BBC Two’s Top of the Lake
China Girl: Episode 4
Directed by Ariel Kleiman
Written by Jane Campion & Gerard Lee
* For a recap & review of Episode 3, click here.
* For a recap & review of Episode 5, click here.
Although my personal feeling about prostitution is that it’s slavery, I feel bad for Brett (Lincoln Vickery). He clearly used her services, at the brothel Silk 41. But there was more of a relationship between him and Cinnamon, he obviously cared about her deeper than seeing her as an object like so many men do. Not excusing his use of a brothel, I still feel buying women is wrong, full-stop. It’s hard not to see Brett’s feelings as a positive, though. When so many of these young women indentured to pimps have nobody who care about them, whatsoever. Maybe his care will lead to justice eventually.
The Edwards family are together, Julia (Nicole Kidman) and her lover, Mary (Alice Englert), Pyke (Ewen Leslie) and the rest. It’s a dad and daughter dance, a big deal for Pyke who’s been looking forward to it a long while. Mary heads off to see Puss (David Dencik) beforehand. Not impressing her father in the least. The man’s still up in his room sulking, refusing to come out. In a depressed funk. Says he’s “ending it” between him and Mary. He’s a pastiche of tired philosophical cliche, telling his fiancee he’s “gazing into the abyss and I‘m going to keep gazing until the abyss gazes back.” Such an edgy, Nietzsche quoting pimp. Suddenly that she’s turning 18, Puss starts mentioning her becoming a prostitute. He keeps telling women about being victims, all the while victimising them. A nasty fucking piece of work.
Robin (Elisabeth Moss) is happily getting herself inked at a tattoo shop, she even has a big smile on her face. She seems almost happier today, after the business with Al Parker recently. She’s still dealing with that same nonsense at work, though. She doesn’t particularly like working with Constable Miranda Hilmarson (Gwendoline Christie), she doesn’t like that Adrian (Clayton Jacobson) and the constable are having an affair, nor that Miranda runs to him behind her back, or that she smokes and drinks while pregnant. Not to mention Robin knows about the relationship between her and Liam. Of course this leads to judgement about her own motherhood, without anyone knowing the real story of her pregnancy, that she was raped by several men at a young age. Man, this police partnership is tense.
Things get much worse over at the dad and daughter celebration. Pyke gets word Mary’s bringing Puss. So, y’know, that’s not gonna be incredibly awkward. You can see the utter disdain in Pyke’s eyes for the man trying to marry his daughter. The stares could kill. Immediately the pimp starts working his class war madness on one of Mary’s young friends. Always looking to get one over on women. Then he barges his way into a dance with marry, pushing dad out, as well as getting far too sexual on the dance floor. This starts a whole scene as Puss prances around like an asshole. When he gets tossed, she goes chasing him. Heartbreaking to watch.
Brett contacts the police about the “China girl” case. He tells Robin and Miranda about Silk 41, the connection between him and Cinnamon, that they had more of a relationship than a service provider and a customer. He’s actually got pictures of her at home, genuine clothes on pictures and sweet mementos. What’s more is that closer and closer Robin comes to Puss, the man trying to marry her daughter. Mary is actually brought up, Brett’s seen her with the violent pimp. The whole thing is a scary mess, between the prostitution and the illegal surrogacy operation. Fuck me.
We see Mary has been brainwashed by Puss, trying to get Dang (Ling Cooper Tang) to let her work at the brothel. The den mother tells her that the pimp is a “sick guy” and she knows better, she knows the life, the truth of it; rape can easily happen in those rooms. Meanwhile she and her white dude partner know exactly what happened to Cinnamon, having pushed that suitcase into the ocean themselves. An ugly place. Mary’s basically begging to work, not realising the brutality.
Dang: “Once you choose this, it‘s forever. No going back.”
Robin hits the beach with Pyke, they’re meant to be waiting for Mary, though the girl might not show. I wonder if the two parents might get a bit close. Nevertheless, Mary does arrive with the Chinese girls. As does Puss, which doesn’t thrill dad. He wants to run, but Robin stops him; he then sees the tattoo she got, Mary’s name and date of birth. Very interesting moment. Might be the start of a connection between these two. Pyke is such a caring man, it’s evident in every scene he’s onscreen.
Thus also begins the duel of Robin and Puss. His slick, pimp charm doesn’t work on a woman like her. She’s seen too much to fall for that bullshit. Then he cuts right at her heart, bringing up what Mary told him about her rape. He talks openly to her about it, she tries her best not to tear his face off. After that he bites HER face, clamping down onto the nose. Holy shit! Yet again misogyny, male violence rears its head on our poor Detective Sergeant Griffin.
At the hospital, Robin tells Pyke about Puss, the brothel, that the Chinese girls are prostitutes under him. This freaks the father out completely. Rightfully so, their daughter’s hanging around with a dangerous man, one who conspired to drop a girl’s dead body in a suitcase to the bottom of the ocean. Who knows what else he’s capable of doing.
Felicity and Mike, the surrogate couple, are moving from their home after putting time into a baby room, which they won’t need now. Strange: there’s two beds. Where exactly was the other child coming from? Well, they’ve got several illegal surrogates. To make sure they have themselves a family. Turns out the baby in Cinnamon’s belly doesn’t match the hopeful parents. And there’s a middle man in the process of the surrogacy. Someone is connecting all of this together in a nasty little web.
Over at the brothel, Mary still wants to sell herself even if Dang doesn’t want her to do it. Puss then encourages her to go to the street. Is she blinded totally by love? Will this help her realise that this pimp cares nothing about her, that he’s only looking for a way to make money? I hope so. He’s already starting to hit her in the face, saying this is no worse than what “the Johns will do” to her. Typical sleazy misogynist, acting as if he’s empowering women while stripping their power, their identity, turning them into nothing except skin on sale. Horrifying stuff at this point with Mary caught in the middle.
She misses her birthday dinner being put out on the streets by Puss to prostitute herself. While Pyke, Julia, her lover sit home reminiscing on better days, their girl is out trying to force herself to do disgusting things for men.
Instead she’s kicked from a John’s car. She calls Robin to pick her up, the only one who’ll likely not judge her or rant and rave in anger. In the car, Mary comes across a picture of Cinnamon. This begins leading our young lady in the right direction, starting to discover the truly vicious side of life in the brothel. Perhaps the beginning of her understanding about Puss. Let’s hope. Roundabout Robin tells her daughter what to start doing, how to get away from the violent pimp safely. Only problem there? Love. But it’s clear Mary wants to get away. She’s like a junkie, knowing it’s bad for her and yet stuck in the inescapable undertow of it all.
What a whopper of an episode. So many things happened, and the story’s really opening up into its full potential after the past sort of comes full circle, in many ways. Plus, after the Al Parker chapter of Robin’s life closed, she has a sort of freedom of spirit that’s not been present in awhile. Problems arise when there’s so much at stake now, her daughter in the mix heavily.