Top of the Lake: China Girl recap: 'Chapter 3/Chapter 4'
Robin tries to get through to Mary
Robin is wronged by men quite often — and, in some cases, quite severely. It’s exhausting to watch, to see someone subjected to the same hurtful behavior over and over again by no fault of her own. This is an episode in which guys range from being jerks to full-on assailants, in which one dude — a colleague, no less — proposes an arrangement where they’d have sex seven to eight times and where another…well, we’ll get to that later.
For now, a guy named Tony is “confessing” to Robin that he killed China Girl. He’s at the police station, eating something very loudly and going into detail about having sex with, supposedly, China Girl. I don’t need to repeat what he says here, but I will say that hearing him explain what he did with her while he obnoxiously chews his food all felt like one big PSA for abstinence. In a word: Tony’s gross.
And Tony’s lying. He says he choked her and then didn’t call the police because he was so sad and upset, and then he wrapped her body in a picnic blanket and threw her out to sea — no suitcase mentioned. I’m really hoping Tony plays into the story in some way, because otherwise I’m going to be pretty annoyed I had to sit through his nasty fake confession.
So that’s a bust, but Robin realizes that China Girl’s death could be the result of a breakdown in the surrogacy agreement. Maybe, she guesses, China Girl demanded more money and they weren’t having it. From there, Robin and Miranda head to a surrogacy clinic in hopes of finding some parent desperate for a child. The more hungry they are for a baby, Robin thinks, the more likely they would be to kill for it. Oh, also: Miranda and Adrian are dating, and he’s the baby daddy, allegedly. Okay.
Adrian already had a wife, which initially meant Miranda didn’t even think of him “like that,” until one night when they drank a bit too much red wine and got handsy. You know who else has a wife? Puss! (I still can’t believe his name is Puss.)
Mary’s dad, Pyke, did some research on his daughter’s new boyfriend, which is a bit surprising because he seemed to be much more chill about Puss than Julia was. Not anymore. Once he finds out Pyke is still married, he’s all, My daughter can’t be with a bigamist! And yes, he says “bigamist.” He stages a confrontation at a restaurant — because, yeah, that seems like a great idea — and it quickly goes awry when Puss gets there before Mary and realizes he’s being cornered. I almost feel a little bad for him until he starts trying to make Julia look at the ring he bought for Mary. If she says she doesn’t want to look at it, she doesn’t want to look at it, man.
Once Pyke hands him the document proving what he knows, Puss gets up to leave and then makes a scene by tapping on his wine glass with a knife and telling a story about how he was 22 when he proposed to his wife, and it was senseless, and that’s why he did it. “For the first time, I was doing something completely senseless, that if I went through with it, I would be lost,” he says. “For me, that was irresistible.”
He storms out, and Pyke and Julia are kind of like, “Oh, s—.” Pyke still thinks Puss sucks, while Julia vocalizes that Mary probably won’t think it’s that bad. She’s right: Mary gets there, they tell her, and she goes all Romeo and Juliet on them, talking about how he loves her and she loves him and “if he rejects me, I don’t think I can live.” Isn’t young love sweet? (Recap continues on page 2)
Because Mary ends her spiel by saying she never wants to speak to her parents again, Pyke reaches out to Robin in hopes that she’ll talk some sense into her. Mary heads to the brothel after this confrontation, where Puss is in his bed, unresponsive (emotionally, not physically). His girlfriend is telling him she’s worried through the dog door leading to his bedroom, and he’s still giving her nothing. S—ty guy, s—ty boyfriend. Luckily for Mary, that’s right when Robin calls. The two end up getting burgers together and bonding over their mutual dislike of onions before Mary breaks down crying on the kitchen floor about Puss.
“He’s very kind to me. He’s my soulmate,” she insists. “That’s very special,” Robin responds, once again showing her mothering chops. It takes a turn quickly when Robin follows up by asking Mary if it bothers her that he’s married, which results in Mary screaming — and Miranda and Liam, Robin’s brother, popping in to make sure everything is fine. They all meet and go to the beach, where they play and smile and everything’s all jolly until Liam tries to get flirty with Miranda, who’s not having it. I’d like to think she rejects him so angrily because she is just not into him and is with someone else, but I feel like there’s probably something deeper there. On Top of the Lake, no woman is safe.
