Monday, September 11, 2017

REVIEW: 'Top of the Lake: China Girl' - Robin and Mary Experience Abuse as They Grow Closer in 'Chapters 3 & 4'

SundanceTV's Top of the Lake: China Girl - Episode 2.03 "Chapters 3 & 4"

Galvanized by her theory that China Girl is a surrogate, Robin ignores the threat of Al Parker's case against her and relishes her new relationship with Mary.

The story of Top of the Lake is very traumatic both physically and psychologically. It's been a core theme in both seasons of the show. It's perhaps a bit more blunt this time around. But it's still incredibly effective because of the performances and the direction. The middle chapters of this story are very brutal to watch for this core family. It carries the burden and destruction of women's bodies in a society that wants to objectify and abuse them. It's sickening to watch. The women are trying their best to overcome their struggles and pain. They are trying to be understood. But everywhere they turn is discontent. Other women can't always connect to their struggle. One women's pain is not the same as someone else's. The men of this world can be casually terrifying in such simple ways. They don't have to walk around with this fear of being manipulated and abused. In fact, their need to be cared for can be a truly destructive thing that creates a cycle of damage and despair. Even when a guy is relatively good and nurturing, it's still not enough to overcome the vicious world that these women are in. It's a fascinating main theme explored in this series. It has such respect for women's bodies while also exploring the cost of living in a dangerous world. These are the choices that these women have made. Some have been defined by their pasts. Some are trying to forge ahead with new identities. But all of them are struggling in a deeply profound and personal way.

Robin is physically assaulted twice in these two hours. Both are very terrifying and precarious moments. Both are incredibly personal to her as well. The events of the first season haven't been all that important to these new episodes. It's just important to know that she's haunted by the events that happened there. And now, she's being sued in a civil suit for shooting a man connected to the crime who eventually got immunity for it. It took awhile for the first season to reveal just how manipulative and abusive Al Parker was. He hurt Robin and she still doesn't entirely know all that he did to her. There's been a looming sense of dread hanging over these episodes because of this lawsuit. "Chapter 3" eventually gets to that sit down between the two of them. His introduction comes very late in the hour. He doesn't appear at all before that final sequence. And yet, it's a very significant and pivotal moment for this story. He appears and all other concerns stop. This lawsuit is now the most important thing. It's key to note where all of the main players are in this building. Robin does not want to see him again. But he still manages to get her into a room alone. He's in a wheelchair but he's still incredibly threatening. She's trying to hold strong. But he has a towering presence in the room. It's terrifying. And then, he attacks. He's absolutely brutal. He's not as crippled as he lets on. He is trying to strangle her to death. She only survives because of her own quick thinking. Her only weapon is a lighter. A fire doesn't set off the alarms though. Instead, she needs to strike. This moment reveals who Al Parker truly is. But it shows that Robin is deeply traumatized by these events as well. This is her moment of lashing out and it's quite brutal and dark to see too.

Robin's second assault happens in the next hour. It's a less effective sequence as well because it doesn't have the same history that is apparent in the first encounter. It also plays as the show trying to make this story as traumatic as possible for Robin. She wanted to get back to work. She wanted to meet her daughter for the first time. She got both. And yet, they are horribly linked in a truly destructive way. She's working a case that is only slowly revealing itself. China Girl was a surrogate. Some new leads are introduced that don't go anywhere significant. A man confessing for the crime clearly didn't do it because he got the details wrong. A married couple who are expecting a baby through an illegal surrogacy program aren't a DNA match for the unborn fetus. Brett comes forward worried about Cinnamon - while also prepared to shoot Robin and Miranda as soon as they leave. All of this is pointing Robin back to the brothel where Mary is spending a lot of her time. Robin doesn't immediately know this. It's still a connection that the audience sees. We are a little bit ahead of the investigation in that regard. But it's still inevitable that these connections will be discovered. It's just more important that Robin interacts with these vital characters outside of the official investigation first. She feels the sense of dread in the main story because it's happening to people she cares about.

Robin isn't liked or respected at the precinct but she's still a good detective who cares about the innocent victims of her cases. Miranda is the only person willing to work with her at the moment. But she's not all that competent at the job either. She's much more effective as a next door neighbor who can be supportive when it's required. But the two of them don't exactly like each other either. Robin hates that Miranda is smoking while pregnant and carrying on an affair with their boss. Miranda doesn't like how distant Robin is being with everyone in her life - especially Mary. And yet, these personal connections are key in order to make some meaning out of the main plot. For the third episode, it's much more compelling to see the characters interacting outside of the investigation. Those relationships are deepening. Sure, it's still traumatic to see just how quickly things can turn in these dynamics. Miranda and Liam have gotten really close as friends. But getting into a sexual position in the water is enough to question that bond. It's never clear if Mary is going to do what she says she's going to do. She's willing to hang out with these people but is always looking for an excuse to leave despite her enjoying herself. It's strange and unnerving. But all of this sets the stage for the inevitable meeting at the beach.

