Top of the Lake: China Girl finale recap: 'Chapter 5'/'Chapter 6'
Mary's in trouble — and Robin might not be able to help this time
I know, I know: No one likes hearing about other people’s dreams, but we have to talk about this one. Puss picks up Mary from Robin’s in the middle of the night, and then Robin dreams she’s holding a tiny, tiny baby in the palm of her hand — about the size of the 19-week-old fetus found in Cinnamon’s womb. Then, another tiny, tiny baby appears in her other palm. The scene is bathed in light, an angelic moment for Robin and her two undersized babies.
This scene freaked me out purely because I’ve seen those tiny babies before in my own dreams, so I went on good ol’ DreamMoods.com and found this explanation: “To dream of an extremely small baby symbolizes your helplessness and your fears of letting others become aware of your vulnerabilities and incompetence. You may be afraid to ask for help and as a result tend to take matters into your own hands.” Makes sense! Maybe Jane Campion also frequents DreamMoods.com. Acclaimed TV series creators; they’re just like us.
So, yes, Robin is feeling helpless. We probably didn’t need a dream to tell us that, but Top of the Lake has to get its weird dream sequences in somehow, so here we are. It also seems like this new relationship with Mary is almost a welcome distraction from her traumatic past and everything it’s done to her, physically and emotionally. Worrying about Mary is a chance to stop thinking about herself, to step away from her struggles and look at someone else’s. If she’s spending her time thinking about how to get Mary away from her dangerous boyfriend, she doesn’t have to think about how Johnno betrayed her or how Al attacked her or how Puss bit her or…the list goes on.
Whatever her motivation, explicit or otherwise, for embracing her daughter, Robin is all in at this point. She sees that Julia and Mary have a fraught relationship and that they’ll never have a productive conversation about Puss — or about life, for that matter, at least at this point. She sees that Pyke is doing his best, but is flailing, waffling between rage — “I’ll kill him, I’ll get him f—ed up,” he threatens after finding out Puss took Mary to the underpass — and despair. She clearly loves Mary, but she also has a distance that means maybe she can help her in a way that her adoptive parents can’t.
Her method seems to be to make Mary comfortable, first and foremost. The less Robin makes her feel like she’s judging or being dismissive, the more likely Mary is to share when she’s ready or when she needs help — the fact that she called Robin while she was decked out in lingerie in an area where sex workers congregate is clear evidence of that. She feels safe with Robin.
And so does Pyke, it seems. He and Robin are forming a friendship based on their mutual concern for Mary, and this reaches a head when they try to confront her at school and instead encounter Puss waiting for her. Pyke gets in his face, a tactic that does not work on the very calm Puss, who apparently only bites when he’s forcing women to talk about sexual assault. He and Mary ultimately walk away together, leaving Robin comforting Pyke. They head back to his house, where they drink a lot and end up kissing and moving to the bedroom. This is the least surprising thing to happen on Top of the Lake, but it’s also one of the more satisfying developments — on such a dark show, any lightness feels near transcendent. (Robin and Pyke’s sweet, easy chemistry also helps.)
This isn’t a romantic drama, though, so let’s get back to the murder part — which still has some romance involved, because Brett is very, very attached to Cinnamon. He goes to the morgue to identify her body, which he does, and then he asks for a moment alone with her. I thought Robin was going to let him; instead, she tells him it’s inappropriate, reminding him that he was a customer, not family. He tries to snap some photos of her dead body on his phone and then gets kicked out. It’s all very creepy, and yet, at this point…I still find myself rooting for Brett. He doesn’t seem malicious or ill willed; it seems like there’s something chemically different about him, like he genuinely doesn’t know any better.
That inkling appears to be right. Back at his home, he’s playing a video game when he hears Cinnamon calling his name. He imagines her taking off his clothes, then imagines the two of them naked on the bed together. Later, he passes his mother on the stairs and introduces her to Cinnamon. Cinnamon isn’t there, of course. It’s all a hallucination. (Recap continues on page 2)
We’ll get back to Brett, but for now, there’s some other news to go over. For one, Miranda is not actually pregnant, she reveals after a tiff with Robin. She has a surrogate, and she’s lost contact with her. She’s worried and anxious and doesn’t know what to do (hence the constant smoking). What starts as a fight ends with Miranda and Robin on the floor of a nursery, drinking beer and bonding over their shared mother-related miseries.
