by Tony Dayoub
A conventional noir begins to take shape in this week's episode of Top of the Lake. It's a hallmark of such detective thrillers that the very thing that makes their heroes strong enough to have unique insight into the central mystery is often their Achilles' heel. Detective Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) seems less in control of than ensnared by the web of deceit surrounding pregnant 12-year-old Tui Mitcham's disappearance from the small town of Laketop. Al Parker (David Wenham) correctly diagnoses Robin when he judges her as too close to the case because of her personal history, specifically the rape she survived in her teenage years.
A brief flashback to the events leading to the rape refocuses Top of the Lake as the feminist thriller Jane Campion clearly meant it to be in its initial chapter. In Laketop men are not to be trusted, Campion seems to repeat over and over again. Matt Mitcham (Peter Mullan) can't contain his rage when he finds Anita (Robyn Malcolm) in Tui's bed. As retaliation, he lashes out not only at her but at GJ's colony on Hilltop Mountain, invading it simply to berate the damaged women there, one by one, as "Unfuckable!" Later, a significant and atypical insert shot of Johnno Mitcham (Thomas M. Wright) picking up a couple of coffee mugs stored handles out—the same way Matt likes to store them—underscores how close the so far sympathetic Johnno is to his misogynistic dad, in spite of the fact that we haven't seen them together once. It's subtle foreshadowing of the episode's late revelation that even the kind Johnno isn't completely reliable—he knows more about Robin's rape than he has let on.
No man can be trusted. Not even the erudite lawman, Al, who one gets the creeping sensation is less interested in getting in Robin's pants, as it might appear from the way he wines and dines her, than in impeding Robin's missing person investigation. Al applies pressure by perversely reminding Robin everyone in Laketop is aware of her past trauma. And after Al's insistence that she have another glass of wine, she passes out a bit too easily. Given her history it's not unusual that waking up in her underwear and Al's shirt would distract a hung over Robin from a crucial moment of weakness at dinner earlier. While Robin was acutely concerned with Al's behavior towards her while unconscious, she completely misses the fact that Al now possesses the only evidence Tui offered her before she went missing—the enigmatic answer to the question of who raped her scrawled on a piece of paper.
Perhaps the most peculiar male in Laketop is Tui's mute schoolmate Jamie (Luke Buchanan), who answers questions by raising either of his hands in the air—one palm tattooed "Yes," the other "No." Robin suspects Jamie is withholding vital information regarding the pregnant Tui. She intimidates the boy enough to get him to talk, but he still refuses to admit he knows anything about the missing girl. Is Jaime conforming to the code of silence practiced by the rest of Laketop's males? Or is Jaime the first of them to break the pattern, holding his tongue to protect the vulnerable Tui? I suspect we'll find out soon enough.