by Tony Dayoub
Top of the Lake wrapped up with a special 2-hour airing of its final two episodes last week. And you may be asking why it's taken so long for me to post a recap. I apologize, but I wanted to give everyone a chance to see the series finale before I speak about some of the show's revelations freely. More importantly, I wanted to re-watch Top of the Lake in its entirety in order to gain better perspective on what I discovered was its excellent, airtight construction. So if you haven't watched the series conclusion yet, read no further as this is the final spoiler warning I'll offer.
Watching Top of the Lake with the benefit of hindsight crystallized a lot of the theories I had percolating in my head and throughout these weekly reviews. More than ever, it's obvious that whoever Robin's real parents are—and despite what Al Parker (David Wenham) says to Johnno Mitcham (Thomas M. Wright) in its final episode, I do believe they are Matt Mitcham (Peter Mullan) and Jude (Robyn Nevin)—the show proposes that, in a metaphysical sense, her parentage is quite different. Consider that the single most defining moment in the life of Detective Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) is her rape as a teen at the hands of Sarge (Oscar Redding) and his friends in front of the helpless young Johnno. Then consider how it altered Robin's life, causing her to flee Laketop to the more civilized Australia where she had a baby and gave her up for adoption, matured and became a cop. In a sense, she de-feminized herself, giving up her maternal instincts to join the boys' club that Detective Sgt. Al Parker represents. Her return to Laketop is the first step she takes in re-acquiring the feminine mystique she gave up.
Robin returns to Laketop to accept this inheritance from her dying mother, Jude. Little does she know that it is really her involvement with the pregnant Tui Mitcham (Jacqueline Joe)—an innocent oblivious of how she was raped—that will help her re-attain the feminine instinct she has long suppressed. Tui is all maternal instinct, hissing as she shoots her own dad, Matt, when he tries to abscond with her newborn—a moment foreshadowed in Top of the Lake's very first episode when she pointed her gun at Matt after overhearing him tell Al he was going to take her to get an abortion. That she also nicks her half-brother Johnno is incidental; he is a man and a Mitcham. As Robin regains her feminine awareness, her still fledgling instincts misguide her. She too is distrustful of the Mitchams, even of her lover, the kind Johnno.
The awkward, creepy Al sends out more red flags—his random marriage proposal ("...redeem me or exterminate me..."); his strange connection to the town's outcast children. And just how can he afford that well-appointed bachelor pad in the town's millionaire's row? Robin's desire to fit into Al's professional boys' club, a supposed organization of protectors, leads her to misplace her trust in him over any other man—especially a Mitcham. Even when all of Top of the Lake's evidence points to the fact that no matter what other failings he might have, Matt is the true protector of women—employing Laketop's outcast females in his meth lab, giving them free lodging, and driven to venerate his late mother to the point of perverse distraction. Matt may be Robin's biological father, but Al represents her metaphysical one—the uber-male, the aggressive, cowardly instinct in men to abuse, lust and rule over women.
Who is Robin's meta-mother then? A clue may be found in the white hair of her biological mother, Jude. In a purely visual sense it ties her to the silver-haired guru in charge of the feminist colony of Paradise, GJ (Holly Hunter). Is that so hard to believe? GJ is essentially the mother of everyone else in Laketop. She offers instinctual pronouncements which betray a certain self-awareness as well as an awareness of those seeking her advice even though she's often never met them. And everyone from Matt to Robin to Tui seek counsel from her. The only one who never comes looking for answers from GJ is Al, her opposite number.
Al's maneuvering to sideline Robin from the investigation, her retirement from the police force and her ultimate decision to seek asylum in Paradise under the aegis of GJ—where Robin forms a nuclear family with Johnno and Tui, her half-brother and sister—is a shift indicative of her self-actualization, a transition from the masculine back to the feminine. Top of the Lake's creator, Jane Campion, subverts the noir structure that serves as the show's foundation, allowing Robin to achieve a kind of redemption that is usually impossible for the noir hero. Robin accepts charge of Tui's baby in order to free her half-sister to continue to be a child. It is only in fully embracing her new role as the maternal protector that Robin is able to finally recognize that Al impregnated Tui and is abusing Laketop's kids. Al is the first to recognize the path Robin is on, explaining why one isn't often sure whether he wants to help her or hinder her. For Al, whether she saves or exterminates him, Robin represents a way out of his predatory cycle. Executing Al, the show's most potent symbol of misdirected virility, is the final step of Robin's odyssey. This reinforces that Top of the Lake is essentially a journey parable, one where Robin comes back to herself.