Now that we know Miranda has a surrogate, the question of where Adrian’s stuffed panda went makes more sense. He originally told Robin he got it for his son, but then Robin saw it at the brothel, Silk 41. That’s where the surrogate is. This is a shock to Miranda, who thought the surrogate was a student.
And that surrogate appears to be going on “holiday.” She says her goodbyes to everyone at the brothel — including Mary, whom she kisses gently on the lips in a moment that’s more sexual than sisterly — and then Puss takes her to a storage garage. Mary stands outside after they go inside and shut the door. She’s clearly nervous and uses the opportunity to confront Puss about Cinnamon. “You think that I killed her? You think I would do that?” he shoots back. Well, yeah.
Later, Robin comes home to find Puss waiting for her. He apologizes for biting her, blaming it on “compulsive urges.” Robin responds by saying she wants him to leave Mary alone. It’s obvious that is not gonna work, but good try, Robin. Then Puss brings up Cinnamon. He claims he doesn’t understand why Robin hasn’t come to the brothel — “Is it because she’s Thai? Is it because she’s Asian?” he asks, trying to make himself seem like the good one here, the one who cares about underrepresented women — and then mentions he saw a suitcase in the hall one night and it was gone by the next morning. The kicker is that he calls Cinnamon by her real name: Padma. This wouldn’t really be a big deal, except for the fact that Robin and Miranda met a couple earlier in the episode who recognized Cinnamon’s picture…because Cinnamon was their surrogate. And they called her Padma.
Now is a good time to come back to Brett, who’s wearing a GoPro camera on his chest and telling his friends that he’s making a segment for the news. He’s smiling, looking positively thrilled about whatever it is he’s doing. It’s obvious whatever it is he’s doing isn’t something that warrants that kind of smile, that these delusions of Cinnamon have pushed him toward a very, very bad idea.
Later, Brett gets on a bus, tells a girl sitting next to him that she should watch the news that night, and gets off. He’s going to the brothel, and he’s got a gun. He bounds through the house, demanding to see Puss as women run screaming out of his way. People are telling him to put the gun down, but by now, he’s spotted Puss — and Puss has spotted him. Puss hides in the elevator, pushing Mary in front of its doors, forcing her to become his shield. The next thing we hear is a gunshot. Mary might have been shot, all because of her idiotic, cowardly boyfriend (well, and also because of Brett). Either way, she’s in trouble, and Robin might not be able to help this time. (Recap continues on page 3)
Good news: Brett didn’t shoot Mary. Bad news: Brett took Mary hostage.
Robin and Pyke are having sex on the floor when she gets a frantic call from Mary’s phone, because Robin can’t have nice things. All she can hear is chaos on the other end — Mary is clearly in trouble. Robin talks to Miranda and finds out there’s been a shooting at Silk 41 and that Brett has taken some people hostage. To make this whole moment even more fun, Robin is wasted. Like, just-took-tequila-shots-for-the-first-time wasted. She gags into the fancy square-shaped toilet, probably out of both alcohol-induced and stress-induced nausea, but nothing comes out. Then she slurs that she can drive, which, clearly, she cannot, so she and Pyke take a cab to the scene.
No one knows where Brett and Mary are, so they go to Silk 41 to look over the tapes, which don’t really give them much valuable information. But they do reveal that Mahlee — Miranda’s surrogate — is in an apartment with her giant stuffed panda. As for where that apartment is…they don’t know. Drunk people are capable of many things, but figuring this out is probably not one of them, something Robin fortunately recognizes once they go to the morgue to see a body: Booty, who took Brett’s bullet instead of Mary and Puss.
Robin stumbles into the morgue and asks Ray to hold her; he obliges. They hug and share a warm moment that has father-daughter vibes until Ray notes that he can tell she’s been having sex. I mean, he’s right, but dude. Robin takes it well and at first is like, “You can’t tell,” before just admitting that yes, she’s been having sex. “It’s embarrassing,” she whines. “No, no, it’s lovely,” Ray responds. “It is,” she concurs. Aww. Soon after, she passes out on his floor for a much-needed nap.
