Top of the Lake 01-03
In the first two episodes of the Sundance Channel’s new series Top of the Lake, we met the characters:
Tui Mitcham – a 12 year old girl who tried to kill herself as the series began. She’s both pregnant and missing.
Robin Griffin – a brave detective with a specialization in sex crimes called in as a consultant in the search for Tui Mitchell. She’s tough – but she carries secrets.
Detective Sergeant Al Parker – Robin’s boss and mentor. He’s a policeman who appears to be a gentleman whereas his associates appear to include some lowlifes working as cops.
Matt Mitcham – Tui’s father. He’s more than violent. He’s the show’s main source of power, mayhem, and menace. We never know what to expect from him.
GJ – In The Matrix, the Oracle was embodied by a nondescript woman in a house dress. GJ may lack otherworldly powers – but she still conducts herself as an Oracle. She runs the New Age compound for women at Paradise.
Our discussion with reader FD continues;
JMM: I detected a distinct change in direction in Episode Three. The first two episodes got the story going, introduced the settings, the characters, and gave us the mystery of Tui’s disappearance. But this time – I think the story didn’t quite go forward as much as the three lead characters: Robin, Al, and Matt – were given a whole lot more depth. Does this seem accurate to you, or is your take on the episode different?
FD: Yes, I thought this episode drifted far too much. It seems like most cable series lack appropriate pacing (this was also true of The Killing which ran 20 episodes over two years!).
Episode 3 was a cavalcade of Campion characters, but there was far too much time spent on sex and drugs while the mystery engine was left idling. I also thought the investigation turned up too many obvious red herrings. Did you think maybe someone was being framed?
JMM: Not quite. One of the red herrings from last week, the Austrian barkeeper Wolfie, can no longer be considered a suspect in the disappearance of Tui. I do believe he’s going to be blamed, but I don’t think that will fly.
Who else can be considered a possible candidate/suspect in Tui’s disappearance?
FD: Hold it! Tui may have left on her own. We’re not sure Tui’s dead yet, are we? So far, we have no reason to assume that.
JMM: No one said she was dead. I was referencing the red herrings.
FD: Okay the red herrings – We do know that Platte’s dead. We do know there was a hanging. And we were shown the graves of some dead animals. Clearly, with Tui still unaccounted for, these events were red herrings, so no surprises there. On the other hand, I was surprised by Robin’s sexual encounters (I’m about to get married – I don’t want to fall in love).
JMM: The first time with Johnno, in the ladies room in the bar, she was surprised and passive, and the second time, she just wanted it.
FD: But, the best part of last night’s episode was Holly Hunter’s performance as GJ. Totally original! She’s so good, I’m sorry she has to compete against so many other unusual character types. GJ is riveting. The others, not so much.
JMM: Strange people may live in out-of-the-way places. They may also live around the corner. While I agree that Hunter is great as GJ – her character is throwing off a remarkable amount of mumbo-jumbo, seeing into the future, and outright scary talk, along with mysticism. I‘ve no idea what she’s about. What do you make of her?
FD: I like GJ. She makes a lot of sense to me. She understands the women who live in her commune better than they do. And she’s got a sense of what’s going on with Matt Mitcham, better than he seems to have. How about that guy? Talking to his dead Mom…and self-flagellation? He’s as weird as GJ, but he makes no sense to me.
JMM: I don’t get him him either. But at least we now know that there are profit motives that at least make up a good part of his activity.
FD: Do you think Tui left on her own?
JMM: Impossible to answer that with certainty. I think there are three possibilities: Taken by force – if this is the case it should have been shown. Left on her own – very possible – guilt and shame about the pregnancy. The third option is that she is being helped/hidden by those in a position to best help her – which leads us back to the gates of Paradise. But all of that is conjecture and guesswork, not fact.
FD: Yes, and, if she left voluntarily, we may have a somewhat different story — about other crimes past, present, and future? And Tui’s disappearance may be another red herring. Many questions, but unfortunately, for me none of these questions has really landed a grip on me. I’m not sure whether this show is a mystery or a character drama. Mystery and character development are difficult ingredients to mix. What question(s) are you most focused on?
JMM: I think the main questions for me are: Where is Tui, where will GJ take us, and what will become of Robins vis-a-vis Johnno and Al?
Do you see these as the main ones or do you have a different one ?
FD: I’m saying that I’m losing my interest in solving these questions. There are too many different threads and esoteric characters to ponder. So the question for me is — why is the story meandering like a slow bayou?
JMM: Well, we opened with these same thoughts. And we agreed that the story suffered in this episode. Maybe it is what you said – they’re changing direction and are edging into it rather than just dropping in a quick resolution to one or more of the questions.
Since you remarked about liking the GJ character and Hunter’s performance so much – what do you think the relevance is and where is she headed?
FD: I don’t know. GJ is a terrific character, but I can’t guess what her purpose is. She is a mystery which we may never solve. To stay on my theme a bit longer, I think Campion is more concerned with character than plot. Her story often feels like a circus sideshow. But, the action in the main ring is underplayed here.
I need to see tigers, not more buried sheep.
JMM: Clearly Matt is the tiger – is Robin a sheep (tiger food) or is she a predator herself?
FD: Matt started as a tiger, but he became more of a pussycat this week. Robin has a lot of internal conflict. She seems much less driven than the detective in The Killing, who also left her fiance hanging.
The show needs a shot of adrenalin, not LSD. I really hope this mystery train gets moving in Episode 4.
JMM: Okay – on this we agree. You mentioned that above – too much emphasis on sex and drugs. But let’s examine Matt for a moment. Initially, he wanted the ladies off the Paradise property. Now he is sitting in on their meetings, bringing flowers, dating Anita and then tripping with her.
In short trying to either get inside their community, or simply buddy up for what at the moment is an unknown reason. Any ideas on that? Or is it simply a meandering script that has lost its focus?
FD: That is up to the viewer. Personally, I like a lean mean mystery. But, I suspect that this one has a lot of calories. I think the writer could have trimmed some fat, but, as I said, maybe she prefers a rich thick stew. Matt is stirring up the pot, so nothing boils.
Is this recipe to your taste? Or are you disappointed?
JMM: As you said, that is up to the viewer. And we are repeating on this point. I opened with stating that the shows lost it’s traction. But am I disappointed? Not really. The show will get back on track. And I really think they will trim off the fat. Clearly there’s a collision coming. It just didn’t happen yet.
Likely, they will satisfy the action fans and the mystery fans with someone being killed off. And soon. But I don’t see it being any one major. But that brings to mind GJ’s warning to Robin about going down hard, face in the dirt – and so forth. Campion wrote this – so I think there was a purpose to it. That remark can’t be just GJ being ‘spacey’ or be unimportant.
FD: GJ is important. She told Matt what he’ll see at the end of the universe. The secret growing inside his daughter, Tui.
So, with some reluctance, we have to keep watching.
JMM: Only Tui’s pregnancy is not a secret. I’ll connect Tui to Robin for a moment. Robin is fixated on Tui. A maternalism emerging from within her.. And at the end of the episode, she claims that she understands what and why Tui wrote ‘no one’ on the slip of paper very early on in episode 1 – Care to venture any guesses on that?
FD: The secret is who is the father of Tui’s child. Hopefully, Robin gets focused on this question next week.
And on that note we will tie it off for the week. Both reader FD and I agree that the show stumbled a bit this week – kind of went off the rails and lost momentum. While FD says that reluctantly he will watch the show next week, I will soft pedal a bit. I won’t use the term reluctant, but I will say that I’m not as eager to see TOTL as I was going in to this 3rd episode.
What about you?