The first season of Jane Campion's crime drama Top of the Lake was critically beloved when it aired in 2013. A compelling mystery series, it received a number of Emmy nominations, including one for star Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid's Tale), whose performance as Robin Griffin — a detective investigating the disappearance of a pregnant 12-year-old girl in a remote lake town in New Zealand — was mesmerizing. Although Campion didn't intend to continue Robin's story, she was inspired by the positive response to the series, and now she and Moss have reunited for a highly anticipated follow-up.
Trading the beautiful wild landscapes of New Zealand for the claustrophobic streets and seedy underbelly of Sydney, Top of the Lake: China Girl will air over three nights beginning Sunday, Sept. 10 at 9/8c on SundanceTV. The new season picks up four years after the events of the first and follows a new case involving the murder of a young Asian sex worker, whose body is stuffed in a suitcase that later washes up on the popular Bondi Beach.
"[Jane] portrays these different situations, different walks of life and different choices that people have made and choices that they haven't made in a way that is very non-judgmental," Moss said of Campion and the new season during the Television Critics Association summer press tour Saturday. "She just sheds this light on these different facets that are quite ugly and horrific at times, but in a way that is not judgmental."
"She's honest, and it's one of the things that I was most attracted to about these scripts. These are things we don't discuss as often as we should but are very, very present in our world. They're very important to pay attention to," Moss continued.
Of course, as anyone who's watched the first season can attest, the murder case is only half of the story. Robin's personal demons have grown stronger since we last saw her, despite returning to Sydney to figure out her life. The search for Mary (Alice Englert, Campion's real life daughter), the daughter Robin gave up as a teenager, adds another complicated layer to an already difficult story. That Mary's older boyfriend is potentially involved in the murder throws another wrench into an already precarious relationship.
"The most important thing for [Robin] is to solve this case — that's always the most important thing for her. And in typical Top of the Lake fashion, of course, the personal always lines up with the political, and she has to figure out both," said Moss.
The new season features some new, if pretty familiar, faces. Game of Thrones' fan favorite Gwendoline Christie plays Miranda, Robin's eager new partner on the police force who's read all about her work in New Zealand and is already a big fan when the two meet. Meanwhile, Nicole Kidman, fresh off an Emmy nomination for her performance on HBO's Big Little Lies, plays Mary's adoptive mother, Julia.
As the season progresses and Robin investigates the murder, she will also attempt to figure out how to be a mother to someone who is essentially a stranger to her, but who is still connected to her on a deeply personal level. And for someone as closed off as Robin has made herself since returning to Australia, building a relationship with Mary will break down preconceived ideas about the other relationships in Robin's life.
"[Robin] knows nothing about [Mary] and yet she has to figure out what their relationship is," said Moss. "The entire season [she] is faced with her own ideas of how life should be being challenged by Gwen's character Miranda, by Alice's character Mary, and by Nicole's character Julia. They're just constantly pushing her buttons and challenging her."
But if the first season's New Zealand-set story brought out what Moss said described as "the wilderness outside," this new season will explore the wilderness within.
"I think that juxtaposition is a wonderful way to develop the story and a wonderful way to change the characters and see what happens when you drop them into this different environment," said Moss. "It's one of the things that forces Robin — and all of the characters really — to look inside rather than hide in the wilderness. You can actually hide much better out in New Zealand than you can in Sydney, and they all have to sort of face things that they don't want to face because of that."
Top of the Lake: China Girl will air over three nights starting Sunday, Sept. 10 at 9/8c on SundanceTV.