Once she wakes up, it’s time to find Mary. Robin and multiple other officers don their plain clothes and head to the beach in an attempt to blend in and find Brett. For Robin, that means searching for a beer box she noticed in surveillance footage of the beach. The scene starts off with the fun danger of, say, Ocean’s Eleven — a group on a specific mission among crowds who are completely oblivious — and quickly descends into chaotic madness once Robin and Miranda find the box. It’s surrounded by tanned, happy beach-goers, just a harmless 12-pack hanging out. Robin clears people from the area, and Miranda starts digging. She notices something sticking out from the sand — a shoe, or, more specifically, a foot attached to a human. Underneath the box is Brett’s head.
He looks dead, because his eyes are closed and he’s buried in sand, both things that usually would indicate that you’ve stopped breathing, but nope! He’s super alive. Alive enough, in fact, to draw his shotgun and shoot Miranda in the abdomen. Robin immediately leaps into action, removing Brett’s gun, sitting on him, and pointing her own gun at his head as she waits for backup. It’s almost overwhelmingly tense, the kind of stress I want to feel watching a show like Top of the Lake. Few things feels better than freaking out over something and then realizing, seconds later, “Hey, it’s not real!”
Robin does not have that luxury. Just because her colleague just got shot doesn’t mean she gets to stop working, and she doesn’t. She does catch a break, though: Mary shows up at Julia’s house. She’s fine — except for the blood covering her shirt, which she explains is from the taxi driver Brett shot — and she immediately heads to the fridge to chug some milk out of the carton and eat some yogurt. She does all this while she’s casually but firmly telling her clearly concerned mother that she can’t stay for long, as if she’s a neighbor stopping by to return something. This family is so weird. (Recap continues on page 4)
Although Mary asks Julia not to tell Pyke, Julia apparently tells someone, because the fact that Mary is fine is all over the news. Robin and Pyke meet up at the cafe where Mary met Puss and hold each other in celebration. They’re smiley and leaning on each other and acting like a couple of teens who just made out for the first time, which is adorable and makes me want to watch a Nancy Meyers rom-com about them right away. It’s also, uh, kind of a bad time to be staring lovingly into each other’s eyes. Mary may be out of the hostage situation, but that doesn’t mean she’s out of harm’s way.
Pyke gets a bit of a wake-up call when Julia calls and tells him that Mary is gone and her passport is missing. He rushes out, leaving Robin at the cafe alone. She wanders into the back and finds Puss there, cooking. I was hoping this meant something crazy was about to go down, but nothing crazy really goes down. She stabs him, which I guess is crazy, but it doesn’t seem to do much damage. Then he reveals that, basically, Cinnamon was depressed and hung herself, and then Dang and Booty put her in a suitcase, not knowing what else to do. If this is true, that’s kind of a bummer for multiple reasons, one being that it’s treated like a big twist even though it’s not really — the show gave multiple hints that Cinnamon had been unhappy and needed help. I’m not going to say I guessed that this is how she died, but my response to this information was more “Oh, okay” than “WHAT!!!!!!!” and I was really hoping for a “WHAT!!!!!!!” here.
Robin then demands to know where the apartment full of surrogate mothers is, and Puss responds by goading her, asking: Doesn’t she realize she’s a surrogate too? “Mother” is an identity Robin has taken on and embraced this season, and, honestly, she’s earned it, so for her to hear Puss basically imply that she was just a vessel for Mary’s entrance into this world is enough to make her put her gun to his head. That, in turn, is enough for Puss to give Robin the keys to the apartment and tell her where it is. She doesn’t shoot him, but she does have some stinging last words: “You’re wrong about Mary,” she snarls. “She’s not in love. She’s scared of you. I think she hates you.” On paper, that doesn’t look that harsh. On screen, it’s as fiery as when she literally lit the curtain on fire.
From there, she and Adrian — and some couples who paid the Silk 41 women to have their babies — head to the apartment. It’s empty, except for a TV and a DVD that says, “PLAY ME.” Someone pops it in, and together, they watch in silence as Puss, wearing a blazer and sunglasses, speaks into the camera, admonishing Westerners for taking advantage of poor Asian women. The point of this? To tell these parents, “Your babies have flown away, and now it’s your turn to cry.”
