Top of The Lake – Episode 5: Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain – Instead Concentrate on the Moral Complexities

Top of the Lake on the Sundance Channel continues as does our conversation. With 5 episodes already aired, just two remain, and I think the conclusion (the last two episodes) will be a two hour presentation. The show has managed to intrigue as well as frustrate. Neither of us have any answers that we can bank on. Read on.

FD: When we started this series of reviews, I said Top of the Lake was a show that tried my patience. It still is. Following Episode 5, Jane Campion and Co-director Garth Davis explained that unlike most procedurals that steadily ratchet up suspense, they’re attempting something different. They are portraying the community, not the crime genre staples focused on motive, means, and opportunity. They say they’re telling us a morally complex story. The question is, is it working? Are defying genre conventions and viewer expectations giving us something better?

Per Jane Campion - this is more about a morally complex community than a who-done-it

Per Jane Campion – this is more about a morally complex community than a who-done-it

JMM: I can’t say that it is better, but it’s not a bad idea. However, their execution seems to be flawed. Community works if the community is focused on a specific issue, event , or problem. However this community is simply the same as any other – individuals struggling with problems.
and compounding that is that they continue to introduce events that seem to come out of nowhere. ‘Morally complex’ describes anywhere and likely everywhere – not just Laketop.

FD: Yes, I agree the story is flawed. First, I’m not getting a sense of community. I’m meeting a series of reclusive and secretive, emotionally damaged male characters, and a loose assortment of female oddballs. Such people certainly do exist, but at Top of the Lake, no one seems on the low-end of the autism scale. Odd characters may be interesting, but not necessarily complex. In fact, neither the story or the characters seem complex to me. Moving on, let’s try to figure out what, if anything, is going on in this community. For instance, is Johnno a good person as Robin wants to believe, or another dark figure as Robin’s mother implied?

Right after this, Robin's Mom asks Robin to not see Johnno any more without giving a reason

Right after this, Robin’s Mom asks Robin to not see Johnno any more without giving a reason

JMM: Good question, but not the key question. Robin’s mother did not imply that he was a dark figure – she asked (requested) that Robin not go any further with him. Why? There’s an obvious possibility – Johnno might be her son. But she died – so the question remains.

Good guy? Or a bad guy?And who's son is he?

Good guy? Or a bad guy?
And who’s son is he?

FD: So we have another twist among innumerable similar riddles. Robin’s mother slept with Mitcham? And Bob Platt saw something so terrible, he’s dead. Any idea what that might have been? Or why Jamie keeps saying that Robin doesn’t know anything. Or why Al Parker suddenly popped a marriage proposal to Robin. Something must be going on, but there’s so many riddles in Laketop, I’m not sure which clues lead somewhere. Heck, I’m not sure what the story is about…

Johnno tells Robin something she didn't know about the night when she was raped 15 years ago

Johnno tells Robin something she didn’t know about the night when she was raped 15 years ago

JMM: Platt may have witnessed something which lead to his death, or he may have embezzled money on the Paradise property sale. Yes, Al’s proposal to Robin came out of left field seeing how he fired her last week. What Jamie is referencing is another puzzle , or riddle as you say – but if Robin doesn’t understand anything – then we understand even less.

Maybe Al wants to marry Robin, and get her pregnant – to get her off the case.

FD: Stop that. You don’t believe that and neither do I.

I think we can make sense of the story even if Campion is doing everything she can to hinder us. OK, Tui is alive, with a little help from her friend, Jamie. Who’s she hiding from? Her father? Why? She thinks he’s going to kill the fellow who got her pregnant. As long as she’s unreachable, there’s no way to find out who she’s protecting. Make sense to you?

JMM: Yes that makes sense – and the baby will be murdered and buried in the hole in the ground. Just theorizing. But according to Matt’s sons – he was seen on more than a few occasions having some strange activity in Tui’s bedroom with Tui. They didn’t say it was sex but they made it sound ‘unusual’.

Maybe this is the act Matt references when he visits his mother’s grave and applies a leather strap to his own back in penance. But like everything, it is still too cloudy in Laketop to tell.

FD: With only one episode left, let’s not theorize too imaginatively. I believe they said Tui was walking on her Dad’s back. I agree that’s pretty unusual, but not in Laketop! Deduction # 2. Who killed the girl on the road? It wasn’t suicide as Chief Detective Parker theorized. Heroin found in her vagina? Also pretty unusual, I’d say. No, it was the murder of another young girl. Now who blew that investigation? Parker right? And where’d the heroin come from. Mitcham right? So, the killer is either Parker or Mitcham, or both. What leverage does either man have on the other?

JMM: Al is a dirty cop. Not a killer. It is Mitcham that is paying him off – a) for the drug business, b) because Mitcham’s sons likely killed April Stephens (she was the drug mule), and 3) for other reasons not made clear to us yet. So Matt is paying and Al must have the knowledge which is the leverage.

I say this not to completely rule out Al as a homicide suspect – but it seems unlikely to me.

FD: Unless Al is a dirty old man as well as a dirty cop.

JMM: Interesting but Al didn’t touch Robin when she was passed-out drunk in his house. To the best of our knowledge.

FD: We haven’t solved the case, but we’ve turned up some interesting information. Why hasn’t Al found any murderers, Bob Platt’s murderer, Wolfie’s? April Stephens’? Who raped Robin? This is the worst Chief Detective I’ve seen in recent memory. I guess you think Mitcham and his sons murdered all these folks and paid off Al to look the other way. Perhaps, you’re right, but I don’t think so. I think Al looks the other way because Mitcham knows the cop is guilty. He’s the least likely suspect, isn’t he?

JMM: Now who is theorizing imaginatively? Anyway it could very well be that Al is the hitman for the Mitcham’s which would tie in with the original comment you made about the place being morally complex. And yes – like we’ve seen over the centuries, murderers are usually never who you suspect.

Let leave our readers with some questions:

Jamie's interrogation goes badly as Robin and Al play good cop/bad cop
Jamie’s interrogation goes badly as Robin and Al play good cop/bad cop

A Jamie’s headbanging? Why?
B. Who does Johnno chase in the woods – the guys that took the photos. Who are they?

Anything else on your mind?

FD: Yeah, I’ve got a long list… like The Killing, this show refuses to provide solid clues. We have to wait for the finale next Monday, but the show feels like a cheap magician who keeps distracting us. The rabbit is coming out next week, but we may all want our money back when the trick is revealed!

JMM: Don’t know about you, but my cable company will not be refunding for a problematic show. See ya.


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