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'Top of the Lake' Episode 5 Recap: The Body Knows What To Do

Television
by Beth Hanna
April 8, 2013 11:00 PM
14 Comments
  • |
Calvin Tuteao and Robyn Nevin in "Top of the Lake"
Calvin Tuteao and Robyn Nevin in "Top of the Lake"

This recap contains spoilers from the fifth episode of "Top of the Lake," airing April 8.

This week’s episode of “Top of the Lake” finds its characters combating feelings of helplessness -- from the past, from a seemingly impenetrable mystery, and from death.


Robin’s mother, Jude (Robyn Nevin), feeling terrified and powerless in the face of her terminal cancer, visits Paradise. She bathes nude with the gaggle of commune women, and then receives some terse yet strangely soothing advice from GJ: “Are you dying? Nothing wrong with that. Very natural. The body knows what to do, go with the body.” And then: “Get some heroin.”

Death or the imminence of death is something that’s often verbally tip-toed around, and Jude finds GJ’s blunt statement to be relieving, as she admits to Robin later at the house. However open she’s become to the prospect of dying, Jude is still not willing to accept a more recent development: Robin and Johnno’s romance. She pleads Robin not to see him, and Robin -- for the moment -- complies.

Top of the Lake

Johnno has been wrestling with his own feelings of helplessness, eventually confessing to Robin that he never tried to defend her from the four rapists on the night of her attack. In a lovely moment that shows Robin’s compassion but also her intuitive understanding of youth (she’s a specialist in children's cases, after all) she tells him: “There was nothing you could have done… You were a kid.” Nonetheless, Johnno still feels he has unfinished business with Sarge, the only one of Robin’s rapists still skulking around Laketop. He drags Sarge out of his trailer, roughs him up and scares him out of town, which is met with neighborhood applause. I appreciated the parallels here; Robin takes revenge on Sarge in last week’s episode, while Johnno finishes the job this week.

Unsurprisingly, Al wants Robin back on the Tui case. His actual motives behind this are unclear. He’s certainly pushing his romantic agenda with Robin, attempting to warn her away from her “drug addict friend” (Johnno), and abruptly asking her to marry him. As I mentioned last week, one of the many strengths of “Top of the Lake” is its ability to make fairly repulsive characters sympathetically human. When Robin contradicts Al late in the episode, his anger at her insubordination and then transparent attempt to make her jealous (“I’ve got a hair appointment and then a date with a lady, I’ve got a life”) is heart-tuggingly pathetic.

Speaking of repulsive yet sympathetic characters, Matt Mitcham is struggling with his sense of ineffectuality, too. As he bemoans to his mother’s grave, “I know I’m useless.” The poor man has the idea that Tui, a 12-year-old now missing for two months, will simply show up at home one night. For the second time in the series, Matt ascends the stairs to Tui’s bedroom, only to discover forlornly that she’s not there.

To combat the terrible feeling of doing nothing while his child remains missing, Matt announces to his live-in sons that he’s hired some hunters to find Tui and bring her back -- unharmed, and for a reward of $10,000. Luke and Mark are ambivalent. They mention a couple of occasions in the past, before Tui’s disappearance, where they found Matt passed out drunk on Tui’s bed, while the girl “was walking up and down on top of him.” This implication of incest doesn’t look good for Matt, and his wildly defensive, violent reaction to their accusation seems suspicious, too.

After a brief breakup, Robin and Johnno reunite when attempting to follow blue-hoodie wearer Jamie through the woods. Upon losing the elusive Jamie, the two decide to have sex in the forest. (This moment was a bit overwrought for my tastes.) Two unsavory forest dwellers -- who I at first assumed were Matt’s hired hunters, but now I’m not so sure -- discover the couple in the midst of sexy time, and film them with a phone. During a scuffle, Johnno grabs the phone, but gets slashed in the leg. Robin scares off the assailants with two shots of her handgun.

Top of the Lake

Robin gets Johnno safely to Paradise, where the commune women are only too happy to strip him of his clothes and apply pressure to the wound on his upper thigh. In the best scene of the episode, Johnno and Robin discover what other footage exists on the hunters’ phone -- namely,  a shot of Tui wandering in the woods, appearing like an apparition in her white parka before stepping out of view into the thicket of trees. It’s an elegant and moving sequence, not only because Robin and the women of Paradise alike are so relieved that the young girl apparently is alive, but because the discovery remains outside the realm of establishment. Paradise is about safety removed from society. The women wouldn’t dream of reporting Tui’s appearance -- something that might very well put the girl into greater harm -- but instead keep up the quiet hope that she’ll return again to the commune for help. Robin, as a member of that greater society, bides her time with this new information.

Upon Robin’s return to her mother’s house, she discovers that Jude has died in hospital. This blunt shock sadly echoes an earlier plot point in the series, where Robin missed a crucial doctor appointment due to her obsessive absorption with Tui’s case. At first, I found this development to be too rushed. Though Jude is contemplating death early in this episode, she’s certainly mobile and lucid, neither healthy nor immediately at death’s door. To have her die so suddenly seemed like a jarring collapse of narrative events.

