A suitcase with the unidentified body of an Asian woman is found on Bondi beach. Detective Constable Robin Griffith, who returns under a cloud of internal police investigation, is on the case. It becomes clear that the suspicious death is somehow connected to a local sex venue and a man nicknamed “Puss”. This 42 year old is the lover of Robin’s long lost daughter Mary. Focusing on the underbelly of Sydney sex venues and illegal surrogacy, CHINA GIRL is about motherhood. Who is the real mother? The one who gave you your life? Or the one who raised you?
The second season of TOP OF THE LAKE : CHINA GIRL is an odd animal. Building up an interesting premise it does not deliver on any level, but is utterly addictive for a reason I struggle to define. It has the magnetic atmosphere of Scandinavian noir. Shot in a washed out pallet it is the coldest Sydney you had ever seen on screen.
The reason to enjoy the series is the performances. Elizabeth Moss has mastered the expression of emotional pain. Here she is presented as a rather weak character, someone unable to protect herself, and finds her inner strength only towards the end. Nicole Kidman is spot on as an upper class feminist (although she does not have the screen time that her character deserves) and Alice Englert delivers a perfect mix of vulnerability and strength to her young adult character of Mary. This could have been a disastrous performance for a lesser actor, considering the script at hand. Englert is the star to watch!
The story unfolds with menacing slowness. There is a feeling that something terrible is about to happen, but it takes its time. The plot leads to some unexpected turns of events, but here, unexpected means unwanted. It is hard to watch the finale without frustration - do not hold your breath for big revelations from the so-called murder mystery. It really is a slap in the face.
The best way to describe CHINA GIRL is “experimental”. It uses all the familiar plot devices, overuses coincidences, the story is totally improbable and yet… it is still believable as the writers and directors make it so. Rivalling the frustrating experience of watching the new season of Twin Peaks (both seasons of TOP OF THE LAKE heavily borrow from this show), CHINA GIRL makes all the wrong choices, but remains a compelling, if not satisfying, TV series that make you think.