Thick Description/Anatomy of a Scene: Top of the Lake: China Girl (Episode 3, Chapter 6)

by: , June 14, 2021

© Screenshot from Top of the Lake: China Girl (BBC, 2017)

It begins like a nightmare; that is, as a nightmare does. 

This nightmare.

I am in a room, a conference-less conference room, in a concrete building. Stairs, walls, doors, chairs, tables, all machined to anonymity. As I am, too.

Thick curtains in a nondescript dark blue that clashes with the black of my suit, of my shoes. Are these my shoes? I never wear them. This, too, is a uniform. 

I am policing myself.

Cigarette, lighter, window. If I hold my breath. If I remember breath. How to. Take a moment. Take it from whom. Who owns my time. If I stay here by the window for long enough I will be elsewhere. I will be: lighter. You can already see my bones turning to smoke, my eyes hurt as cigarette burns.

He hands me a coffee in a disposable cup. A vessel to be used and thrown away. The metaphor passes between us as he says, “You OK?”


Other concrete rooms, other concrete voices. “I just wanted to check that you are OK.” My voice, muffled in the small room on the psych ward. A room like headphones. Holding it in. Holding it together. Her name is Felicity, found on an overpass searching for her phantom baby. What my fingers knew.

OK. Of unknown origin. 

He goes out again. Boss. My boss. There is always a boss. For the boss fight.

As in a nightmare.

As in a nightmare, there is another room; one I cannot see but I know is there. I know who is in there. My boss. That one, and the other one. All the bosses. As in a nightmare I can see it without being there. The same dark curtains, the same melamine table, the same moulded plastic chairs that no-one finds comfortable.

I do not want him to be comfortable. I do not want you to be comfortable. I am standing on these court heels like they are—not like. They are knives, flames, bullets. I do not want to be comfortable. I am dressed to make you take me seriously; dressed in your expectations.

What was she wearing when the assault occurred? 

A high street suit. A blouse. A silver charm on a silver chain. A shoe; shoes whose heels mean I stand awkwardly, slightly tipped forward. Framed by the heavy blue curtains.  

Was she wearing the curtains?

No. Flashback. Yesterday evening I was wearing the sea and the sky, the blues pinked by sunset. I was cold and on fire. I was a person.

Now I am a thing between curtains: a performance, a gap. The performance of a gap.

In a sense. Yes. I am wearing your gaze. This is my stage. This is a meeting room and he has come to meet me. To meet my gaze. Click. He locks the door. His chair moves forward silently, controlled by a joystick. Powers forward; powerchair. 

There are jokes to be made here, the kind he would make: joystick powerchair. I move out of his way. He takes the stage. Tap-tap. 

What do you call a detective who shot her superior officer to stop him raping more children?

Detective Sergeant now isn’t it?

Boom. Boom.

The gun in my heart. 

Can’t stop the feeling. Can’t stop himself

feeling it. Can’t stop. Can’t.

Stop. It.

A table may stop. A heart may stop. Something.

I am seeing this in close-up. His leverage to standing. Fingers. Lips. The open pores beneath his comb-over. The orange cast of his skin. Their closeness is disgust. Wrinkles my lip as if I would bite. I do not. Bite.

Anatomy 101. Flashback. This is how to intervene. This is a rising pulse. This is how to subdue a perpetrator. This is the musculature of the hand. This is what the law teaches you: how to kill.

The snap of his belt is a feminist snap. I turn to go. I



thick of it


at my throat

knees go

no heel


thrown-back arc of hysteria I remember it from my textbook

textbook behaviour 

why were you in the room with him why didn’t you leave what did you say to provoke him what were you wearing why not take the compliment why hurt him why were you







as in a nightmare

no air

as if in a vacuum


whooom there


the fire catches


click click of the plasticky lighter against my thumb out of sight







lungs inflate as I fall forward wrench retch 

away & he pushes me onto the table


this noplace I fight from


the shot hot luminous with flames mind’s eye I see on CCTV security

officers clocking Whoa! as he throws me   to the floor

 out of body

dissociative state they watch it like it’s porn like it’s sport

shock of it the burn of his belt across my calves sting operation


reversal: he falls to the floor trying to catch me and I am standing

I am holding the mic stand its thin metal prop an amplifier stick stücke thing

to beat with I do it I beat him I confess once twice with the unflexing sharply

with the bare teeth of my scream

is there a moment 


as in a nightmare




the question





barrel through the door

under sprinkler fall



that he pulls me off away drenched self eyes closed and snarling so hard

you cannot see my face you could not bear my face with the last of the flames

I prophecy

you’re going to die

I’m going to fucking

pull you to me pull your gaze to my wet hair and agony come closer it is disgust


kill you

I’m going to kill you I’m going to kill you

and–but I didn’t but I didn’t but I didn’t–scene


I try so hard please don’t let me be


Top of the Lake: China Girl (BBC, 2017), created by Jane Campion & Gerard Lee.

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