But, of course, illness can overtake a person suddenly -- or gradually, while the increasing severity is kept private -- and leave the surviving world feeling confused, like a piece of the equation went missing. And so, as I realized upon my second viewing of this episode, the narrative of death doesn’t have to make sense. Indeed, I now think it’s another example of the series’ subtle, strange and compelling writing and structure. It also follows GJ's harsh logic: Like Jude's boyfriend, Turangi (Calvin Tuteao), we're the ones who experience Jude's death, in all its untimely and random abruptness.

Robin’s feelings of helplessness and guilt over her mother’s death are visually compared to Matt Mitcham’s. Notice how Robin’s anguish over her mother’s final voicemail is edited immediately before Matt’s self-flagellating at his mother’s grave. Why this visual and thematic parallel between Matt and Robin? Is there some further connection between these two characters that we don’t yet know about?

Top of the Lake

Matt’s masochistic behavior also finds echoes in Jamie. At the episode’s end, we see the teen slapping himself repeatedly while in custody. (During this sequence, Al inflicts a series of bizarre and humiliating punishments on Jamie, including forcing him to pantomime making tea. This makes Al’s suggestion of wanting to father Robin’s children all the more creepy. What kind of father would Al be?)

In this elongated interview scene, when Robin unwittingly plays good cop to Al’s bad cop, Jamie breaks his usual silence to scream “You don’t know anything!,” giving voice to the overall atmosphere of helplessness throughout this episode.  

But Jamie is right: There are things that Robin doesn’t know. She’s seen evidence of Tui’s survival, but where is she hidden? In the final rousing sequence, we’re given undeniable proof of Tui Mitcham’s existence, as Jamie brings bags of food deep into the forest. Upon his signal, the missing young girl appears, and begins ravenously devouring his offerings.

Bits and pieces:

  • Bob Platt’s wife approaches Robin and confides in her that before Bob’s death, he’d seen something terrifying. In an attempt to cash up and leave Laketop as soon as possible, he sold Paradise for $2 million.
  • After being re-hired by Al, Robin talks to an out-of-town journalist interested in Tui’s case, and mentions the local café’s barista course for troubled teens. Tui was part of this program.
  • Notable among Jamie’s possessions during his interview is a bottle of date-rape drug Rohypnol. 
  • This episode is directed by Garth Davis, and co-written by Jane Campion and Gerard Lee. 

14 Comments

  • Rose | April 14, 2013 9:52 PMReply

    April was killed on the highway as a suicide but I really believe that it was murder. Her father owed Matt Mitchum drug money and couldn't pay Matt back. I don't know if April was in the Barista training class's, but if she was it links her, Tui, Jamie, the kid holding the blue bear. He is at the barista while the reporter is asking Robin questions about Tui. The blue bear is the same bear found on Aprils's memorial when Robin goes up to see where April was killed.
    why haven't the kids from the Barista class questioned?
    The pathologist shows up and seems to be the only one to think Lake Top PD is hiding something.
    Clearly Zanuck hasn't committed suicide. his place is vandalized
    April is only 13 and committed suicide by hit and run?
    Bob Platt we know is murdered by Matt and his sons. He sees something terrifying before his death, according to his wife. but is killed for selling the Mitcnhum's land. ironically Robins father drowned in the lake when Robin was a kid.
    Ruffies- Al drugged Robin? maybe Tui was Ruffied and Al raped her. She got pregnant but can't remember, so she says no one. Jaime denies being the father, but he has the Ruffie bottle. He also denies the Ruffies are his. maybe the Ruffies were planted on him by Al.
    Johno still has a secret.. I don't think that he was totally honest with Robin.

  • Beth Hanna | April 14, 2013 10:51 PM

    @Rose -- Good observation on the blue bear link. Did you notice, when Robin is walking along the roadside toward April's memorial site, how the camera follows her for a few moments from inside an unidentified car? Almost as if she's being spied on. We never actually see the car, only a glimpse through its windshield, but the shot adds a great sense of unease to the scene.

  • DiDi | April 12, 2013 7:09 AMReply

    I am assuming this is moderated and therefore am prefacing with 'spoiler alert' - my opinion / observation only - I don't know this for certain obviously...

    My theory - Al is one of Robin's rapists! Probably the father of Robin's daughter.

    Recall the rape scene and the guy that confronts Matt - he pushes him to the ground and pulls him by the neck tie like a dog "good boy" - reminiscent of the scene with Jamie in the interview room - humiliation and power play. Also we know Al is dirty - taking money from Matt Mitcham on the boat in an earlier episode - pay off for turning a blind eye to the drug running etc.

