“So you’re probably wondering what my deal is.” – Stally
This is a line that pretty much encompasses the attitude of every male figure in Top of the Lake: China Girl. It also explains the almost painfully narrow scope of sexuality and relationship viewpoints that every character has except for Detective Robin, yet she is constantly bombarded by unwanted male attention, welcome to the life of an everyday woman. I mean clearly all these men are as fascinated by Robin as we are by Moss’ epic performance. This is in her personal and professional life where she is constantly being undermined or objectified, it is exhausting to watch but very relatable. This show does not play around with the cliche concept of being an “unlikeable” woman, at one point she is literally told that “no one in the office likes her”, a cross that others constantly force Robin to bear. Campion is a master at portraying female struggles in a way that is both understated and highlighted at the same time.
Another romantic partnership is the affair between Miranda and her and Robin’s shared supervisor, Adrian Butler. Christie’s portrayal of Miranda as a strong, sensual woman with an unique physical attributes that do not define her, but empower her. This exploration of women and their relationships is extended to the entanglement of Mary and her “lover” Alexander ‘Puss’ (David Dencik). In the middle of this conflict are her parents, Julia and Pyke (possibly the only sane male character thus far) and Robin as a distant mother figure.
This is so far the most intricate storyline other than the over-all “whodunit” plot point of China Girl. This is a slow burn show that is relishing in introducing us to nuanced performances from these flawed and messy characters. Another main theme in China Girl thus far is motherhood. This creates a triangle of sorts between three of our female leads –– Robin, Mary and Julia. Neither Julia or Robin are examples of perfect motherhood (or future Miranda for that matter), but they are also foils of each other in their approach. One distant and wary and the other smothering and desperate for vindication. Their continued relationship is going to be so, so important.
The second night of the 3-night series introduced a captivating clue into the identity of China Girl. In a memorable scene a woman is seen walking down a busy highway crying about the loss of her baby, it turns out that China Girl might have been connected to an illegal commercial surrogate scheme. The theme of motherhood is continued in this couple, Mike, the husband is determined that having a baby and being a mother will cure his wife, Felicity of her mental illness. This blanket statement of the importance of motherhood is a staple in China Girl. The third episode also pulled us back into Robin’s messy past with Al Parker, now confined to a wheelchair, at a mediation.
AND WHAT A F-ING SCENE!!! The direction for this scene was executed with perfection. The power play that occurred when Al used his motorized wheelchair to back a fully mobile, yet emotionally paralyzed Robin up to a table was electric and I could not tear my eyes from the tension that escalated each time he edged forward. The physicality between the two was an inversion of their past interactions and the power his abuse has over her still, despite her supposed physical power over him. When Al pulls himself up to meet Robin’s eyes?? That scene is both thrilling and terrifying. Then that tension builds and becomes frenzied as he attempts to kill her resulting in a fire and Robin eventually gaining the upperhand as reinforcements arrive as she is screaming in rage and fear from the depths of her obliterated psyche. As Moss gives an animalistic, ragged scream she is pulled off of her tormentor. That scene alone should win Moss an Emmy next year.
Another tense and important scene is the reconciliation between Mary and Puss one week away from her 18th birthday. She pulls him out of this depression, but she also seems to invigorate a darker, more extreme side of him. He begins to push her toward being a prostitute herself, and annoys her about her privileged upbringing. His condescension of the upper/middle class lifestyle only becomes more advanced as the episode continues, culminating in chaos and anarchy that he seems to thrive on. And as we learn in the episode he may dabble in acts more violent and permanent than prostitution and political debates…the red flags of an abusive relationship are screaming at Mary, but she is completely sucked into his philosophies and posturing, a sad reality in domestically abusive relationships. The most heart-wrenching moment is when she sobs saying, “I don’t know how to leave him.” after she is coerced into an impossibly cruel circumstance.
Meanwhile, the search for China Girl’s killer remains, and one of the sad, porn obsessed guys from the first episode believes that he knows the identity of China Girl, possibly his “girl friend experience” lover, Cinnamon. He also drops a bomb on Robin by telling her of the connection between Puss, China Girl and Mary. It is with irony that Robin says “that poor, poor mother” when she has only suspected the connection between Mary and Puss.
The next few scenes only make the situation more dire. Mary is propositioning herself to the brothel matron, she is following through on electing to be a prostitute. Her perverted rhetoric defending her decision to work “supporting her fellow women” is proof that Puss is manipulating her feminist ideals into his radical sentiments. Mary’s troubled present is mirroring the damaged past of her mother, whether the each of them know it or not. Even Puss knows it, telling Robin she is “not okay and once you damage the psyche you can never recover from that shit.” That seems to be true of all the characters in Top of the Lake: China Girl, and that damage will continue to grow as the series comes to a conclusion tomorrow night at 9/8 central.