Elizabeth Moss and Nicole Kidman Make ‘Top of the Lake: China Girl’ an Absorbing Binge

Fresh off of 2017’s Hulu Emmy contender, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Elizabeth Moss goes two for two as she returns to television for the second season run of Sundance TV’s murder mystery, “Top of the Lake.” After a four year gap between seasons, “Top of the Lake: China Girl” finds Robin (Moss) returning to Sydney for a fresh start. Soon after her arrival, the body of a dead girl stuffed inside a suitcase washes to shore.

The appearance of the suitcase brings upon many dark revelations and unpleasant memories, which Robin is forced to confront. The six-episode season sees the prominent return of several season one key players, including Johnno (Thomas M. Wright), Robin’s would-be husband, who got caught running around a pot farm with another pant-less woman mere days before their wedding.

Moss’ pinnacle moment in the series comes in the form of raw anguish and survival when she is forced to confront the ghosts of her nearly severed past. The moment accumulates years of pent up frustration and hatred towards a now wheelchair bound Al (David Wenham), who in season one betrayed her and ran an underground, underage sex operation. Directors Jane Campion and Ariel Kleiman brilliantly allot Moss the chance to excel as her character generates much interest.

Aside from the torments of being an investigator, Robin is also a mother – semi absent in her maternal duties, but ever the less attempting to bridge the gap between her and Mary (a delightful Alice Englert), her distant 17-year-old daughter.

Fresh into the mix is Julia (Nicole Kidman), the adoptive mother of Robin’s daughter Mary. 2017 has also been a stellar year for Kidman on the small screen. Touting an award-worthy performance as a well put together housewife in HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” Kidman plays quite the opposite here. Trading in her vanity for a raw and open nerved character, who appears to oppose Robin at any given chance.

The death of the titular “China Girl,” a.k.a. Cinnamon, a sex-worker at a local brothel, falls especially hard on her customer Brett (Lincoln Vickery). The fresh-faced young man, who hones a rather unhealthy obsession towards Cinnamon, serves as the ultimate red herring – becoming all the more unhinged as the mystery evolves. Ultimately, the show serves up an alternative twist – her death is the result of suicide and not at the hands of someone else. The twist is different but somewhat lacks the “wow” factor most who-done-it murder mysteries hang upon.

The thematic commonalities between seasons one and two lie in the underlying examination of feminism and rape. As Robin sits on the very beach of which Cinnamon washed upon, Mary’s seedy Boyfriend, Alexander “Puss” (David Dencik), explains to Robin that “rape is a catastrophe.” As if she, a rape survivor, needs any explanation of the sort.

It is weird that Puss attempts to open up that conversation with her, but as a character moment it cements his position as seedy, and a flat out crappy, person. This, of course, is followed by Puss forcing himself on top of her and biting her face (yes biting it), as if he is owed some sort of reward for his inward introspection on rape. Mary is quick to jump to his defense, proclaiming that he only did it because he was messed up or on something. The ultimate overused excuse in rape-culture.

Most people would attempt to write off Puss in a heartbeat, but Robin seems more forgiving – partially because of his relationship with her daughter, but also because she is hardened. The men in Robin’s life have betrayed her time and time again. The complexities of each character, including their own flaws and the relationships between them, make the story a captivating watch.

The season ends on an abundance of uncertainty. Robin’s investigative partner, Miranda (Gwendoline Christie), is shot in the abdomen as a result of Brett’s repressed hostility and Mary is still with her crapshoot boyfriend. But Robin does, however, get a slight reprieve, receiving well-deserved romantic attention from Pyke (Ewen Leslie) – a seemingly nice guy. In the world of “Top of the Lake,” things are constantly evolving, much like real-life. For now, Robin seems content – nevertheless leaving and the viewer compelled to return for a third outing.

Top of the Lake: China Girl” airs Sept. 10-12 and can be viewed on SundanceTV.