With just an hour to go in Top Of The Lake, answers are finally, tantalizingly close. So why is it still so disquieting? Robin has some hacker friends investigate Bob Platt’s computer, and inside a ZIP folder are pictures of, well, something nefarious. Robin looks at, like, three pictures in a folder of many before the editing takes us away in typical Top Of The Lake fashion. If Robin gets any clues from Bob’s computer, the audience certainly doesn’t. There’s definitely a deer head in there, though, like the one in Al’s office, like the one in Matt’s dining area, like the one at the dance, the list goes on. That dead animal trophy almost has the connotations of a Lars Von Trier movie.
Speaking of Al, the more he protests his innocence the night Robin passed out at his place, the more suspicious he becomes. It doesn’t help that he brings it up out of the blue in a vulnerable place like the tight space between two cars in a parking garage, and it’s almost irredeemable that he does so as a prelude to another romantic proposition. “I didn’t rape you when I could have, so do you wanna go out this weekend?” Johnno may not say once and for all that he had nothing to do with Robin’s rape, but his actions are repeatedly heroic. He rescues Robin by boat, he races the hunters to Tui, he tries to find the man who shot at Robin. But Al is giving out warning signs, not to mention outright offenses, all over the place. He takes Robin boating and then surprises her in the middle of the lake by bringing out Matt, whom he had been hiding. He refuses to take her to shore—this is where Johnno’s boat rescue comes in—and then he sets her up with a one-on-one interview at Matt’s house. Robin is baffling lately, secretly looking into Al’s finances but totally buying this confession idea even after the boat trip. Even Bob Platt can see that Al and Matt are in some kind of cahoots, and that guy went out on a boat with Matt and his sons after cheating him. But back to that night Robin passed out at Al’s, now that you mention it, what was up with that? That Rohypnol is floating around the edges of the story is very unsettling.
At the very least, Jamie wasn’t using Rohypnol to rape women. Johnno chalks up the roofies to adolescent experimentation in the latest skewed outburst of gender politics. But apparently Jamie is not the father of Tui’s child, which is only discovered after he is hounded to his death by Matt’s hunters. At last there’s a solid answer and it’s too late. There’s no comfort in resolution.
That scene is the standout, and not just because the search for Tui has been driving the heft of the miniseries. The sequence begins when Matt’s hunters find the string that leads to Tui’s alarm bell. Tui and Jamie are in her shelter. Tui makes no bones about warning them off, shooting dangerously close to them. But the kids abandon the shelter, the familiar blue hoodie firing at the hunters as the other scrambles up the hill. Robin and Johnno hear the shots. Johnno races directly up and sends Robin to follow the river around. With the minimalism of just people and landscape and the magical geography that bends to the story, it feels mythic. At its best, the whole series does. A dozen shots of figures and agendas racing each other to the top of a mountain later, and Tui slips and falls, sliding down the side of the mountain and then off a ledge. When Robin sees her in free fall, it knocks the wind out of you. When it turns out that Jamie and Tui switched jackets, that Jamie drew the hunters away from Tui and died to protect her, it’s all the more moving.
There’s another interesting fact about Jamie: Turns out he’s gay. His mother implies that that’s a dangerous word ’round these parts, but Jane Campion and Gerard Lee sure took their sweet time complicating the gender structure of Laketop. (Then again, as we’re reminded again with a cut to credits that even Mad Men would blush at, Top Of The Lake is a one-sitting deal, not episodic television. Viewers aren’t necessarily meant to drink in the dregs of heteronormativity for a whole month.) Jamie and Tui are or rather were just friends. Like Robin and Johnno turning the usual gender associations on their ears, when the kids are under attack, look what happens: Tui picks fight, Jamie picks flight. There’s also a fun, albeit foreboding, scene where some friends come visit Tui for her birthday. No weird power structures or practice violence. These kids aren’t adhering to any cycle of violence yet. Maybe there’s a way forward after all.
- Matt’s “cleaners” and “accountant” are “reading” Blue Velvet for “their book club.” Top Of The Lake functions partly as a catalog of references to gender-war pop culture.
- Someone shoots at Robin. Life goes on. Sometimes I really don’t understand this fictional universe.
