Top of the Lake
Detective Robin Griffin is the midst of debating whether a waffle iron or a toaster is a better present for a 17-year-old girl — pro tip: it doesn’t matter as long as there’s a gift receipt — when she gets a call about a john named Tony who wants to confess to Cinnamon’s murder. He claims that she hopped in his car to give him free sex, as sex workers so love to do, and that he strangled her when she inexplicably tried to stab him, and then dropped her body in the water wrapped in a blanket.
The main problem with this story — aside from Cinnamon’s dubious enthusiasm for unpaid sex with this loser — is that it completely omits the suitcase, a detail the police likely withheld from the press. So that’s a dead end, but Robin’s colleague who won’t stop pestering her about her relationship status says there’s more to discuss, and asks her to step into his office. What this really means is dragging her up to the roof to proposition her for sex, claiming it would be discreet, respectful, and of course fun.
“I’m not in it for the fun,” Robin replies, which is an apt description of both her character and anyone watching this show. Who is in it for the fun? Well, maybe Miranda, who’s having a loud, enthusiastic affair with their married boss, which Robin gets to hear in excruciating detail. Turns out Miranda’s baby is his baby, and they’re in love! Meanwhile, the parentage of Cinnamon’s baby remains a mystery, since tests confirm that she is indeed a surrogate.
Robin and Miranda head to the local in vitro fertilization clinic, where a doctor asks Robin her age, and then says that a woman’s chance of conceiving after age 40 in any given cycle is one in 20. He asks her to pick a number and then starts rolling a 20-sided die, making this officially the worst D&D campaign ever.
“This is the ultimate casino,” he says. “The drive to reproduce is manic; it can become a vortex.” The important thing they learn, aside from the perils of baby madness, is that the law in Sydney favors the surrogate, who can change her mind at any point in the pregnancy and keep the baby herself.
Then it’s time for another excruciating dinner with Alexander, who wanders in looking unkempt and complaining about child labor in Pakistan, because class struggle is his favorite platform on which to perform his manipulative self-righteousness. Pyke has done a little digging and reveals that Alexander is already married, which prompts an enormous scene where Alexander explains that he proposed to a disabled woman as a joke, and then went through it because “it was senseless” and that was “irresistible.” That’s even more worrying than an actual marriage, and further evidence of the dangerous instability that feeds his manipulations.
Alexander storms out just before Mary arrives and treats the other customers to another drama where tells Julia to “shove your conventions and your respectability up your cunt, where nothing has ever lived, where everything dies.” It’s a knife thrust that is designed to hurt, to strike at the heart of Julia’s insecurities about her motherhood, and it succeeds.
Julia’s anxieties about losing not only her daughter but her claims to motherhood are further stoked when Pyke reaches out to Robin for help. After Mary agrees to meet with Robin, she extols the feminist virtues of her pedophilic lover, claiming that “he’s so much more interested in empowering women than in having sex.” Ah yes, the male feminist who uses his “allyship” as a tool for preying on women! You’re a familiar sight. Alexander isn’t an abuser, Mary insists, he just doesn’t play by society’s rules.
Elsewhere, we meet a woman who is wandering around in traffic in her nightgown, desperately searching for her baby. If you guessed that she’s childless, mentally ill, and hallucinating a baby she desperately wants, you nailed it. There aren’t a lot of characters on this show who don’t need the help of a mental health professional, but if it turns out that Cinnamon got murdered because this woman was cuckoo for baby Cocoa Puffs, I can’t say that’s going to please me. More relevant to the larger case, she and her husband were using an illegal Thai surrogate who has dropped off the grid.
Because the legal system is super awesome to victims of rape and harassment, Robin is required to meet with Al Parker, the man who drugged and probably raped her, who has also gotten off scot free for running a child sex ring. He’s got a new wife and kids, who are all Asian, and honestly it would be cool to see an Asian actor who isn’t playing a sex worker or a pedophile enabler, but I’m not holding my breath. Anyway, Al corners Robin in an empty room and tries to strangle her, and she escapes by setting fire to the curtains.
Although there’s a cathartic moment where Robin tries to crush Al’s throat with a mic stand, there’s virtually no follow-up in the next episode, making the whole sequence feel tacked on and even a little exploitative. “Chapter 4” spends more time on a scene where Robin moves her desk as a show of passive aggression to Miranda than it does on the aftermath of her vicious physical assault. The workplace conflict between these would-be partners devolves into an argument about who is the worse mother, with Robin attacking Miranda for smoking and drinking during her pregnancy, and Miranda attacking Robin for being cold and distant with Mary.
Speaking of Mary, she’s back home and about to head off to a father/daughter dance at her school with Pyke, but she decides to make a quick pit stop to see the deeply depressed Alexander first. “I’m gazing into the abyss, and I’m going to keep gazing until it gazes back,” he says, because he is a narcissistic freshman philosophy student in a 42-year-old man’s body.
Things take an even darker turn when Alexander says that Mary needs to start working at the brothel after she turns 18, as a show of solidarity with the other women. “Is my baby too good to work beside her sisters?” he demands, claiming that her reluctance is elitist and makes her a “victim.” It’s a classic abuser inversion: Up is down, left is right, pain is love, exploitation is freedom. “It’s a sacrifice we both can make,” he says.
He also coerces her into taking him to the father/daughter dance on the basis that he is her “daddy,” making it all the more obvious that his plan has always been to prostitute her, not to marry her. Pyke manages to get half a waltz with his daughter before Alexander cuts in, transforming it into a bizarre contemporary dance disaster that ends in him humping the floor and sticking his head up Mary’s skirt.
Finally, a school official does what you’ve wanted every authority figure on this show to do for four episodes: physically intervene, pull the drunken 40-something off the teenage girl, and throw him out. Naturally, Mary runs after him, and finds up racing up and down a nearby flight of stairs in either a drunken stupor or a manic episode, take your pick.
Meanwhile, Brett, the john with the “genuine connection” to Cinnamon, finally reaches out to the police to tell them what he knows. Robin and Miranda interview him in what seems to be a moment of progress for the investigation, but of course, we also learn that he has a secret gun, shooting trophies, and mental illness of his own, hallucinating a naked Cinnamon on his bed.
Post-dance, Mary decides to work at the brothel because Alexander controls her completely now. This is what he wanted to her to be all along with his declarations about feminism and women’s liberation: a woman cannot say no to him, who has no sense of self outside of him, who exists to obey him. To their credit, both the madam and the girls try to talk her out of it, warning her about the violence, rape and general grossness they have to deal with on a daily basis. “Puss is sick guy, why you do what he say?” they ask. It’s a question that gets bolded, italicized and underlined at a later trip to the beach, where Alexander meets Robin, needles her about her sexual assaults, and then attacks her suddenly, biting her nose so deeply she needs stitches.
The madam has had enough of Alexander’s shit and informs him that she won’t allow Mary to work at the brothel, because he’s a sociopath and she thinks he’s garbage. Alexander screams that his “whole life is a nightmare,” because not being able to prostitute your child-girlfriend is the greatest oppression of all. He’s so determined to complete his psychological domination of Mary that he forces her to walk the streets instead, and she spends her 18th birthday getting fucked by a random man while her family waits at home with her birthday dinner.
Afterwards, Mary steps out of the john’s car shaking, and calls Robin to come pick her up. Robin takes her back to her apartment, as Mary falls apart. “I don’t know how to leave him,” she weeps. She loves him, she insists, like that matters at all.