by Tony Dayoub
The Sundance Channel has wisely decided to wrap up Top of the Lake next week, airing its last two episodes on Monday night. Hopefully, this might stave off some of that Are-we-there-yet feeling which creeped into this week's episode. I've championed the series so far, despite criticism from some quarters that the mystery has been too drawn out. After all, the point is hardly the puzzle concerning the missing Tui Mitcham (Jacqueline Joe). When pressed, I'm sure even the most naïve viewer could tell you beat for beat the way in which Top of the Lake's plot will unfold. What makes a show such as this so rewarding is the unique alchemy between the cast of characters populating Laketop, Paradise, and the police force investigating Tui's disappearance, which we find out in this episode occurred two months ago. Perhaps that story point explains why this episode felt so static, not just from a story standpoint but in terms of exploring the central characters.
On the one hand, there were significant developments such as the passing of Robin's mother Jude (Robyn Nevin), who achieved some measure of peace from a brief powwow with the shamanistic GJ (Holly Hunter). But the way it played seemed almost like an afterthought. Robin (Elisabeth Moss) seems more caught up with the Tui Mitcham case, her burgeoning romance with old flame Johnno (Thomas M. Wright) and the mixed feelings arising from her recollections of the rape that sent her fleeing from Laketop long ago. This episode doled out information on each of these subplots the way one would hand out M&Ms to a classroom full of pre-schoolers, just enough to keep them from complaining but not so much to have their parents lecturing you about the dangers of sweets the next day. In other words, a lot of this episode felt like filler in anticipation of next week's big finale.
So here's what didn't feel like filler: Robin and Johnno's nude romp in the woods, which starts off romantically before Johnno discovers Sarge (Oscar Redding) and his buddy taking pictures of the two. Sarge clumsily stabs Johnno in the leg sending him and Robin to Paradise for medical assistance. Did anyone else find it out of character for the strait-laced, obsessive Robin to take a romantic interlude midway through tracking of Tui's friend, Jamie... and in potential view of any individuals (like Sarge) who raped her years ago? There was also the cameo appearance by TV's most famous Kiwi, Lucy Lawless (Xena: Warrior Princess), nearly unrecognizable as the mousy, estranged widow of the late Bob Platt. She seems to hold a pivotal piece of info which might break the case... which Top of the Lake conveniently withholds in order to continue stringing us along. (Geez, what a copout that was when Johnno finally fessed up what he was holding back last week about the night Robin got raped. Stringing viewers along like this is exactly the kind of pitfall serialized dramas have to look out for lest they alienate their loyal viewers.)
Most intriguing of all is Top of the Lake's recurring imagery throughout this episode of men punishing themselves, whether it's Johnno's foolish attempts to redeem himself for being unable to defend Robin all of those years ago; Al's unnervingly random marriage proposal to Robin after her continual rebuffs; Jamie's continuous head-banging whenever he feels an overwhelming temptation to break his vow of silence concerning Tui; or the flagellation Matt Mitcham (Peter Mullan) brings onto himself at his mother's grave. Like the monster behind Laura Palmer's murder in Twin Peaks, Matt seems equally deserving of both pity and horror. The depth of sadness he feels because of Tui's absence is matched only by the fury he unleashes on his son when the young man questions him about an incident where he witnessed Tui atop her father as he lay flat on his back. All of these men carry some guilt concerning the neglect of a woman. Next week we should finally learn how it all ties together.