- Matt interrupts one of his sons mid-coitus. The other one also sees. The Mitchams are a tight-knit bunch.
- Jamie says the man who knocked up Tui is the dark creator who sucks the heart out of people. Then he tells his friends they know who did it. “Wake up.” Hey, it’s more forthcoming than yes/no hands.
- Jamie also mimes childbirth from the kid’s point of view to show Tui how easy it will be. Just when he becomes my favorite character, he’s gone forever.
- Jamie’s mother wants to testify against Matt and claims some others will join her. We’ll see.
- The word “scene” overstates it, but the final scene sets the stage for the ultimate showdown with admirable concision. Robin says her distress code: “‘That’s unacceptable.’ If I say it twice, it means get reinforcements.”
For a while, the last hour of Top Of The Lake actually feels hopeful, which is saying something for an episode that begins with the protagonist learning she’s sleeping with her half-brother. “There is no match for the tremendous intelligence of the body,” GJ says, but look where that got everyone. Robin and Johnno process this information, but before long, they’re racing Matt to Tui. Matt gets there first and runs off with the baby. At the time I wondered if he says, “Kids don’t have kids,” because he believes Tui is biologically incapable of conception or if he’s just in denial. Anyway, he points his rifle at the baby. Johnno points his gun at Matt. And Tui shoots both of them in succession, fatally in the case of her father. Robin holds her in her arms and tells her everything is going to be okay. And it seems like it actually is. Paradise actually seems tranquil for once.
But as they say, all good things must come to a final-act twist. Apparently Al is involved in some child-molestation ring. The barista-program pizza parties, the roofies, it’s so obvious in the end that Robin figures it out staring at the barista pictures like she’s in Veronica Mars season two right down to the rack zoom. She shows up, Matt’s shirt is inside out, he harasses her, she shoots him. Lotta that going around. Mercifully these particular kids just seem drugged so far, not molested. Robin points her gun and her phone at the crime scene and only has to use one.
Top Of The Lake is obnoxiously deterministic. We should probably be grateful Johnno never revealed himself to be into hostel torture, or maybe that’s the subtext. But that’s because the series is more symbolic, and all the roiling themes actually tie into this coup de grace. Al and his buddies pass on the violence to the next generation. Remember what Jamie said about the dark creator who rips out hearts? There is a gender component, even if one of the kids was male. There’s the institutionalization of patriarchy in Al’s badge and the corrupt juvenile-corrections program. And there’s the upsetting solution: violence. Technically Tui acts in defense of her newborn (and she just clips Johnno, who survives), and Robin can likely claim self-defense, as well. But women on Top Of The Lake have two options—fight or flight—and the big heroes pick the former.
Getting past the blindside, the seventh episode foregrounds familial themes of incest and surrogate family. Robin turns out to be Matt’s biological daughter, but Johnno conveniently turns out not to be. Al claims Matt is the father of Tui’s child, too, but guess who has reason to lie about that! There’s evidence Matt is the father, but there’s also his erectile dysfunction, and now there’s another suspect in Al or one of his pals. (In other slightly open questions, it’s pretty obvious now that Al raped Robin that night. The misery of patriarchy is inescapable.) Before Al shows his second face, though, there’s a pretty funny “Go ask your mom” scene that casts him, Robin, and Tui as a happy, little family. Most of the time, though, Robin and Johnno play mom and dad for Tui. Like Robin picking the man who raised her over Matt, you really can choose family.
In the end Robin tries to scrub Al’s blood off her shirt in the lake. At first I rolled my eyes at the cherry on top of the essentialist sundae. The last we see the hero of the gender war, she’s doing laundry. But it’s a complicated image. For one, it represents yet another traumatic period in Robin’s life that will drive her in the future. But there’s a wider implication. Laketop still doesn’t feel safe. Even GJ is fleeing to the opposite side of the planet, fading into the west like Galadriel. Laketop may have lost some authority figures, but those corrupt institutions have training programs with seconds-in-command waiting to take the reins. This will all be passed on. That blood ain’t coming out.
- After all that, I’m with GJ. I just want to get away from these crazy bitches.