TV Series 'Top of the Lake: China Girl' Explores the Need for More Diverse Police Departments - Pacific Standard

TV Series 'Top of the Lake: China Girl' Explores the Need for More Diverse Police Departments

Pacific Standard recommends this tense exploration of how a female officer can affect the course and outcome of a case involving another woman.
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A still of Elisabeth Moss in Top of the Lake: China Girl.

A still of Elisabeth Moss in Top of the Lake: China Girl.

Top of the Lake peered well beneath the surface of its otherwise standard crime-drama premise during its first season, in 2013. Set in New Zealand, the show stars Elisabeth Moss as Robin Griffin, an Australian detective investigating the disappearance of a pregnant 12-year-old girl. Co-directed and co-written by Jane Campion, whose films often feature strong female protagonists, the first season highlighted Griffin's insight into the case as a female policeman: When the police bring a young girl into the station for questioning, for instance, Griffin is the only one able to get her to speak; her male co-workers, in contrast, crowd and overwhelm her.

This fall, after premiering at the Cannes Film Festival to wide praise, Campion's follow-up, Top of the Lake: China Girl, aired on SundanceTV—and again infused a murder mystery with complex gender dynamics. When a suitcase that washes up on a beach turns out to hold the corpse of an undocumented sex worker, Griffin—one of the few women on the police force—argues the case is urgent; her male colleagues don't take the death of a Thai prostitute as seriously. The demographics of Griffin's force are an unfortunate case of art imitating life—Federal Bureau of Investigation data shows that just under 12 percent of police officers in the United States are women. A tense exploration of how a female officer can affect the course and outcome of a case involving another woman, China Girl points to the need for more diverse police departments.

A version of this story originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of Pacific Standard. Subscribe now and get eight issues/year or purchase a single copy of the magazine.

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