Tuesday, September 12, 2017

REVIEW: 'Top of the Lake: China Girl' - Robin, Julia and Miranda's Lives are Disrupted by Their Children in 'Chapters 5 & 6'

SundanceTV's Top of the Lake: China Girl - Episode 2.05 "Chapters 5 & 6"

As Robin and Pyke's fears for Mary escalate, Miranda drops a bombshell that brings her closer to the dead girl and puts her on the wrong side of the law.

In the end, Top of the Lake: China Girl was never quite able to live up to the storytelling impact of the original series. There were some wildly inconsistent moments throughout these six episodes. The main plot is largely nonsensical. It's hard to keep track of what is happening, why it's happening and who knows what and when. It's very complicated for the sake of being complicated. And yet, it's easy to overlook some of these problematic qualities because the performances were so terrific. Elisabeth Moss, Gwendoline Christie and Alice Englert are especially devastating to watch in these final two episodes. But even with them, I can't say that the writing for their characters was consistent. It was actually quite messy and it was never abundantly clear what the show was ultimately go for. But it still felt powerful in a real and complex way. It took a fascinating glimpse at motherhood. How it completely changes a person from the second that it occurs. People desperately crave it in their lives. And yet, it's this relationship the fundamentally changes them as people and forces them to do things they normally wouldn't do. They are not only fighting for themselves but for someone else. That's a powerful statement to make. It makes it even more tragic that both Robin and Miranda end the season all alone without their babies by their side. This finale finds some resolution and peace for some of the characters. But it also just reveals the bleak outcomes of this job and how destructive this world is capable of being. One wrong mistake is all it takes for life to completely change. It's vicious and rough. It's tragic and destructive. But it felt very powerful and moving as well.

The fifth episode reveals that Robin and Miranda have both been keeping vital information about this case from the other person. They are partners. They are suppose to be working together to solve this murder case. And yet, they are far removed from one another. They aren't friends or partners. They are people in the same job who live in the same building and have complicated relationships with their children. Those dynamics are actually quite important to this case. The two of them keeping each other in the dark is actually quite devastating for this case. Robin was able to investigate largely by herself in the original series because it was a small town environment. She had the freedom to do whatever she wanted. But here, she's working for the department once more and needs to be a part of a greater system. Miranda needs to do her job as well but at every turn it seems like she is actually pretty incompetent. Of course, that's revealed to be a ruse here. In truth, Miranda isn't pregnant. She's just been faking it so that no one would question her once she suddenly has a baby. She's caught up in the illegal surrogacy program. That's why Adrian was at the brothel giving a girl the panda. They are connected to this case as well.

It's just a massive moment of release when Robin and Miranda are finally able to be open and honest with one another. This has been a season of distrust and refusing to let people in. All of the characters have been guilty of that. They have their private lives and feelings that they don't want to express to the rest of the world. They are all going through difficult times. They can lean on each other in order to deal with it. Once they do, everything starts happening very easily and quickly. Support is necessary in order to thrive in this world. When Robin and Miranda are aware of the full complexity of the situation, they know just how difficult it's going to be to handle this case. They need to go about things very carefully. They don't want Mary to get hurt in the crossfire because the police are storming the brothel for Cinnamon's murder. Nor do they want to lose the surrogate currently carrying Miranda and Adrian's baby. They both want the chance to be mothers. And yet, that opportunity seems like it is slowly slipping away from both of them. Mary seemed ready and willing to turn against Puss because of what he is forcing her to do. And yet, that night was still defined by her calling him off and on. She still goes back to him. She still tells him everything. She loves him. Robin doesn't want to completely break her daughter's heart. But she also has to do her job.

However, this case then takes a turn that embraces toxic masculinity in a very big and broad way. Ever since the first episode, it's been clear that Brett and his friends at the coffee shop would play a significant role in this story. And then in the previous episode, Brett was seemingly having a psychotic break because he was actually seeing Cinnamon again. The first episode here finally confirms that Cinnamon is China Girl. Brett is able to make a positive identification. That's a crucial development in this case. But it also serves to truly break Brett apart. He's completely delusional now and has the skills to be very dangerous with a gun. His mother sees this happening and does nothing. It all escalates to a violent confrontation at the brothel. Brett storms the place with a gun looking to kill Puss. Instead, he shoots the doctor and takes Mary hostage. It's a very strange and random development. It plays as the show trying to increase the tension heading into the final episode by putting Mary into danger because so many characters want her to be safe and happy. It feels very forced. The manhunt to capture Brett is very strange as well. The show gets some terrific use out of Bondi Beach. The visuals as the police look over the place in pursuit of their killer is terrific. Of course, Robin's lead turns out to be correct. But the value of this sequence comes from the uncertainty of what has happened to Mary. And in the end, Mary is perfectly fine and escaped somehow while Miranda is truly the person in danger. That's a shocking twist because it's more unexpected.

