Top of the Lake: China Girl airs on SundanceTV
Jane Campion’s initial plan for Top of the Lake, her SundanceTV drama about sexual violence in a rural New Zealand town, was for the story of haunted detective Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) to come to a full stop at the end of the first and only season. As the survivor of a teenage gang rape, Robin tackled the painful reverberations of her trauma and battled her fellow officers’ shrugging indifference while investigating a 13-year-old’s pregnancy — and later, the missing girl’s whereabouts. Gorgeous and lonely-making Kiwi mountainscapes, plus a thoroughly original character in Holly Hunter’s guru-crone (who teasingly resembled Campion herself), helped smooth out the considerable kinks in that indelible 2013 season.
Nearly half a decade after, Top of the Lake returns with a subtitle, China Girl, and a question, at least in this critic’s mind, of whether the director of Bright Star and the Palme d’Or-winning The Piano should have stuck with her original intent. With the faults of the first season magnified, China Girl is probably more of an interesting failure than an outright mess — but not by much. Moss will probably square off against herself (in The Handmaid’s Tale) in the 2017 best-of-year rankings. But the Sydney-based sequel’s fervid evocation of invisible, destabilizing pain is diminished by a thematic incoherence and a preposterous mystery with more loose ends than a mop.
What are the chances that, five years after uncovering a pedophile ring involving a member of her own family, a detective would stumble on a human-trafficking ring (in which paid sex might be the least grimy thing on offer)…
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