Robin has been to the brothel before. She's seen the girls working there. She knows that the city has a sex trade where Asian women come to this country via school visas with no intention of ever attending college. They are put to work immediately. Robin recognizes these friends that Mary has brought to the beach. She knows that they are sex workers. She worries that Mary has found herself caught up in the investigation she is currently working on. And yet, Robin keeps all of this bottled up. She has her suspicions but can only observe at the moment. She needs to see how these people interact. She needs to see what they do. She can't connect the dots yet. But she needs to be very wary. But it's alarming when Puss walks up to Robin with complete awareness of who she is and what her tragic past is. Robin knows a lot about him too. She knows that Mary is in love with him despite all of these new criminal accusations coming forward. But it's traumatic when Puss just starts biting Robin's nose. It's a strange and unexpected moment. The show explains it as Puss coming from an abusive childhood. That doesn't entirely work because the show has given the audience no reason to understand anything that Puss does. He spends these entire two episodes acting incredibly erratic. Sometimes he's loving. Sometimes he's self-destructive. Sometimes he's full of energy. Sometimes he's high on life. But he's always manipulative and controlling of women. This is him trying to put Robin in her place. And yet, it only serves to bring her and Pyke closer together because they are united in trying to reveal Puss for the bad and criminal influence he clearly is.

But Mary is still completely in love with Puss. She believes it with all of her heart. He's strange and foreign. And yet, he's so enticing. She is drawn into his world. She is willing to do whatever he says. It's an abusive relationship. She's scared to leave him. She truly believes she needs to do whatever he says otherwise someone will get hurt. She comes from a stable family. And yet, he's telling her to walk the streets selling her body as soon as she turns 18. That's absolutely horrifying. It's the action that truly destroys their dynamic. She feels compelled to be with him and serve him. She's doing this for him instead of herself. Her sense of self-worth is falling apart. She's so absolutely broken. However, Robin is there to pick her up. She's there to be the voice of reason who can expose the reality of the situation because she has the skills to subtly nudge her in the right direction. With Pyke and Julia, they are so blunt and forceful in trying to get Mary to see the situation for what it truly is. That's only making Mary sink in deeper. Robin just wants to be a caring and supportive mother. She's never done it before. She wants to be better. She loves Mary so much. But it's ultimately an act of coincidence that becomes an eye-opening moment for Mary. The show has yet to confirm that Cinnamon and China Girl are the same person. It seems incredibly likely given the structure of the story. It's just more important that Robin has Cinnamon's picture in the glove box of her car. That allows Mary to see it in her moment of complete despair. Robin isn't pushing for her to leave this abusive relationship. She's just being the caring maternal figure. She can save that pushing for later. And yet, it's forced to happen because Mary is realizing just how destructive her life currently is. But she still loves Puss and is uncertain of her actions. She doesn't know what she's going to do. That's such a brutal image. Robin has struggled to truly connect with another person. This moment is as close as she truly gets. But even then, it's still riddled with peril that could turn destructive at any given moment.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Chapters 3 & 4" were written by Jane Campion & Gerard Lee and directed by Ariel Kleiman.
  • Stally's constant pestering of Robin to begin a sexual relationship basically plays as harassment. He keeps asking her over and over again even though she's made her opinion very clear. She isn't going to change her mind. And yet, he's still there in her life looking for any details that may change things in the future. It's a subplot that's just there to annoy Robin even more.
  • Despite their awkward encounter in the ocean, Miranda and Liam are getting very close with one another. She's telling Robin that she and Adrian have a deep connection of love. It's very passionate and meaningful. And yet, it also appears that Miranda and Liam have slept together. So, it's all getting very complicated next door to Robin as well.
  • Pyke and Julia both agree that Puss is a bad influence for Mary and want him out of her life. And yet, Pyke seems to be the only one actually doing something about it. Julia is stressing out a lot but hasn't really done much. Pyke found out that Puss is already married. And now, he's the one who knows that Robin is investigating him as well.
  • Of course, Julia being out of the loop on a lot of things seems to be the point as well. She didn't know that Robin and Mary had already met. That's the dynamic within this family. No one is completely open with Julia about what's going on because she stresses out and worries. But of course, those details being kept from her is just as damaging as well.
  • It seems like the show is setting up for something romantic to happen between Robin and Pyke. They are at the beach for awhile before Mary, Puss and the girls arrive. They are working together to help the girls learn how to swim. And then, Puss comments that Pyke is staring at Robin with lust in his eyes. After the attack, Pyke is the one caring for Robin while the hospital believes he's the one who assaulted her.
  • It's going to be really difficult for Mary to break away from Puss. That's incredibly clear now. It must happen. But even the fear of him being taken away from her is damaging to her mind. She needs to chase after him when he creates a scene at the father-daughter dance. She is hitting herself on the head over and over again when Robin makes the suggestion of pressing charges against him. She knows she must break away in the end. But it's going to be very rough.