This recap contains spoilers from the fourth episode of "Top of the Lake," airing April 1.
How do the characters in “Top of the Lake” communicate with each other, and how quickly do they choose to divulge information? This is a central question in this week’s episode, which finds significance in both a harrowing, complex monologue and the two most basic written responses in our language.
Though Al misjudges the tone of the evening, he correctly surmises that Tui’s case is hitting particularly close to home for Robin. In a stunning monologue that reminds us yet again of Elisabeth Moss’ vast natural talents as an actress -- as if five seasons of being “Mad Men” MVP Peggy Olsen weren’t enough -- Robin reveals that she was gang-raped as a young teenager living in Laketop. She subsequently had a baby daughter, who she put up for adoption, and who has recently contacted her in hopes of getting to know her biological parents. Robin doesn’t reveal -- and probably doesn’t know -- which of her four rapists is the father, but we do learn that Laketop local Sarge (Oscar Redding) was one of the culprits.
Al, who hasn’t been given much of a character arc up to this point in the series, here walks a queasily smudged line between vague gentlemanliness and predatory sexism. Probably fifteen years Robin’s senior, Al worked on the police force at the time of Robin’s rape and assures her that the young men were adequately punished (read: not incarcerated), even mentioning that Matt Mitcham forced Sarge to lick the buttholes of the other assailants as a method of humiliation. Al’s assumption that a revenge scenario, as opposed to legal justice, would quell Robin’s pain of being brutally violated shows not only his brazen misunderstanding of the situation, but also reflects the general misogyny lurking at the heart of Laketop society.
Equally upsetting are the following events of the evening. Robin becomes fall-over drunk, a reaction not in keeping with the amount of wine we see her drinking. “What was the alcohol level of that red?” she asks Al the next morning, with unapologetic suspicion in her voice. More importantly, she wakes up in Al’s bed, wearing his shirt and her underwear. He claims she threw up on her clothes, and that he didn’t take advantage of the situation. It speaks to the series’ subtle characterizations that in an episode where Al potentially date-rapes Robin -- we don’t know what happens between those crucial edits of Robin stumbling belligerently downstairs and waking up the next morning -- that we also feel a pang of sadness for Al. He’s a lonely guy, whether puttering about in his geometric mansion or forlornly waiting outside of Robin and Johnno’s tent.
Johnno Mitcham wasn’t one of Robin's rapists (as Robin heartbreakingly mentions to Al, “He was my date,”) but Robin’s interest in rekindling a romance with him could be a subconscious move on her part to right the trauma of their abruptly ended first love, to find closure but also to recapture a sense of innocence.
In the later part of this episode, we see flashbacks to the night of Robin’s rape, as she and Johnno discuss what happened. Two points of significance: First, Johnno mentions that he has “something bad” to tell Robin about that evening, though he doesn’t elaborate; and second, we see a deerhead mounted on the dancehall wall during the prom flashback. Not only does the image of a deerhead have prominence in the show’s gorgeous opening credits, but similar taxidermied bucks adorn both Matt Mitcham’s home and Al’s office.
When Sarge approaches Robin at the local bar and fails to recognize her, he gives her this piggish come-on: “Have we fucked?” Robin breaks a beer glass in half and grinds the jagged end into Sarge’s torso, at which point Johnno intervenes, hauling her kicking and screaming out the bar. This sudden burst of passion -- both disturbingly grizzly and admirably badass -- gets Robin kicked off the Tui investigation the next morning.
Meanwhile, who is the person in the blue hoodie from Tui’s home videos? Robin catches a glimpse of the adolescent apparition while jogging, but loses him. (I couldn’t help but be reminded during this wonderfully ghostly sequence of Nicolas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now” -- the primary-colored coat, the allusive nature and unknown identity of the person wearing it, the pursuer being lead into a malovelent labyrinth of mystery.) The blue hoodie-wearer turns out not to be a murderous dwarf but a local teen named Jamie (Luke Buchanan), a bone collector who’s taken an oath of silence against adults. When Robin tries to interview him, he holds up a hand in response: One hand has “Yes” written on it, while the other reads “No.”
When we look at Jamie’s silence in contrast with Robin’s monologue about her rape, it becomes apparent that this episode is about communication, and the strange intersection between personal stories and secrets. Robin is suddenly verbally forthcoming about her past -- and her spoken words are sharp, stinging and devastating -- while Tui’s disappearance is visually signified by one major yet brief written statement, “No one.” Similarly, Jamie’s opacity on the subject is signaled by the “Yes” and “No” on his hands. The secret of Tui’s disappearance isn’t yet ready to be revealed; it isn’t yet ready to be spoken out in the open like Robin’s heartrending history.
Bits and pieces: