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'Top of the Lake' Finale Recap: State of Emergency

by Beth Hanna
April 16, 2013 2:27 PM
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"Top of the Lake"
"Top of the Lake"

Certain episodes of television stand out not only within the course of a series, but within the course of a year. In 2012, it was the eleventh episode of “Mad Men,” titled “The Other Women” (incidentally also featuring a stunning performance from Elisabeth Moss). This year, the finale of “Top of the Lake” achieves that same skin-tingling, harshly heartbreaking, core-shaking status.

Top of the Lake

Robin wants to mount a case against Matt Mitcham, but initially isn’t getting any help from Jamie’s mother, Simone (Mirrah Foulkes), or the other women who work in Mitcham’s drug lab. After lying, saying they’re on their way to a book group (to discuss the literary classic “Blue Velvet,” ha!), the women admit to Robin that the money, health insurance and general support they receive from Matt is too great to lose.

Bunny’s daughter and fellow Paradise resident, Melissa (Perth-based musician Georgi Kay), is strumming away on her electric guitar in the woods when Jamie and Tui appear. The teens head to Paradise for a meal, where GJ repeats her terse wisdom from last week, that “the body knows what to do.” Tui is resisting the advice to have her baby in hospital, stating that she doesn’t want to be naked for the delivery. Her fear of birthing the child around professionals -- many of whom presumably would be men -- hints at the likely reality that she’s repressing a sexual trauma. She’s also bleeding, which doesn’t bode well for an out-of-hospital birth.

A group of Laketop teens, all sporting “Yes” and “No” on their hands and many of whom are participants in the local barista course, meet Tui and Jamie at their forest hideout. It’s Tui’s birthday. Jamie denies that he impregnated Tui, instead telling his friends that it was the “Dark Creator… the snake of Paradise.” (This seemingly implicates Matt Mitcham.) He then says something even more troublesome: “You know who it is. Wake up.” The idea of “waking up” signals a sense of dreaminess or lack of awareness, which is echoed later when Tui confesses to Jamie about her baby: “I don’t even know how it got there.” 

Top of the Lake

This episode screams “Warning!” through the mise-en-scene. The most salient example, of course, would be Robin’s rifle-wielding assailant, the undistinguishable figure in the dusk who aims his shotgun at her as she prepares dinner. After Matt’s gang of hunters ambush Tui’s friends to get information on her whereabouts, the barbecue at the Mitcham residence has a number of visuals that put us on alert. First, there’s the dead female deer head skewered on a spike (in contrast to the glorified taxidermied stag heads we see throughout the series). Next, Matt smashes his hand through a glass cabinet, and then sends a family heirloom -- his mother’s “precious” teacup -- shattering to the floor. His message is clear: He won’t hesitate to kill any of the hunters if they harm Tui. (Ironically, this also suggests a violent streak in Matt towards what’s precious to him -- i.e. his family members.)

A nerve-rackingly uncomfortable scene finds Robin stuck between the devilish glares of Al and Matt on Al’s boat, stranded on the freezing lake. This scene parallels Bob Platt’s precarious situation in the first episode, and we all know how that turned out. I can’t imagine Robin’s visceral fear of being, yet again, in a position where she is outnumbered by men in an isolated setting. Luckily, if somewhat implausibly, Johnno materializes on his boat to whisk her back to shore, claiming he smelled a rat after hearing “from Luke about the fishing trip.”

He also tells her that Matt’s hunters have staked out Tui and Jamie’s forest hideout; once ashore, Robin and Johnno begin searching on foot for the location, hoping to intervene before the hunters can do any harm. Too late. After getting into a bloodless shoot-out with their unwanted visitors, Tui and Jamie switch jackets (so that Jamie is hidden inside Tui’s puffy white parka, and Tui concealed under Jamie’s signature blue hood) to throw off the hunters. As the men chase Jamie, mistaking him for Tui, the young boy slips on a landslide area of rocks, and after skidding hundreds of feet, falls to his death over the edge of a cliff.

While the sequence leading to Jamie's death is horrific and gut-wrenching, it’s also a brilliant example of skillfully choreographed action. Notice how Robin, walking along the river bed, can hear the shouts and gunshots but can’t locate the chase; we as viewers have no particular geographic sense of where she is in relation to the action until Jamie’s body falls into frame. Suddenly, two planes of action, joined only by editing and sound, are thrust together visually with one stomach-turning reveal. The importance of sound in this sequence is reiterated when, as Jamie’s body is hauled into shore, Tui lets off those plaintive gunshots, accompanied by animal-like wails of anguish. Robin hears the noises reverberating through the hills.


