Top of the Lake: China Girl Screen 12 articles

Top of the Lake: China Girl


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  • Pivotal clues and suspects appear out of the blue to Robin and Miranda by the dictates of the plot... The protagonists don't do anything of consequence, their flailing complementing Alexander's unchecked crime spree to assert a feeling of powerlessness, over the characters as well as the audience. Yet this narrative passiveness scans less as psychosexual critique than as a case of writers getting lost in a thicket of obligatory happenstance.

  • With four more hours to go, there’s plenty of time for “Top Of The Lake: China Girl” to ripen into resonance, and there’s already a heartening dose of the eccentric, which a standard procedural would never embrace. But at the end of hour two, it left me in the last place I expected “Top Of The Lake: China Girl” to put me: in a holding pattern, waiting for the real show to begin.

  • If the mini-series had leaned into the absurdity of its central situation — the heroine’s daughter is in love with the man who might be responsible for the murder of the woman whose corpse she photographed in the morgue — China Girl could have succeeded as a kind of fever dream with police-procedural elements. But too much of it plays flat because Campion and her filmmaking collaborators seem uncomfortable working a grim yet still broadly comedic mode.

  • Unwilling to use her superior ambulatory capability to evade [her attacker], Robin finds herself nearly choked to death. It seems no amount of infirmity can halt the super-power of patriarchal rage. Top of the Lake has as much to say about feminism as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has to impart about the confectionary industry. Campion is a serious auteur and yet television seems to bring out her inner hack.

  • Rather confusingly, in many ways China Girl makes for better TV than season one; the plot is pacier, the characters larger and more full of life, and scene by scene there’s simply more happening. But take the time to actually tease it apart, and you realise that China Girl is nowhere near as refined and polished a story as that seen in the first season, and when it does reach toward a similar finesse, it gets confused, tangled in knots of its own making.

  • It’s arguably trying to do too much — many of the tensions, especially those regarding the racial dynamics of sex work and surrogacy, get lost in the tangle. Yet it's the first piece of fictional media I’ve seen in months that has made me feel anything... When I want to see my own fatigue and conflict with the misogynist world reflected onscreen, there’s Top of the Lake. It’s a different sort of self-care; instead of muting my confusion and frustration, it acknowledges and amplifies it.

  • I almost wish Top Of The Lake wasn’t so committed to being a murder mystery, because for one thing it barely cares what happened to Cinnamon, and for another the drama of the investigation is well beneath that of its other relationships.

  • It may not satisfy genre hounds looking for a dense mystery. Campion and co choose to follow generic conventions, but China Girl is, at its essence, a character study. Look at it as a mood piece on motherhood, womanhood and daughterhood. Campion, Lee, and Moss have joined together to craft a shattering piece of storytelling; one that is entirely unique and painfully necessary.

  • The second iteration of Top of the Lake, however, is as much a feminist epic as the first. Although it lacks the terrifyingly primal New Zealand landscape in which its predecessor was set, it grapples with something just as powerful and archaic—the maternal drive.

  • Campionesque depth-charges, such as the repeated trope of gates and railings coming between characters, and the ascent and descent of staircases (also a strong marker of the protagonist’s emotional arc in In the Cut (2003)), retain their presence and power, but the procedural and the polemic are further forward – as are physical and verbal humour, however dark.

  • Robin may be skidding from disaster to disaster, but Top of the Lake: China Girl, which Campion co-wrote with Gerard Lee and co-directed with Ariel Kleiman, moves from strength to strength. The series explores the interlocking crises of multiple characters with stylistic precision and sociological sweep, its mercurial ambience combining suspense, tragedy, and the occasional but welcome note of mordant humor.

  • China Girl’s structure will likely frustrate some fans of the first season’s comparatively credible linearity. But with a richly layered series that leaves several threads untied—we never really get an answer to the question Robin poses to Cinnamon’s body on the beach, “Want to tell me what you saw?”—Campion offers another season of mesmerizing storytelling that skewers her adopted genre.

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