TV / Top of the Lake / Jane Campion

'Top of the Lake: China Girl' Season 2, Episode 1

. 8 min read . Written by Lindsay Pugh
'Top of the Lake: China Girl' Season 2, Episode 1

"Top of the Lake" is back and I couldn't be happier. Jane Campion is one of the best living directors and I'm happy to watch her work on the big or small screen. If you've never watched "Top of the Lake" before, think of it as a weirder, more beautiful version of "The Killing." If you've seen any of Jane Campion's films, you probably know what to expect.

It certainly belongs in the mystery/crime/detective genre, but it doesn't adhere to every single trope and breaks tone and convention at will. It also doesn't give a shit about plot originality. The show isn't really about plot so much as it is about mythology and symbolism. The plot isn't bad, it's just not the reason why I (or most people, I would guess) watch the show.

The problem with TV today, at least for me, is that I tend to forget everything I've watched. I don't watch much TV during the week and tend to binge everything on the weekends. This past Saturday, I binged the new season of "Bojack Horseman." A few weeks ago, I watched nearly every episode of "Younger" with my mom while she was visiting. Once the new seasons of these shows premiere, I guarantee I'll have zero fucking clue where they left off. I've promised myself I'm going to stop doing this and instead, watch each episode as it premires and take detailed notes so I don't forget everything.

When I got access to the new season of "Top of the Lake" at the beginning of the week, my first instinct was to stay up until 2AM and watch every episode. I'm feeling kind of shitty about life right now (for no particular reason, just run-of-the-mill depression) and nothing fills that sadness better than Jane Campion and her sweeping, gorgeous shots of Bondi Beach. Yeah, there's murder, misogyny, and David Dencik's ass, but the cinematography is stunning. Even the shots of Cinnamon's hair creeping out of the suitcase kind of took my breath away. BUT... I refused to let myself binge. I watched two episodes, took notes, and am writing about the first one now. Pats self on back. I know 2 episodes aired last night, but I most likely won't be able to write about the second one until Monday evening. Blame my 9-6 job if you're annoyed.

In case you're like me and can barely remember what went down in Season 1, here's a quick refresher on some of the most pertinent details. SPOILER WARNING: Do not read this if you haven't watched Season 1. Go directly to the Sundance Channel (or Hulu), sign up for a free subscription, and watch it. Watching Season 2 without watching Season 1 is st00pid and I don't know why you would deprive yourself of some of the best television you'll probably ever see; however, you could totally watch Season 2 without watching season 1 if you're trying to save time.

Season 1 Recap:

  • This season takes place in Laketop, New Zealand. Robin Griffin (Elizabeth Moss) is a detective in Sydney, Australia, but back in her hometown to take care of her dying mother. When a pregnant 12-year-old girl is found standing in a freezing lake, Robin, who specializes in cases involving children, agrees to interview her. When asked who got her pregnant, Tui (Jacqueline Joe) writes "no one" on a piece of paper.
  • Tui's dad is a local creep/drug-dealer named Matt Mitcham (Peter Mullan). As a teenager, Robin dated Johnno (Tom Wright), one of his sons (he has 3) and they quickly become involved again as adults now that she's back in town. Johnno was recently released from prison after serving an 8-year sentence for drug possession.
  • Matt is pissed because he wanted to buy a piece of land called Paradise, but a real estate agent named Bob Platt (Darren Gilshenan) sold it to a radical women's camp run by JG (Holly Hunter). Matt and his sons take Bob out on their boat and drown him. It's pretty shocking and shows that they're shady people who are not above murder.
  • While all this happens, Tui goes missing. They suspect a local pedo of abducting her, but they find him dead in his cabin when they go to look for him. (He hung himself.) They also find video footage of Tui on the premises, which doesn't look great.
  • As she tries to figure out what the hell happened to Tui, we learn some important details about Robin. She was gang-raped as a teenager, got pregnant, and gave the baby up for adoption. Robin reveals this history to her boss, Al Parker (David Wenham), while at his house for dinner. Al tells her he already knew the story because he was one of the men who tracked down and beat her attackers (along with Matt Mitcham).
  • After drinking one glass of wine with dinner at Al's house, Robin finds herself incapable of driving. It's pretty obvious she's been roofied. When she wakes up in Al's house, she can't remember anything and is in bed with no pants. We don't know if she's been raped, but regardless, the experience is unsettling.
  • At this point, Tui has been missing for awhile. Robin finally gets a break in the case when she learns about another young girl who died under mysterious circumstances - run over by a car and found with cocaine in her vagina. This girl and Tui were both involved in an after-school program run by Al.
  • There are a few red herrings. Tui's friend, Jamie, dies in an attempt to protect her. Everyone thought he might be the father of her unborn baby, but his mother reveals that he was gay/not the father. Robin finds some evidence that suggests Matt Mitcham (Tui's dad) might be the father of her baby. Al confirms this by falsifying the results of a DNA test.
  • Some important shit about Robin: before her mom dies, she tells Robin to stop seeing Johnno. Robin's real dad is actually Matt Mitcham and Robin's mom thinks Johnno is Robin's half-brother. It turns out this actually isn't the case because Johnno is not Matt's biological son. If this all sounds pretty soap opera-y, that's because it is. If the director was anyone but Jane Campion, it would be a goddamn mess.
  • Tui gives birth to her son alone, out in the woods. Matt and Johnno find Tui and Matt points a rifle at the baby. Tui is a tiny badass and shoots both men to protect her child. She ends up killing Matt (which is fine, because he deserved it).
  • Robin realizes that Al is the one responsible for Tui's pregnancy. The after school program he's running is really a pedophile ring. He's drugging kids and charging beaucoup bucks to rich businessmen who like to fuck them. Robin tracks him down, catches him (sort of) in the act, and shoots him. He admits that he fudged the DNA evidence that confirmed Matt was Tui's baby daddy.