  • Julie | March 16, 2014 8:07 PMReply

    None of the Top...Lake season-finale analyses have mentioned that Campion went to a bit of trouble to establish that Matt Mitchum has an erectile issue. Although I agree with this commentator that his vehemence in killing his grandchild needs to be explained somehow. But it could simply be Matt's horror -- what can induce horror in a man capable of such cruelty as to kill a dog and self-flagellate -- at the baby being proof of his innocent and precious, to him, young daughter's defilement. Matt does everything, including leasing a helicopter, to find her, which indicates he truly cares about Tui. On the other had, when in the beginning, Tue is delivered back home after her ultrasound...Matt says, "At least you didn't say anything." That is a huge indication that Matt is not wondering who the father is or how the pregnancy happened. He's not even that angry at Tui. So it seems that there may be a mutual agreement between Matt and Al. "You can keep your Meth Lab if I can keep my Porn Ring." However, knowing Matt the way we do now, it seems he would kill Al himself for getting Tui pregnant. The mirroring of Robin's rape and adoption of her own gang-rape progeny was well brought out in this rewiew -- knowing as we now do that she and Tui are half-sisters -- is quite poignant in retrospect. And that is the thing I loved about Top of the Lake...everything only makes sense in retrospect. Tui's ferral response to Matt's pointing a gun at her father is brilliant as Tui has been living in the wild for approximately seven months. Tui's telling her baby boy to "shut up" just as her father had told the baby is chilling. A case of "the apple not falling far from the tree"? But then where does that leave Robin...also an apple off Matt's tree? Though she seems to have come full circle with the care of her half-nephew. I think she and Johnno will be good caretakers, as Campion made sure to communicate in the cafe scene where Johnno is toting the baby carrier, looking for the formula, and cradling the child as Robin takes solve a crime. A tell-tale sign of the way it will be? Johnno, as we saw throughout as when he draws Robin's bath and when he gets her a the nurturer. But I guess we will never be sure if he organized Robin's rape while he was high. Even if he seems like of anyone in the series Top of the Lake...Johnno has redeemed himself.

  • Brandon | January 27, 2014 4:03 PMReply

    I came looking (through google) to see if anyone else made the connection, but apparently it was just me (so far, on my search).

    Johnno is Matt's son. Robin is Matt's daughter (my wife pointed out that Robin's mother begged her not to see Johnno. Why? Now we know). Tui is the daughter of Al or one of the sex ring members.

    Al knew that the child was from the sex ring. He also knew that Matt was a convenient scapegoat (his inability to maintain an erection notwithstanding), and was confident that Johnno was Matt's son. Accordingly, he switched the baby's DNA with Johnno's for the testing, confident that the tests would come back showing Matt as the father of the baby. The added benefit for the show runner was that it obfuscated the quasi-incest; but we've now seen through that.

  • CGS | March 16, 2014 6:41 PM

    Robin's mother thought they were half-siblings, that much seems apparent, but she may not have known that johnno's mother had other relationships at the time years ago. I personally think Al was truthful about that DNA test that showed Johnno and robin are not siblings, but as viewers we have no proof.

    DNA tests use a number of markers (e.g. short tandem repeats, copy number variations) for paternity/maternity, and they would easily show if Al had switched samples of Johnno and the baby in real life. Because the baby's mother (Tui) is Matt's daughter (we assume, a real forensic lab would obviously test her DNA and prove a haploid paternal set were from Matt), an accurate forensic analysis would show that half of the baby's chromosomes were from Matt (or the real father), and half from Tui, of which approximately half would be from Matt as well, depending on random assortment. Therefore, approximately 75% of the baby's DNA would be in common with Matt, if he was indeed the father of Tui's baby. On the other hand, Johnno would only have approximately 50% in common with Matt, so a forensic lab would easily tell those varying degrees of relatedness. I personally think that Al was lying and that someone (not Matt) got Tui pregnant, and that Matt was just crazy and had other motivations for killing the child. In a real world, the simple switch would not work whatsoever. But then again, the writers may not be aware of the science behind DNA tests, so maybe in the writers' minds, a switch would work.

  • Giants415 | September 10, 2013 12:09 AMReply

    Matt was not Noah's father. He was in Al's pocket (Al was letting him be the dealer in town) and knew that Tui was being used by Al in the sex trade. He knew how she got pregnant and felt useless and powerless to protect her which is why he was falling apart.

