smart; usually the smartest one in the room, if not a bit stubborn at times. Her character’s great to take the journey with, especially now with her sniffing around her daughter Mary (Alice Englert), wanting to make contact. If even just for one conversation. Juxtaposed with the lost and lonely girls forced into prostitution amongst the brothels, Robin doesn’t want her daughter to wind up damaged because of her bloodline baggage.
The lads at the coffee shop, Brett (Lincoln Vickery) and the others, continue on trying to one-up each other over foolish chauvinist nonsense. Brett starts to worry, though. He sees the report about the Asian girl found on the beach. The rest of the idiots are full-on misogynists, casual woman haters masquerading as nerds wanting to get laid. But Brett seems a bit different. He loves Cinnamon, the fact she may be dead is too much for him to bear. He goes to Silk 41 hoping she’ll be there. Of course she’s not. I wonder if Brett is the father of that unborn child, or Puss, or someone else. So goddamn tragic.
Puss and Brett meet at the brothel. The pimp’s not entirely thrilled to hear he’s “in love” with Cinnamon. You can tell there’s something not right with Puss. He knows something, whether he’s the murderer he knows SOMETHING.
“We all look the same to you”
At work, Robin gets a call about the letter she left at the Edwards place. They’ve agreed to meet. Simultaneously she and Constable Hilmarson are tracking down leads on Cinnamon, where she may have worked, in a brothel or otherwise. They get a bit of help, though surely it’ll be a tangled web to unravel. Thus begins their dive into interviewing women around the various brothels and sex dens in the city. This brings her directly to the women with whom we recently saw Brett talking, the very place where Cinnamon worked at Silk 41.
One of the disheartening things we see – not that most of us didn’t know – and watch Robin learn, is how so many men frequent brothels, all types, even the sort you’d never expect. More of the underlying casual misogyny that overtakes our society.
Robin goes to meet Pyke (Ewen Leslie) and Julia Edwards (Nicole Kidman) for the first time. Naturally they’re a bit sceptical, particularly the adoptive mother. They sit together, to talk about things before Mary’s brought into the situation. Doesn’t help that the Edwards’ are fractured with Julia going lesbian, their relationship crumbling. But Julia levels with Robin, about how difficult the daughter’s been. She also scolds the birth mother, for not replying to Mary’s letter. Blaming her for all the problems. Saying the girl is “violent” at times. Just a rough first experience together.
Luckily, Pyke is laid back. Perhaps a bit too much, though it helps when he and Robin talk together. He’s more willing to listen. Funny how Julia is such a feminist, yet her fierceness in adoptive motherhood blinds her to the possible reasons for Robin having to give Mary up, whereas Pyke actually bothers to listen. He thinks it’s necessary for the daughter and her biological mother to meet.
Could it quell the fire burning inside the girl? Or will it drive her further into her rebellion?
Later, Robin gets a call from Mary. They agree to meet one another. In a restaurant they meet: “I believe we share a gene pool,” the girl starts off with a funny quip. Although I think she’s insane for being with Pussy, there’s a maturity about Mary. The way she talks is very adult, and direct, too. It’s an awkward meeting, though the girl seems happy enough to be there with her mother. She goes on about getting married to Puss, which Robin questions, knowing the darkness of men and the vulnerability of young women amongst such horrific predators. One thing’s certain, Mary also understands her real mother, she knows there are reasons why women make the choices they do, it isn’t always selfishness like society (and men) wish to believe. Mom levels with her girl about being raped by three men. This is why she couldn’t bear to keep her child; the ugly story of far too many women.
The medical examiner calls Robin – the fetus’ DNA doesn’t match that of China girl. Very, very odd. What could it mean? Robin figures it out: “She‘s a surrogate.” Oh, my. This changes everything.
What a fucking killer follow-up to the first episode of Season 2. Lord, is it ever good, this return to Top of the Lake. Really rounds out Robin’s character while offering up such new, exciting, dark, wild things.