TV Review - Top of the Lake

Thomas M. Wright (left), Elisabeth Moss (center)
and David Wenham in "Top of the Lake"
This TV series from New Zealand received 8 Emmy nominations. It's up for Outstanding Miniseries or Movie. It originally aired on the Sundance Channel. I viewed it on Netflix Watch Instant where it was divided into seven episodes, and I was really riveted for those initial six episodes. It's the last episode that killed things for me. There's a soap opera-style twist that I thought was pretty awful and there was a lot of characters who would converge and rather didn't.

Co-written and directed by Jane Campion, the story centers on two girls who have been raped. One is a police woman who was raped 15 years ago and who is now investigating the rape of the other who is only 12 years old. To make matters worse, the 12-year-old is pregnant with her rapist's child, something that the police woman may or may not have shared.

The power of the series is the portrait painted of the town and the people in it that could have led to these crimes as well as others. It's a great portrait in terms of its mood and setting being captured in such a stark way. The story of what happened to the 12-year-old girl and the police investigation brings great moments and introduces intriguing characters, but the show drifts and there are some things that are compelling to watch in the moment, but don't go anywhere.

Elisabeth Moss stars as Robin, the 30-year-old police detective who returns to New Zealand from Australia to visit her ailing mother who is suffering from cancer. Al, played by David Wenham, is the Detective Sergeant who calls her to help on the case of Tui, played by Jacqueline Joe, the girl who's pregnant and underage. Robin suspects Tui's father Matt, played by Peter Mullan, an old, grisled man who is involved in a lot of shady things, including running a meth lab, à la Breaking Bad. Tui runs away from Matt and takes refuge with an all-women support group living out of cargo containers in a huge, open field. The group is led by a long, grey-haired, Earthy woman named GJ, played by Academy Award-winner Holly Hunter (The Piano and Broadcast News). Robin is engaged to a man back in Australia, but while in New Zealand she re-kindles a high-school relationship she had with Tui's half-brother Johnno, played by Thomas M. Wright.

All of these characters are very distinct and memorable. Campion and co-writer Gerard Lee uses them to great effect by crafting some wonderful and truly shocking scenes. It just feels like a lot of those scenes were unnecessary to the narrative and dragged out for no real reason. No offense to Holly Hunter but GJ and the whole all-women group could have been eliminated all-together from this. They don't add much of anything to the narrative.

The scene in Episode 1 where Matt meets the all-women group is fantastic. It also sets up a conflict between Matt and the women that really goes to a dead end in more ways than one. More should have been done with it, concerning the conflict. Matt explodes at the women in Episode 4, but nothing more happens afterward nor in between.

I understand the theme that Campion is pushing. The men and women in this town have difficulty relating to one another. It goes to an extreme where by the end it seems as if every woman in this area has no interest in having what would be considered a traditional, romantic relationship with a man and every man in this area is simply a rapist, sexual predator or abuser in some way.

In Episode 2, there is a man and a woman who aren't really identified and who conform to the theme, but, they come together any way in a great if awkward sex scene that could have been built to something but doesn't. Episode 2, as far as I could see, does nothing to advance the investigation for Tui's rapist as well as her disappearance. Robin chases a red herring, but it ends with her getting no clue or crumb to the case. Yes, the show can have red herrings, but dedicating a whole episode to such seems like a waste.

Episodes 3, 4, 5 and 6 do have Robin finding puzzle pieces and stitching the story of Tui's rape as well as the story of her own. Each episode moves her closer, and each move is thrilling in small and big ways. Each episode also further builds the romance or certainly the sex life between Robin and Johnno, which has interesting ups and downs in and of itself.

Things go south in Episode 7. A secret is revealed in that last episode that was so ridiculous and so awful that it had me very frustrated. The series ends in a safe place, distant from that secret, but the so-called secret puts the series in an unsafe place for most of that episode and threatened to make the show nastier than even what it is, which is a show full of rapists and pedophiles. Campion and Lee rescue it, but the stain of the secret left a bad taste in my mouth.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-MA.
Running Time: 50 mins.


Popular Posts