Top of the Lake season two is making its SundanceTV debut tonight, September 10, after a four-year hiatus since the premiere season. This time around, Detective Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) returns to Sydney, bringing with her some PTSD from shooting Al Parker in the first season, and embarking on a new investigation — “China Girl,” which refers to a young Chinese prostitute who washes up on a beach, dead inside a suitcase.
Jane Campion, the creator of the series, also returns, writing all of the season two episodes and directing two of them. In a bit of a mother-daughter theme, Campion’s own daughter, Alice Englert, has been cast as Mary, Robin’s daughter, whom she placed for adoption nearly 18 years earlier. Nicole Kidman is Mary’s adoptive mother, Julia, and the three of them are on a collision course as the series explores the theme of parent-child relationships.
Speaking with Brit + Co, Moss said that season two is very much about “womanhood and motherhood” and “the different choices that you make as a woman.”
“I think that could not be more relevant — ownership of your body and ownership of what you want to do with it and what it means to be a mother,” Moss told us at the 2017 TCA summer press tour. “It’s very interesting to me and very interesting to women. It’s certainly interesting to [creator Jane Campion] and she really explored it in a beautiful way.”
Part of that exploration is Robin and Mary coming face to face for the first time. Moss said Robin has a very honest reaction in that she doesn’t feel any kind of instant connection with her offspring.
“Here is this stranger; here is this 18-year-old girl who she doesn’t know,” said Moss. “I think there’s this idea that you have a child, you meet your baby, and you start feeling like the queen mother all of a sudden and lactating and stuff [laughs] … Everyone has a different experience with motherhood, so I loved that. I thought that was really honest, that she has to figure out what her relationship is with Mary. She has to figure out how she is a mother to this child.”
But Mary isn’t going to make things easy on Robin or Julia. “She’s hurt and she’s hurtful, which is kind of wonderful to have to be a kind of paradox of a person,” Englert told us. “At that age, you’re searching for and losing control constantly. … One thing I knew about Mary is that she’s strong, she’s really strong. … She’s passionate and she’s sensitive and she’s furious and she’s rude. It took me a while to master some of the obscenities I have to yell at sweet, sweet Nicole Kidman.”
It might seem as though Mary hates her adoptive mother, but Englert said that it’s actually just the opposite. “Mary loves Julia. She loves her so much that she’s an a**hole to her. She loves her a lot,” Englert explained.
With Robin, on the other hand, there’s a lot to unpack for Mary because she wrote a letter to her birth mom years ago and Robin never responded. “[It’s] the fantasy of the birth mother and the devastation that followed for Mary when she wrote this letter to Robin and she never got a response, growing up trying to understand what she might’ve done wrong,” said Englert. “And then trying to understand what might have been done to the birth mom, what made me, which is a big thing for her as a character. She rightly assumes how she was made, that Robin was raped.”
Yes, Mary correctly guesses the circumstances of her birth, which viewers learned about Robin in season one and which will definitely come into play between Robin and Mary — something further complicated by the fact that Mary is dating a much older man, Alexander “Puss” Braun (David Dencik). The relationship is problematic for both of Mary’s mothers, which Englert said she totally understands, even if she had to believe in their love as the actress playing Mary.
“I think that Mary and Puss really do believe in their love, for better or worse, and I think that’s why their relationship is disturbing,” said Englert. “There are a lot of things that are really toxic and I think you can really love someone and treat them really badly and that’s where we came from. … Being in love is not enough. You have to be good to each other.”
The show also reveals early on that Puss has some kind of connection to the brothel where “China Girl” worked, so viewers “definitely should be” suspicious of him, according to Englert. But there might be more going on there than meets the eye.
“The great thing about the series is it doesn’t tell you who is bad. The first installment was… you could see who the bad guy was. There was a bad guy, there were a lot of them. And in this one, it’s very gray,” said Englert. “I don’t want to mislead you and make you think that it’s vague. It’s not vague; there are revelations. But I’m curious to see what people feel and what they come away with. Everyone’s a bit guilty and I enjoy that.”
Top of the Lake: China Girl premieres Sunday, September 10 at 9pm ET/PT and airs two hours each night from September 10 to September 12.
Will you watch Top of the Lake: China Girl? Tell us @BritandCo.
(Photos via SundanceTV)