TOP OF THE LAKE Review: “Surrogate” / “Birthday”

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While Griffin attempts to connect with her estranged daughter on : CHINA GIRL, all roads lead to Mary’s boyfriend Alexander being involved with the murder. Can Griffin save her daughter before this manipulative man ruins Mary’s life?

Things appear to be going well for the investigation after a suspect shows up to confess to the murder of the Asian woman. Griffin’s hope for closing the case soon disappears when it becomes clear this man’s story is total bullshit. He hasn’t come there to help, he only wants to bask in the momentary limelight before the police show him to the door. Solving this case isn’t going to be easy. It’s going to take some intense investigation and detective work. At every step of the way Griffin will need to guide her new partner Miranda on how to behave, how to investigate, and how to put together the clues to come up with a theory that may lead them to the truth.

Miranda continues to bring levity to the dark subject matter of Top of the Lake, but Griffin has mixed feelings about working with her. Being a natural loner, she’d rather work this case alone, but her boss Adrian demands the two work side by side. This arrangement becomes even stranger when it’s revealed Miranda is carrying Adrian’s baby. At the same time that she’s in a relationship with her boss, Miranda is also sleeping with Griffin’s brother, which is something Griffin doesn’t really appreciate, but can’t say much about.

The biggest clue Griffin and Miranda come up with is the dead Asian woman appears to have been carrying someone else’s child as a surrogate inside of her. This revelation leads them to a fertility clinic and then into the shadowy world of illegal surrogates coming from Asia. If they can match the DNA of the dead fetus to some desperate couples willing to do anything for a child, they may be able to find the murderer. The thinking is, if the woman was a surrogate and decided to keep the baby for herself (which surrogates are legally justified to do in Australia) the desperate couple may have murdered her. This line of reasoning leads them down the wrong path to begin with, but as more information comes in, it appears the brothel Mary’s boyfriend lives above may secretly be farming its sex workers out as surrogates.

Mary’s parents continue to worry about Mary’s relationship with Alexander. The age difference alone is enough for concern, but Alexander’s erratic behavior when they’ve encountered him is enough for Pyke and Julia to put up a united defense against this man being a part of their daughter’s life. Their suspicion that Alexander is manipulating and brainwashing their daughter is even more correct than they know. As they attempt to drive a wedge between the two, they succeed in only pushing Mary closer to this psychotic man. Griffin’s new relationship with Mary draws her into the same difficult situation, though she attempts to be neutral so as not to destroy their fledgling relationship. Julia is absolutely dead set against even being polite to Alexander, but Pyke loves his daughter and wants to appear as if he’s accepting of her fiancée. Pyke’s patience is tested when Alexander shows up and ruins a father/daughter dance at Mary’s school, embarrasses everyone, and is escorted off the property by security. Watching your daughter slip away, and knowing you’re helpless to stop it, has to be a devastating thing for a parent.

Griffin’s shooting of Al Parker hangs over her head, and an arbitration hearing brings them into the same building again. He’s in a wheelchair now, but excuses himself from the meeting and tracks down Griffin to a private room where she’s awaiting the results. His confrontation with her is strange, sexual, and eventually violent. He tells her he loves her, attempts to pull out his penis, but then strangles Griffin with his belt, nearly killing her while no one is aware it’s happening. She fights for her life, eventually setting some curtains on fire that set off the fire alarm. Once she frees herself, she gives him a savage beating. Everything is caught on camera, so Al can’t lie and claim to be the victim. Shortly after this violent encounter, Griffin spends a day at the beach with Mary and Pyke. Everything is going great until Alexander shows up. He begins to come on to Griffin, and when she rebuffs his advances, he pounces on her and bites her nose until it bleeds. Mary begs Griffin not to file charges against him with the police, and Griffin finds herself in a tough situation. Does she turn him in for his violent attack and risk losing her newfound connection to her daughter? She declines to press charges, but if she knew what he was going to do to Mary at the end of episode four, she might have made a different decision.

On the day of Mary’s 18th birthday he convinces her she should work in the brothel, and she goes along with it thinking it’s a good idea. The brothel owner refuses to let Mary work there. She can see what Alexander is doing to the poor girl, and wants him out of the building and their lives. Not to be rebuffed, Alexander forces Mary to work the streets as a prostitute instead. She doesn’t want to, and is scared, but he has such control over her that she relents and ends up doing it anyway. Her night on the street is so terrifying that she ends up reaching out to Griffin. Since Mary and Julia don’t get along, Griffin has become Mary’s new surrogate mother. Griffin and Pyke now know what Alexander has been manipulating Mary into doing, and Griffin fears Alexander may be responsible for the dead Asian woman. How will they wrest their daughter away from this maniac without losing her to either his manipulation or violence?


Season 2, Episodes 3-4 (S02E03-04)
Top of the Lake: China Girl airs Sundays at 8PM on Sundance TV

Read all of our reviews of Top of the Lake: China Girl here. 
Read our reviews of more of your favorite shows here.

For six months out of the year Jeff is holed up in his home with nothing to do but shovel snow, watch television, write, and dream of warmer climates.
Follow Jeff on Twitter: @OfSoundnVision
Keep up with all of Jeff’s reviews here.

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