Which brings us to Felicity. Felicity is wandering the streets of Sydney, looking for her baby. She’s escaped from a psych ward, and there is no baby to be found — everyone thinks that she’s making it up, that it’s a delusion. Robin knows better, so she pays Felicity a visit. At first, Felicity’s husband, Mike, tries to answer all the questions for his wife. He keeps saying there’s no baby, there’s no miscarriage. His grieving wife outs him, though, when she mumbles something like, “She won’t return my calls, and she won’t return my texts.” China Girl?
Robin gets Mike to reveal that they have a “guest mother,” and she makes him come to the station in hopes of getting a DNA swab from him and comparing it to China Girl’s fetus. During the interrogation, Mike plays up his wife’s struggle, continually saying that this investigation would cause her to spiral even more. He’s not very convincing, and I’m not sure if that’s because this show has taught me to trust no man who comes into frame or because he’s actually guilty. Very tricky, Jane Campion.
He ultimately swabs himself, a win for Robin — for now. As usual, things are about to go downhill for her: It’s time to meet with Al, who’s now in a wheelchair, which, we soon discover, does not hinder his ability to be a violent, gross, bad, conniving, disgusting, [insert more negative adjectives here] monster of a human. Also, his hair is bad.
Robin is in a room, trying to calm herself before facing him. It’s futile, because he finds her and locks them in that room together before telling her that he loves her, blah blah…He stands up, wobbling, and starts to unbuckle his belt…then takes off his belt…and throws it around her neck, choking her as he reclines back into his wheelchair. Robin, being the genius she is, takes out her lighter and sets the curtain behind them aflame. YEAH, ROBIN. If this were a CW show, Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” would be playing right now.
It works, and he’s forced to let her go. You think it’s over, and…it’s not. Al attacks Robin on the table, throws her on the floor, whips her with his belt. Throughout all of this, the security team is watching on camera, so once they realize, that, oh, yeah, someone is getting assaulted in their building, they call for help. Then they keep standing in front of the TV screen, watching. Useless.
At this point, Robin doesn’t really need help. She grabs a mic stand and chokes Al with it, screaming in raw anguish and terror and anger. It is amazing. It is horrifying. It is Elisabeth Moss at her absolute best, and it is Robin at her most desperate — for survival, for justice, for revenge. Officers bust in and rip her away before she can kill him, but there are a few seconds where it seems like she might have, where it seems like years and years of pent-up frustration and trauma and suffering have all been released. If only it were that easy. (Recap continues on page 3)
As much as this season is about men’s atrocities toward women and the struggle to simply survive in the face of that constant threat, it’s also about connection: In the case of Mary and Julia, it’s the lack of it. With Robin and Mary, it’s the birth of it.
Robin’s neck is still covered in black and purple bruises when we see her in a tattoo parlor chair, looking blissfully content as an artist drills into her skin. Later, we learn she got Mary’s name and birthday inscribed on her wrist, a reminder of what devastating horror resulted in her beautiful daughter, of what she’s endured. Mary isn’t just Robin’s daughter; she’s a symbol of resilience, a triumph. Like Robin marveled the first time they met: “You’re alive.” Of course Robin would get Mary’s name tattooed on her after nearly dying.
Their relationship deepens in this episode during the ill-fated beach trip. Pyke already didn’t like Puss, and then Mary brought him to the father-daughter dance at her school, where he made quite the scene (partially thanks to an entire bottle of pills he downed that day). Also that day, Puss pushed Mary to join her “sisters” in sex work when she turns 18. He acts like he’s saying this as a feminist, as someone who just wants to empower women, maaan. He’s really just being an asshole.
So the beach trip happens. Robin and Pyke get there first, and then Mary joins them, along with Puss and the girls from the brothel. Puss is being characteristically weird, wandering aimlessly around the beach and glaring at the naked women lounging while everyone else swims, almost like he’s a stray cat. And when Robin takes a break to sit on her beach towel, he pounces, asking her about being raped. He says she must be damaged; she coldly says she’s okay. Then he explains that “rape is a catastrophe.” He’s the worst, and not in the fun internet way people say that when they’ve made a corny joke. He’s the worst in the way that thinking about this kind of human existing in real life makes me want to cry. Always happy to be reminded by TV that people can really suck.