    The cops are dirty and in on it - maybe a child pornography ring etc? Perhaps Tui was accidentally impregnated as part of something sinister going on and linked also to the young girl April's apparent 'suicide...the youth barista course is a link somehow!!! When in episode 4 Robin cottoned on to what Tui was "trying to tell her" I immediately thought exactly the same thing - there were a number of potential responsible parties because she had been systematically abused by more than one man... Revelations of Robin's gang rape were a surprise to me however, despite Johnno's early apology in an episode of "I'm sorry for what happened to you"....

    My thoeries anyhoo for what it's worth....I'm totally addicted to this series!!!

  • Aymlee | April 13, 2013 1:07 PM

    I kinda "like" the way you involve Al, but I think at the beginning Johnno said the name of the 4 rapists (they went away except for sarge...), but i think too he is involved with the other murder/peadophilia even if it's just silence & "no further investigation".
    Right from the beginning I "smelled" something with the barista^^

    can't wait for the next episode!

  • Aymlee | April 11, 2013 6:41 PMReply

    Jude was really kind of freaking out when she saw them kissing. Of course it's speculation. That's not a mother worried about her girl dating a drugking' son. (come on, Her daughter was raped and get pregnant and she didnt sue them......) So i also think either Matt is robin's father either he killed her dad (as previously stated here).

    I didn't like her mother until this episode (sorry she had to die for that), showing her caring her worrying to her daughter. Nice.

    (and really like your review, each time i say "thats exactly what i thought!")

  • Beth Hanna | April 11, 2013 8:21 PM

    @Aymlee -- Thanks for your comment. You're right that Jude's intensely negative reaction to Robin and Johnno kissing is a red flag, and likely not just about Matt Mitcham's reputation. It's interesting that you didn't like Jude until this episode. As I said in a comment below, the show does a great job of putting us in Robin's headspace. I think it sets up the character of Jude in such a way that we don't fully appreciate her until she's gone -- in the same way that Robin takes her for granted, and then is devastated by her death.

  • MandyMcAwesome | April 11, 2013 9:15 AMReply

    I just want you to know that I love reading your recaps for Top of the Lake. I dont know why more people arent watching (and recapping) this miniseries, but I am really enjoying it.

    I did notice that Al's stag head is hanging up again. I keep thinking "what did he do to Robyn after the wine". I dont think he raped her, but I think he did play house with her. That seems to be what he really wants.

    I dont think that Johnno never tried to defend her during the attack. He did say "no, stop, you'll ruin her". He did try, but I think he was stoned and knew he it was hopeless. Just knowing that gives us more insight to his reaction when Robyn called him while trapped in the (now dead) Austrian's house. He instantly came to her aide and after he saved her, he thought he was worthy of following her into the ladies room of a bar.

    They did set up the suddendness of Jude's illness when at dinner she had to lay down so she could get a shot of morphine. Her boyfriend even said "it's like this. She is fine for a while and then she is suddenly in pain."

    Either way, great episode and great series.

  • MandyMcAwesome | April 11, 2013 1:37 PM

    I love the symbolism on this show. It really gives it something more. As far as "while also keeping us in tune with Robin's headspace" I believe that we have to give credit where it is due. That is all Elisabeth Moss. And she is AWESOME.

  • Beth Hanna | April 11, 2013 12:04 PM

    @Mandy -- Thanks for your comment. Good observations on a) Al's stag head, and b) Turangi's comment about Jude being "fine for a while and then suddenly in pain." Maybe, like Robin, I was so caught up in the Tui Mitcham mystery that I missed small details surrounding Jude's declining health, and her death came as more of a jolt to me. Either way, I think the series is doing a great job of skillfully placing details, symbols and foreshadows (in such a way that rewards multiple viewings of each episode), while also keeping us in tune with Robin's headspace.

  • Teresa Myers | April 9, 2013 9:19 AMReply

    Your review, and rethinking Jude's shock at seeing Robin and Johnno kissing, make it clear that the "further connection" must be that Matt Mitchum is Robin's father and Tui her half sister.

  • MandyMcAwesome | April 12, 2013 9:11 AM

    I just think the "Matt is Robin's father" is a little too obvious. I think they want us to think that. I think in the past Jude may have somehow been involved with Matt, but I dont think that Jane Campion would give us two heros (Robin and Johno), two people we want to find love with each other, only to make the love be tarnished and revolting by having them be related.

  • Mike | April 9, 2013 7:28 AMReply

    Why was Jude so upset to see Robin and Johnno kiss? Is it more than her dislike of the Mitchum clan?

  • MandyMcAwesome | April 11, 2013 9:17 AM

    I keep thinking that Matt must have killed Robyn's father (Ivan?) similar to the way Bob Platt was killed.

  • Beth Hanna | April 9, 2013 10:49 AM

    @Mike -- That's left unclear at the moment. Robin's interpretation of her mother's reaction, as we hear her tell Johnno in the woods, is that Jude is having a hard time not associating Johnno Mitcham with his father, Matt. Either Jude holds something specific against Matt Mithcam (which we have yet to learn), or she's just all too familiar with his reputation around Laketop (as violent, as a drug lord, etc).

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