USA Today gives us a review of Nicole’s new series Top of the Lake: China Girl.
Top of the Lake, which debuted on SundanceTV in 2013, had a lot going for it: a strikingly talented cast, a riveting story and the distinctive visual style of Jane Campion, the series’ co-creator and (often) director.
The series has returned, three years later, in Top of the Lake: China Girl (Sunday, Monday and Tuesday 9 ET/PT, ***½ out of four) a bold new installment that often exceeds the excellence of its predecessor, with an even more primal, taut and engrossing story that reveals new depths in its protagonist, Detective Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss). The three-part season looks and feels like little else on TV, and is intense and deeply rewarding.
In the original series, Robin, while visiting New Zealand, was overly involved in the case of a missing 12-year-old pregnant girl. China Girl finds her back home in Sydney, and back to work on the police force. Although she craves normalcy, Griffin is now haunted by the trauma she experienced in New Zealand and the revisited trauma of her more distant past. Her new case, the murder of an Asian woman who washes up on the beach in a suitcase, is again a little too close to her personal life. And as she begins looking into the murder, she makes the decision to contact her daughter, Mary (Alice Englert), whom she gave up at birth.
Joining the cast are Nicole Kidman as Mary’s adoptive mother Julia, and Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones) as Robin’s new partner, Miranda. Behind a curly gray wig and painted-on freckles, Kidman plays a mother frantic and terrified that her teenage daughter is slipping away. Christie, meanwhile, is a true breakout, excelling in a role that has more screen time and complexity than those she plays on Game of Thrones and the Star Wars franchise. She takes the character and runs with it, making Miranda both emotionally vulnerable and hard to read, with questionable intentions and history.
Campion excels at creating atmosphere, and each scene is practically overflowing with meaning and significance. The score, the lighting and the direction add to the ever-growing tension, which explodes halfway through the short season in a devastatingly traumatic scene that feels both shocking and queasily inevitable.
The new episodes continue the series’ exploration of sexual and psychological trauma. Many of the characters have experienced and are shaped by some form of distress, and the series explores its effects on their lives, while examining sexism, gender stereotypes and their potentially violent consequences.
Internet trolls openly objectify prostitutes at a cafe. Mary asserts she wants to grow up to be a wife, horrifying her aggressively feminist adoptive mother. Miranda is drawn to Robin as a role model, but Robin has no interest in empowering her.
China Girl manages to capture what made the original Lake so haunting, but also finds new and thrilling ways to surprise you.
It took several years to come to fruition, and it was well worth the wait.