As usual, it gets worse. He forces himself on Robin and bites her face. Yes, he bites her. Pyke sees it happening and runs to shore, then tries to chase him away — once again, like a stray cat (or I guess he’s more doglike at this point, after the bite). Mary immediately defends Puss, saying that he gets messed up sometimes and please, please, please don’t arrest him. She’s so upset that she starts beating her head with her fists. It’s sad and it’s scary, and can we get rid of Puss yet?
Pyke takes Robin to the hospital, where she reveals what she knows about Puss — that he lives at a brothel, that those girls at the beach today probably weren’t students, that there’s a girl from that brothel missing who she thinks might be dead. This is quite the information dump, which Pyke handles pretty well, considering he just found out his daughter’s fiancé (ugh) might have something to do with a murder. He also handles it well when Mary ditches him for Puss on her birthday, even asking her if the two have anything special planned. He just saw this guy attack his daughter’s birth mom! Why are they acting like this was no big deal?! (Recap continues on page 4)
Robin is still making headway in the case though, partly thanks to Brett, who calls with information about Cinnamon. Miranda and Robin go to Brett’s house, where they perform a much-less-fun version of Room Raiders by lightly rummaging through his room. There, they find bunched-up tissues and pictures of Cinnamon. When they tell him she was pregnant, he says the baby must be his and suggests they take his DNA. Miranda is still suspicious of him after this, which makes me think Miranda is not cut out to be a detective. Murderers don’t just invite law enforcement over and offer to give them evidence. Or maybe I’ll turn out to be wrong and Brett is much worse than I think. Or! Maybe this is like a Rectify situation where Brett was in a compromised mental state and harmed Cinnamon but legitimately doesn’t remember it. (This is probably not it. This is why I’m not a detective.)
Miranda and Robin also stop by Felicity and Mike’s. Turns out, Felicity and Mike have been working with three surrogates to increase their chances of having a baby. When Robin starts questioning them about names and how they found these women, though, they both tense up. Felicity heads to her refuge, the keyboard; Mike gets defensive, especially because the DNA test found that he was not related to China Girl’s fetus.
This all leads to Mary finding out about the case. Dang won’t let her have sex with clients yet because she has to work her way up, but Mary is insistent on getting started, all thanks to Puss’ determination that she join the sex work industry. When she complains to him that Dang won’t let her work, Puss takes her to the streets and drops her off — after slapping her in the back of a cab and telling her that’s as bad as it can get. We don’t see who picks Mary up, but we do see her get dropped off on the side of a road as a man shouts that he’s not going to pay her. She’s afraid, and she was already afraid when Puss took her there. She never really wanted this, and she’s starting to realize that this isn’t her, that maybe she’s in too deep with Puss.
She calls Robin for help, and when she opens the glovebox to get some mints, she finds a picture of Cinnamon. Robin tells her about the case, and they continue to have a conversation about it while pretending they’re having a conversation about someone else. Through this verbal dance, Robin indirectly tells Mary to distance herself from Puss, while Mary tells her she’s in love with him. Now it’s just a matter of time before Puss finds out this is all happening and likely does something crazy/drastic/horrific.
Cut to Robin’s apartment, where Mary is sobbing on the floor. She doesn’t know how to let Puss go, doesn’t know if she even can let him go. Robin holds her and ultimately sings her to sleep; Pyke later walks in with a bag of take-out, his eyes tearing as he watches Robin comfort his wrecked daughter. During the last episode, when Robin told Mary her relationship with Puss sounded special, I thought she was just saying that to make feel Mary safe. Now, I think she was saying it because she meant it. “Special” doesn’t have to mean good, and when Robin chose that word, she managed to acknowledge Mary’s feelings without necessarily encouraging them. What Puss and Mary have is definitely not good or healthy or fair or respectful, but Robin understands that these things don’t matter to Mary right now — and hopefully, she can help show her that they should before it’s too late.
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