When you look back on 2017, you will probably remember it fondly as the year Elisabeth Moss traumatised you via the medium of television, while also making you think.
After captivating us in The Handmaids Tale (you can still watch it on SBS On Demand if you happened to miss that boat) Moss has stepped back into the shoes of Detective Robin Griffin in Top of the Lake: China Girl, the follow-up to Jane Campion’s chilling yet brilliant 2013 miniseries, Top of the Lake.
The first time we encountered Robin she was investigating the disappearance of a pregnant 12-year-old girl in the small and secretive New Zealand community of Lake Top, while also dealing with her mother’s cancer diagnosis and returning to the scene of her brutal teenage trauma.
China Girl takes place a few years after the original series and this time around the wild beauty of rural New Zealand has been switched out for the gritty world of inner city Sydney.
Listen to The Binge host Laura Brodnik explain why you must watch Top of the Lake: China Girl.
Robin is looking to once again escape her past and throw herself back into her work, so of course she is first on the scene when an old suitcase washes up on Bondi Beach, with just a few strands of long dark hair trailing from it’s broken zip, eluding to the body of the young dead Asian woman who has been jammed inside.
As Robin begins to piece together the young woman’s identity and cause of death, she is also navigating the tricky practice of meeting her adopted birth daughter for the first time.
Her daughter Mary (played by Alice Englert, real life daughter of Jane Campion) is going through a very excelled version of teenage angst and rebellion, becoming engaged to a 40-year-old man and blatantly disregarding her parents’ wishes. Mostly due to the fact that her adopted mother Julia (Nicole Kidman) has left her husband and entered into a same-sex relationship with a teacher from Mary’s school.
Elisabeth Moss's portrayal of Robin is once again layered and mesmerising.
Those may seem like throw away words of praise, riding on the wave of critical attention and hype Moss has received since The Handmaids Tale. But how else can you explain how audience perception of her can change so completely in an instant as the story moves along?
One moment she is a tower of strength and resistance in a misogynistic police force, the only shot of justice for the woman who ended her days in a sea salt-soaked suitcase. In the next scene, she is so intensely broken you wonder how she is still standing. It takes a lot for one character to be both hero and victim.
Nicole Kidman's Julia is also a force of nature on screen. She embodies a very primal sense of protective motherhood while attempting to hold her family together. All while giving off a defiant, no fucks given attitude, one that places her firmly at the head of her family unit.
There's a particularly great scene where she faces off with her teenage daughter's crude fiancé over the dinner table that will have you warming to her character immediately.
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The first season of Top of the Lake refused to give its viewers a moment to release their tensely held breath. Although the cinematography was beautiful, the uncompromising drama that unfolded on screen never allowed the audience to feel even the slightest tug of a smile pull at their lips.
This time around, Campion has gone with a different tact.
The comic relief, small as it is, comes in the form of Gwendoline Christie as Miranda Hilmarson, a 35-year-old Constable in the Sydney Police Force who becomes Robin's partner. Christie is best known as the reserved and heroic Brienne of Tarth in Game of Thrones and here she is playing firmly against type. Which is a piece of casting genius, as her comic timing is off the charts good.
She and Moss play extremely well off each other, more than once using their different characteristics and extreme height difference to pull off the show's biggest laughs. Christie's Miranda is as goofy as she is eager to please, and while there's so much more to her character than just a few side-kick induced laughs, she's able to bring the humour. Even when standing next to a decaying body on the beach.
Top of the Lake: China Girl is a solid, surprising drama that follows some of the best written female characters we've seen on TV this year. It may be hard to watch, but at least you know there will be a few laughs in there to soften the emotional blows.
A note from Mamamia Entertainment Editor Laura Brodnik: "People will tell you that you can enjoy Top of the Lake: China Girl without having watched the first season. That it stands alone. These people are wrong. They do not have your best interests at heart. In order to feel the full emotional heft of the second season, you must have watched the original."
The first season of Top Of The Lake consists of seven episodes and is available to watch now on Foxtel, and the new season, Top of the Lake: China Girl, premiered on Sunday August 20 and can be watched on BBC First and Foxtel.
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