Jane Campion’s “Top of the Lake” is returning to SundanceTV with a second installment, set to air over three nights starting Sunday, September 10 at 9pm. “Top of the Lake: China Girl” sees Elisabeth Moss’ Detective Robin Griffin get entangled in another murder mystery after returning to Sydney to rebuild her life. The body of an Asian girl washes up on the shores of Bondi Beach, and Robin can’t help but look into the investigation of who killed her — especially when she learns the girl didn’t die alone.
“[Jane] portrays these situations and different walks of life and choices that people have made and choices that people haven’t made that are very non-judgmental. She’s honest, and it’s one of the things that I was most attracted to about these scripts. These are things we don’t often pay attention to, but they are very important,” Moss says. “I felt it was important to shed some light.”
Robin’s reputation proceeds her in Sydney, especially with Miranda Hilmarson (Gwendoline Christie), a local cop who has read all about Robin’s most recent case and has a little bit of a fan moment upon their first meeting.
“Robin, the entire season, is faced with how life should be while being challenged with Gwendoline’s character Miranda and Nicole [Kidman]’s character Julia. They’re just constantly pushing her buttons,” Moss says. “In typical ‘Top of the Lake’ fashion, the personal always lines up with the political, and she has to figure out both.”
Therefore, further complicating Robin’s journey is the fact that she is trying to find a daughter (Alice Englert) she gave up at birth while simultaneously trying to avoid revealing details of her conception.
“For me, this season is so much about motherhood, and Robin’s main challenge is in figuring out how she’s going to be a mother,” Moss says. “She’s essentially a stranger — they’re not friends or anything — and yet she has to figure out what their relationship is.”
Moss adds that Robin’s search for her daughter represents a great “duality” for her character, who previously was completely closed off from any kind of relationship — be it friends or someone she might date. Chasing a relationship with her daughter “breaks down all of these preconceived ideas about the other relationships in her life,” Moss says.
Robin is “flawed and vulnerable and complex,” which Moss thinks makes her feel familiar and relatable, even in the darker world she inhabits. Citing a note Campion gave her department heads about the theme of the show, Moss points out that the first “Top of the Lake” was about “the wilderness outside, and ‘China Girl’ is about the wilderness within.” The show is set and filmed in Sydney, a bustling city, as opposed to the quiet expanse of New Zealand from the first installment.
“That juxtaposition is a wonderful way to develop the story and to change the characters and to see what happens when you drop them into this environment,” Moss says. “It actually forces them to look inside [and] they all have to face things because of that.”