The twisty thriller from co-directors Jane Campion and Ariel Kleiman boasts another knockout turn by Elisabeth Moss as Detective Robin Griffin and stellar work from Nicole Kidman as a mother dealing with a volatile teenage daughter. There’s also plenty of surprises, gorgeous cinematography, a compelling Australian urban backdrop, and a mystery that keeps audiences guessing until the credits roll on the final episode. Fans of the 2013 original won’t be disappointed when the second season airs in the U.S. on Sundance this September.
Without spoiling the big reveals, here are five things to expect from “Top of the Lake’s” return.
1. Robin is in a very bad place
It’s been four years since the events of “Top of the Lake,” and time has not healed Robin’s wounds. When the second series begins, she’s trying to recover from a breakup with her caddish fiancé, tossing back one six pack after another, struggling to get her career back on track after taking a break from the force, suffering from nightmares, and barreling toward a breakdown. Things are not going well.
She’s also dealing with the guilt from having given up a daughter for adoption 17 years ago. Her efforts to get back in touch with the child she could not raise help set the plot in motion.
2. A whole new setting
The first season took place in a remote corner of New Zealand. The forests and mountain ranges were almost another character. Here, the setting shifts to Sydney — a city of skyscrapers, slums, cliffs, freeways, and sandy beaches. The move gives “China Girl” a grittier, noir-ish feel that keeps it fresh.
3. It’s dark … very dark
Oh boy, does “China Girl” go to some bleak places. There are prostitution rings, illegal surrogacies, graphic autopsies, a dead woman’s corpse stuck in a suitcase, and the creepiest boyfriend ever put on screen (apologies to David Dencik, who plays the kind of older suitor that keeps parents up at night). There’s some mordant wit, to be sure, but “China Girl” is not for the faint of stomach.
4. Elisabeth Moss and Gwendoline Christie have the best chemistry
Moss has to deliver the kind of emotional pyrotechnics that win Emmys, but Christie steals the show as her awkward, hero-worshipping partner. She gets the best lines and delivers the biggest laughs. It’s a refreshing change of pace for Christie, best known for her work as a morally upstanding knight on “Game of Thrones.” She’s yin to Moss’ yang. Get these women a buddy comedy!
5. It’s all about the gender politics
Like “Prime Suspect” before it, “China Girl” is as much a “who done it” as it is an examination of workplace sexism. Robin Griffin is as good a detective as any man in her squad, but she has to deal with unwanted advances from co-workers and macho snickering when she tries to assert her authority. The film isn’t just concerned with that kind of casual discrimination. It also looks at violence toward women in other forms, from sex trafficking to rape to prostitution. Despite that dark subject matter, at its core, “China Girl” is about motherhood — the bonds between a parent and a child, and the aching need to love and be loved.
Most detective stories are about men, this one’s told from the women’s point of view. It makes a difference.