This video is both the best and worst thing I’ve ever seen. To the couples, it’s just the worst. They panic upon realizing their babies are gone, and one father-to-be claims, “It’s theft.” But really, it’s not. Those babies might be “theirs,” but they truly belong to the women they’re being birthed from. “Their bodies, their wombs,” Adrian explains. I feel bad for these people, and at the same time, I’m completely annoyed with them. Puss might seem like Tommy Wiseau’s villainous German cousin, but he also has a point, at least when it comes to protecting these surrogate mothers. Where is the couples’ empathy for them? Are they so desperate for children that they’ve forgotten that carrying a child is a huge f—ing deal, that it’s not just a side job for these women but a whole lifestyle change — and life change, depending on their feelings about the baby? (Recap continues on page 5)
Puss’ threat wasn’t empty, either. He really did take them all away, and Mary almost goes with them. As they’re walking along the jetway to enter the plane, she hangs behind and calmly confronts Puss about closing the elevator before she could get in and hide from Brett. He makes excuses, saying the door closed — and while Mary can’t rewind, I can, and he definitely seemed to push her out of the elevator. He ends up slapping her, and then she slaps him back, until authorities come and he walks away, the two of them glaring at each other like dogs who’ve just been separated after a fight. This is it. They’re done.
That’s confirmed when Julia and Pyke call Robin to tell her that Mary is with them. Initially, I had a hard time believing that this is the moment Mary would choose as the last straw with Puss, seeing as how there have been so many other equally, if not more, vile moments before — like when he slapped her in the back of the cab or when he bit her birth mother or when he pressured her to become a sex worker or when he had an outburst at her school dance or when she realized Cinnamon was missing or when, I don’t know, he was the boss at a brothel. But through all of this, Mary believed that they were madly, deeply in love. She even said she thought she would die if she didn’t have him. And then when he and Mary faced death, he chose to save himself instead of her. This was proof to Mary that he wasn’t who she thought he was, that their relationship wasn’t what she thought it was — or rather, what she wanted it to be.
Their entire relationship was built on fantastical idealism. Mary saw Puss as this damaged, brilliant soul helping women. He painted himself as a savior, and she believed it, because he’s charming and persuasive and older. Even his silly little video presents him as this great liberator of women, as someone doing the morally right thing, and, again, in some ways, he does raise fair points about the injustices these surrogacy arrangements raise and reinforce. But he also just used a group of human women to prove a point about society. He thinks he’s freeing them when he’s one of many who have aided in commodifying them.
But now Mary really is free, by her own doing. She’s in bed with her friend while Robin and Julia look in at their daughter, peacefully resting. Julia’s still insecure about Robin’s relationship with Mary — “She gave me the biggest hug at the airport,” she brags unnecessarily, “and said, ‘You’re my mom, and I really need you’” — but she’s also thanking Robin for all that she’s done. The episode ends with Robin taking home a DVD of Mary as a child and watching it on her laptop in her barren living room. Then we hear a knock at the door — probably Pyke coming by to pick the DVD up as he promised (and to roll around on the floor some more with her, hopefully this time without getting interrupted by a family crisis).
This is a heartwarming, optimistic ending to a bleak, bleak season — so heartwarming and optimistic that it almost feels wrong. I kept waiting for something to happen in its final moments, as if another beach-style “Oh s—” moment was hiding in the last minute. It’s not all happy, though, of course. Cinnamon is dead. The surrogate mothers have uncertain futures. Miranda’s in the hospital with a critical gunshot wound. And maybe this is why the end felt slightly empty, because it’s shoving all of the very relevant bad out of the way in favor of a nice, clean ending for its protagonist. It’s what Robin has had to do for herself, in a way, and from that perspective, the show isn’t ignoring the various tragedies it’s presented over the course of the season by ending on a positive note for Robin; instead, it’s proving that tragedies do and will continue to coexist with victories, and no life is free of either. So, yes, everything is still not all right in the world of Top of the Lake, but, for now, Robin has her daughter and her home videos and a cute man knocking at her door. For now, Robin’s okay.
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