The police presence at the beach is very strong. They are looking everywhere for Brett. He's the big arrest that they have to make before this story is over. The killers of China Girl already seemed caught up in the takedown of the brothel because of the shooting. Robin's gut instinct is right to investigate a box that's been laying in the same position at the beach this entire time. She and Miranda have the right instincts to clear the area surrounding the box. But then, Miranda makes the foolish decision to make the approach without sufficient backup. She kicks the box over to reveal Brett is there hiding beneath the sand and is still armed. He shoots Miranda in the stomach. It's very traumatizing because she foolishly didn't reach for her gun quick enough. Brett is arrested. But Miranda is in critical condition. When the show reveals her in her hospital bed, it's a shocking visual because she is connected to all the tubes and her eyes are still open. It makes it seem quite dire for her. Adrian is completely distraught because he now realizes just how much he truly loves her. Robin has that same feeling. She's completely broken by this development. Miranda has been there for her as this case has gotten more personal. And now, she's in a hospital bed unable to ensure the safety of their daughters. It's a tragic ending for her for the season. It's complicated in a way that is very powerful and emotional to watch. She just wanted a family.

Even if Miranda should recover from these injuries, she won't have a family waiting for her. The search for Puss intensifies because Robin needs to find the surrogates. It's very convenient that Puss happens to be hiding at the café where Pyke is waiting for Mary to show up. Pyke is completely oblivious to his presence in the kitchen. Robin is able to find him very quickly. She is allowed to confront him and really tell him off about how much Mary is truly terrified of her. She can now let her feelings known because everything with this case appears to be coming to a head. When he approaches her at her apartment in the fifth episode, she still has to keep her guard up not to reveal how much she knows and what she's planning on doing. But in this moment in the kitchen, she can turn violent. She truly may kill him for corrupting Mary and stealing these babies away from the families who desperately want them. Robin wants to protect these babies. She cares about what happens to them. But in the end, Puss is successfully able to lead them out of the country. They return to their home with the babies now being completely theirs. It's a devastating conclusion. There's nothing the police can do. The surrogates are able to get on that plane not fully realizing the devastating they have left behind in their wake.

The only uplifting moment at the airport is that Mary is finally able to break away from Puss. This relationship was so destructive and abusive to her. She believed she needed to be with him and do whatever he said. It made her seem very erratic. She wanted to be with her family but felt this constant pull to leave them behind for this new life with her boyfriend and her friends. She does care about all of them. But she's hurting people no matter what she decides to do. She occasionally reaches out to Robin for help. But ultimately, she sees Julia as the mother she needs in this moment. Julia has been a lot to handle this season. Her frantic nature is what pushed Mary away in the first place. Her behavior isn't always pleasant. Robin even wonders how Pyke never thought of leaving her before. That occurs right before they get drunk and have sex. That's an action that further brings this family together in a compromising way. Robin and Pyke know that Mary is missing long before Julia does. They are united while she is completely in the dark. But Julia is still at the forefront of this mystery with Mary. She's the one Mary chooses to return home to. Julia isn't enough to keep Mary from running off with Puss again. She needs to make the choice to leave him by herself. But she does and has her family to comfort her. That includes Robin. But that final sequence makes her appear to be an outsider looking in at this life she could have had. She could have been the woman married to Pyke and raising Mary. But she's not. All she has is watching the memories that could have been. It's still an aspirational ending. The show leaves things in an uncertain place with a knock on Robin's door late at night as she's watching the video of Mary. That could mean any number of things. But in the moment, it plays as this life continuing to go on for Robin. She'll remain a part of Mary's life and have a complicated dynamic with Pyke. She'll keep working at the precinct. But her life has once again been extremely traumatized by a case that got incredibly personal for her. It was grueling. And now, she needs to figure out what comes next.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Chapter 5" was written by Jane Campion & Gerard Lee and directed by Jane Campion.
  • "Chapter 6" was written by Jane Campion & Gerard Lee and directed by Ariel Kleiman.
  • So, what are all of the possibilities for who is knocking at the door? It could be Mary who has decided to spend some time with her other mother as well. It could be Pyke who has decided that he doesn't want to make things work with Julia. It could be Adrian to deliver an update on Miranda. It could be Liam demanding to get an update after Robin promised one. It could be Stally to ask Robin out again. It could be any one of these options.
  • It's so cringe-inducing to watch Stally continue to ask Robin to go out with him. His partner rationalizes it as there being two different types of no - a yes-no and a no-no - and Stally just doesn't know how to tell the difference. But it's absolutely harassment that is despicable to watch. Robin can't make her feelings any more clear.
  • But then, it's so nice to see Robin have people in her life like Miranda, Liam and Ray who are willing to care for her when she hits her breaking point with this case. She's completely drunk and trying to do her job when Mary has been taken hostage. And yet, she's a hindrance to the case as long as she's like this. She needs to sober up but that's precious time that could make the difference in finding Mary while she's still alive.
  • Brett seemingly knows that he's going crazy and that he's about to make the news. He's recording the final day of his life so that the world can see the people he hangs out with. It's a weird moment that really doesn't make one bit of difference in the story at all. It's just to set up that everyone around him knew he was acting weird but didn't do anything to stop him from the actions he ultimately took.
  • Pixie shows up dead as well. She arranges a meeting between Robin and the surrogate families awaiting their babies. She's willing to share with the detective everything she knows about this operation. But then, she just appears to have committed suicide by swallowing a bunch of pills. Is that the truth? Or did someone kill her? The show doesn't really seem to be interested in giving a clear answer.
  • When the first season of the show ended, the creative team said it was a closed-ended story with no follow-up seasons being produced. Then, a couple years later this season was made. That again seems to be the feeling with this season. It comes to a definitive ending here with a tease that something more could occur. If another season were produced, it probably wouldn't be as different as this season was from the first. But it should only return if there is a story this team wants to tell.