Thoughts on Season 2, Episode 1:

Four years after her time in New Zealand, Robin is back in Sydney and struggling to keep it together. She's still working as a detective, but squatting at her brother's apartment, drinking too much, and struggling with sleep. We find out she was engaged to Johnno, but the relationship disintegrated for reasons unknown. It's likely that she fucked things up somehow. After being gang-raped at 15 and forced to give up a baby, I don't know how the hell anyone would engage in a normal, healthy relationship.

Al Parker, the man Robin shot last season, is potentially pressing charges against her. Apparently, there isn't concrete evidence tying him to the pedo ring. It's not 100% clear to me how this could be the case, but maybe it will be further explained in later episodes. In this episode, I get the sense it's mentioned solely to help justify Robin's increased stress levels and overall paranoia.

Without sleep or sex to take her mind off things (she says she's celibate), Robin focuses on drinking beer and tracking down her child. Her biological daughter Mary (Alice Englert), now seventeen, was adopted by a liberal, upper middle class couple named Julia (Nicole Kidman) and Pyke (Ewen Leslie). Julia has come out as a lesbian later in life and Pyke is dealing with it calmly and kindly (a little too calmly and kindly). She has moved out of the house they once shared and has a new partner. Mary, your stereotypical teenage asshole, is angry at her mother and instead of talking to her about her feelings, calls her a "dyke" and is a total shithead.

Mary is dating a creepy old German sleezeball named Alexander, but everyone calls him Puss (David Dencik). He's basically a pseudo-bohemian, faux-intellectual, more repulsive version of Russell Brand. Mary's parents hate him as soon as they meet him and Julia is so upset with his misogynistic worldview that she cries after he leaves the table at dinner. If I were Julia, I would have gouged his eyes out and spat in his face. But instead, Julia leaves and Pyke serves the couple post-sex cake in Mary's bedroom. I know parents like this. Rememeber Regina George's mom in "Mean Girls?" These two are basically like her, with more intellectual facades. They make Lorelai Gilmore seem like the best mom on the planet.

While all this is happening, there's a suitcase with a body in it floating in the Pacific Ocean. From the opening montage and a later conversation between a bunch of nerds in a coffee shop, we can guess it contains Cinnamon, a young sex worker who has gone missing. We also know that Puss is connected to this prostitution operation. He lives in the same building as the girls and they often come to his house, asking for English lessons. See what I mean when I say Campion doesn't really care about plot? It's pretty obvious at this point that Puss, Robin's biological daughter's boyfriend, is Cinnamon's killer. It's like something you'd see on "Passions," but Campion is at the helm, so just trust that she'll take you to good places.

Random observations:

  • The entire opening sequence is masterful. From the moment the suitcase went over the cliff and into the ocean, I couldn't stop thinking about the near drowning scene at the end of "The Piano." I wish Campion always filmed underwater because she truly has a gift.
  • Elizabeth Moss and Nicole Kidman are fantastic so far. Both of these women have been doing great work this year and I'm happy to see more of them. Some people may not know this, but Nicole Kidman has worked with Jane Campion before - on "The Portrait of a Lady."
  • I knew that panda bear was going to come back in an unsettling way. Thus far, there isn't a single male character in Season 2 that seems trustworthy. I guess Pyke doesn't seem untrustworthy, but he does suck, so he's not exactly a strong or likable character.
  • I don't watch "Game of Thrones," so I'm not familiar with Gwendoline Christie, but my mom is very excited she's in this season of "Top of the Lake."
  • I miss Holly Hunter and the women of Paradise.
  • Puss is the worst kind of self-taught intellectual. I'll be curious to see if he gets a backstory that somewhat explains his horrible personality traits.