by Tony Dayoub
There were few if any major developments in this week's installment of Top of the Lake. And if some of the reactions to my review last week are any indication, this may not bode well for the show's popularity. Television has trained viewers to expect a continuing series of escalating revelations. But few realize that these manipulative hooks are contrivances. Fortunately, Top of the Lake is a closed miniseries with no need to solicit an audience in order to get renewed for another season. It's unfolding at just the right pace, with even more disregard for the MacGuffin at its center—the disappearance of Tui Mitcham—than its predecessor Twin Peaks had for the solution to its question of who killed Laura Palmer. Top of the Lake realizes that its central puzzle is simply an excuse to delve into the mysteries that define its characters. And this week's episode makes the most of it.
The only real plot point in this chapter is the discovery that registered sex offender Zanic (Jacek Koman) may have hung himself after falling under suspicion for Tui's disappearance. I say may have because someone scrawled his cabin with insulting graffiti, not likely the final actions of a suicidal man. Still, Zanic's possible suicide spurs Robin (Elisabeth Moss) and Al (David Wenham) to investigate. And the thought of finding Tui in a shallow grave they discover on Zanic's property is a hell of a way to follow up the gut-punch Robin received at home from her mother. Her mom has finished her chemo treatment for good, and the prognosis is definitely terminal.
Top of the Lake's resident Log Lady, the gray-haired shaman GJ (Holly Hunter) does finally meet Robin and Matt Mitcham (Peter Mullan), Tui's caustic father. And GJ's penetrating insight into each is cause for each of them to begin to question what drives them. Anyone wondering if I may be drawing too strong a parallel between Peaks and Lake will find scenes that support my opinion throughout this episode. Particularly one where Robin becomes absorbed in a video of Tui performing a dance with some friends in the Laketop bush. Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw frames and lights the scene nearly identically to a similar one on the David Lynch series where Agent Cooper looks for clues in Laura Palmer's video. For Robin, there is more at stake than simply solving a mystery. Her bathroom stall rendezvous with Johnno (Thomas M. Wright) and subsequent romantic encounter back at her apartment—where she admits, "I'm about to get married" as almost an afterthought—reveal the depth of her unresolved issues with Laketop, its residents and possibly her childhood there. There is as much riding on finding Tui for Robin personally as there is for the endangered girl.
From a distance, Robin's concern for Tui is a sharp contrast from Matt's apparent indifference to his daughter's fate. But this episode reveals the fractured soul inside the callous, self-absorbed Matt. He's impotent in the bedroom, as he confesses to Anita (Robyn Malcolm), one of GJ's followers. It's implied that the lonely Matt picked her up with the intention of pumping her for info regarding their hilltop camp, Paradise. But they actually seem to connect on their makeshift date. After a pleasant picnic on Hilltop Mountain, Matt reveals to Anita why he's obsessed with getting the land back from GJ and her acolytes. In a stunning bit of self-revelation, Matt takes Anita to his mother's grave, where he kneels and tells his mum, "I'll make things right." He then launches into a frightening burst of self-flagellation, beating his naked back with a leather belt to Anita's horror.
The peeling back of even the most reprehensible character's layers was a hallmark of Twin Peaks, one which its writers chucked overboard near its end when they began to capitulate to network demands in pursuit of a third season which never materialized. But as Top of the Lake proves, good TV becomes greater when freed of commercial concerns. And if the answer to the mystery at its heart is slow in coming, at least the investigation into each of Top of the Lake's players is proceeding apace.