After four years separated, audiences are brought back to the universe of “Top of the Lake,” a confusing, depressive and riveting show. Detective Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss, “Mad Men”) returns for another case, visibly shaken after the ordeal in New Zealand. After her investigation of the sexual abuse of a twelve-year old, Griffin ends up having solved little-to-nothing, and in worse trouble than she started. Long story short: she shot the architect, Al Parker (David Wenham, “Killing Time”), of the pedophilia ring after discovering his involvement, but he survived, and is now bringing a civil suit against Griffin.
The day she arrives back in Sydney, Griffin is mocked by cadets who reference her and Al during a training exercise, which causes her to snap in response to obvious post-traumatic stress disorder. At a different place, a pastel-blue suitcase is thrown off a cliff into the ocean. Shots of the suitcase in the water are used as an anchor between scenes. The object, which houses the body of a young Chinese woman, finally shores up. Griffin heads out after a call to the station, and delivers the cheesiest line she can while opening the case: “Hello, darling. Wanna tell me what you saw?”
One of the strengths of “Top of the Lake” is its focus on female-led narratives. Detective Griffin is a no nonsense woman eager to get back into work after her ordeal in New Zealand. She is hastily joined by another woman in the force, Miranda Hilmarson (Gwendoline Christie, “Game of Thrones”), to solve the case of a suitcase washed up at sea. Inside the suitcase is the corpse of a Chinese prostitute, which thus gives the name to this season of the series. The other most interesting characters in the series, Robin’s daughter Mary (Alice Englert, “Beautiful Creatures”) and her adoptive mother Julia (Nicole Kidman, “Big Little Lies”) drive the action forth. The men, by and large, are on the sides, watching the action play out. It’s an interesting inversion that follows the current surge of female-led drama.
For all its strengths, “Top of the Lake” does rely on a few cliches to tell its story. The insights in each characters’s lives are fairly one-dimensional, especially Detective Griffin. She falls into seeking work as a way to mask or cover up her pain from her earlier case, and her male colleagues treat her as an off-the-rails, emotionally volatile woman, which could be either a negative or honest representation — you decide. Mary, who is seventeen, is about to run off with her 41-year-old, brothel-running boyfriend, with little motivation except teenage rebellion. Finally, Griffin’s new sidekick Miranda is only defined by her eagerness to assist. The problem is likely to be remedied in further episodes, but the show would benefit from exploring the interior lives of each characters.
Womanhood, and the women that do not heed its traditional call, are leading this season of “Top of the Lake,” giving space for some interesting interplay across multiple dynamics. There’s Miranda, who is striking and tall, not traditionally feminine, then Robin, who has been raped and mistreated, rebellious Mary and finally her mother, Julia, who divorces her husband and has an affair with a woman. All these levels of class, appearance and generation are ripe with drama and action, which will be sure to draw audiences in. The only question is — how soon are they going to have to wait?