Because I’m actually in a TV class this semester and not a film class, I have been watching way more TV than I normally do. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does put in a bit of an awkward place, blogging-wise. Instead of investing 1.5-3 hours and then writing a post, I have to invest a ton more. I decided I like reviewing a whole series at a time as I did with Twin Peaks and True Detective rather than an episode by episode basis as I did (and still need to continue doing) with Star Trek. But speaking of Twin Peaks, Top of the Lake was a recommendation based on the fact that I love Twin Peaks so I of course hastened to watch it as soon as possible. While Top of the Lake goes for straight up drama rather than the crazy blending of just about every tone you can imagine as Twin Peaks does, it bears some similarities, mainly that of a tragedy sparking the investigation into a seemingly normal town that turns out to be really messed up.
Robin Griffin(Elizabeth Moss) is a detective specializing in sexual abuse cases in children. While visiting her sick mother in Laketop, New Zealand, a twelve year old pregnant girl, Tui Mitchum (Jacqueline Joe), attempts suicide. Before Robin can get to the bottom of it, she goes missing. She seems to have a questionable relationship with her father Matt (Peter Mullan), who seems to be involved in a lot of suspicious things besides his daughter’s attempted suicide and disappearance. Robin encounters resistance from both the townspeople and the local law enforcement, the head of which is Al Parker (David Wenham). Other local personalities include Johnno (Thomas M. Wright), Matt’s son and possible love interest, and GJ (Holly Hunter) the leader of a cultish group of women that have moved in on Matt’s land (which he is not happy about).
I don’t have many complaints about this show, so I’ll get them out of the way first. Both of them are related to pacing, which is uneven and a bit strange throughout. In the middle of the show, we start going into Robin’s past which is actually my favorite part of the show, but the main case kind of gets put on hold for a couple of episodes which is off-putting. They should have weaved it in with the main story better. Similarly, after they are done examining Robin and her past for a couple of episodes, the main case comes back and wraps up very quickly. We’ve spent the better part of six episodes only to have it solved in an almost accidental way. They sort of hint at it throughout the show, but Robin doesn’t figure it out until like the last twenty minutes so the ending feels very abrupt.
Other than these issues though, I have very little complaint with the series, and there were several things I appreciated about it. One is the main character. Robin Griffin is probably somewhat of a cliche by now, the driven female detective in a world full of unhelpful and sometimes hostile men, but nevertheless I was able to get behind her in most respects and found her fascinating. I really like the way her past wasn’t revealed right away; I didn’t really guess at any of it even though it probably should have been obvious. It was a great closed off performance by Elizabeth Moss here. Peter Mullan also turns in a great performance as Matt. He is able to capture the conflict in his character as he seems to love his daughter but also doesn’t seem to concerned with finding her. This is essential as we are really not supposed to be sure how we feel about him. Another aspect I liked was the strange cultish group of women headed by GJ. They never really did much besides take care of people who wandered into their settlement, but it was interesting to see the contrast between their benignity and the chaos that reigned in Lake Top proper.
On the technical side of things, the most notable visual element is probably the color scheme. It is mostly blues, greens, and greys, making Lake Top seem like a very cold and inhospitable place. There is really no warmth, either indoors or outdoors, in this town. That doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful all the same, because it is. The rest of the cinematography, lighting, etc… seemed pretty standard from what I remember.
Top of the Lake is a mini-series, and at only seven episodes I finished it in a week. It requires only a small time commitment and is definitely worth it. It’s a completely closed off story, no cliffhangers at the end are left unsolved. While I like a healthy dose of ambiguity in my life, it’s refreshing to see a show wrap things up so tightly. All in all, I’m glad I watched the show. It’s not something I would probably revisit again because the mysteries did pretty much get wrapped up, but it’s a pretty good show.
“Trust in the body. The body knows what to do.”