  • Vickster | September 4, 2013 10:54 AMReply

    We really enjoyed this series and it made a refreshing change to have a story told and completed in 6 episodes, with no cliffhanger ending to allow another series (which very often spoils things). The only thing we were left unsure about was the lake contamination - was that ever attributed to anything specific?

  • open your eyes | August 22, 2013 8:19 PMReply

    no way Matt fathered that baby. In order to have sex he would have to pop a pill! Tui could reload her double barrel before he would even have an opportunity to rape her. After the scene with his sons, in which they state he was high and not thinking clearly, it appears it was a mercy killing in his eyes or perhaps a sacrifice? (all the mitchem men named after biblical figures?) great show!

  • Ellie | July 31, 2013 4:44 AMReply

    I don't think that Matt was the baby's father nor that he molested Tui. I found that his trying to shoot the baby harked back to when he shot Platt's dog in the first episode (or was it the second?). I don't remember the exact dialogue, but he said something about liking the dog and giving him food - no do should starve. And then he shoots the dog, in what I saw as a mercy killing (though it felt pretty merciless) because no one else liked it or wanted it and it didn't get along with his other dogs. I think his reasoning for trying to shoot the baby was something along those lines, that no way should a twelve year old girl raise a child and it would be better for everyone - the baby included - if it just died.

  • Julie | March 16, 2014 8:18 PM

    I mean Platt was drown for selling off Paradise, not shot. (There was just so much shooting going on at the end. Robin's shooting Al so capriciously seemed so wrong...until she found the Brown Room.)

  • Julie | March 16, 2014 8:17 PM

    Good one. You have satisfied my curiosity as to why Matt --who had moments of compassion, including pulling out stops to find Tui -- would shoot an innocent baby. As we can be sure that Campion did not include one scene or word of dialogue that did not fit or explain -- the shooting of Platt's dog does shed light on the attempted killing of the baby. Now maybe you can tell me why Platt was shot for selling off Paradise? Matt, as the local Drug Lord, seems to have plenty of money, as in giving Simone blood money for Jamie's death. Why wouldn't Matt just buy Paradise himself? Perhaps I missed this somehow. Thematically, I understand...with the addition of GJ and the girls, but I mean from a plot direction. Thank you.

  • TheMelancholicAlcholic | July 24, 2013 5:49 AMReply

    The ambiguity over who is the father of Noah is a bit nitpickish: Matt really seems to care and miss her, and he wants to get her an abortion, which makes sense: There's is no situation EVER where it's wise for a 12 year old to have a baby.

    There are THREE DNA tests, to see if Matt was the father of Robin, Johnno and Tui. It's a little convenient that he's not Johnno's father, but that he's Robins father adds to the drama.
    What's a little too happy-endish (but apparently it's necessary to sell it to the Yanks, otherwise they won't buy it) is that we're supposed to believe that Al told the truth about Johnno's parentage, which is detrimental to him as it ruins his chances with Robin, but not about Tui's? Lying about Tui's parentage would be positive for Al, as it turns attention away from him.

  • Dxybelle1 | April 22, 2013 9:43 AMReply

    I watched the entire series with my husband and thought it extremely difficult to understand the dialogue because of the accents. I thought Holly Hunter was miscast. Elizabeth Moss was excellent as was the actor who played Matt Mitchum. I needed to read a synopsis of the finale to understand exactly what happened.

  • The-Melancholic-Alcholic | July 24, 2013 5:50 AM

    I guess that's why people download stuff and use subtitles ...

  • MandyMcAwesome | April 17, 2013 9:37 AMReply

    Jamie saying, “You know who it is. Wake up.” And the female deer head were excellent foreshadowing, although a little heavy handed.

    Tui’s hissing when shooting Matt and Johno…brilliant. So primal and it reminded me that this whole situation has turned everyone into basic animals.

    Jamie’s chase and death scene was shot so amazingly. My hands covered my mouth the entire time.

    After the pathologist said cocaine had been found in April’s vagina I knew it had something to do with Al. He was the only one with that much money. Then I remembered the party he was having when Robin called him and I thought, “Oh shit, he is having a sex party and the kids are the entertainment”. I never thought that it would be as horrible as it was, with the kids unconscious. Practically dead.

    Robin was using her phone as a way to not only document what was happening but also to put a barrier between herself and the horror.

    Thank god she shot Al. I hope he lived though so she could crucify him in court.

    I am unclear as to the DNA results. Is Matt not Robin’s father, or not Johno’s. Either way, it’s not incest, so yea! Matt must have believed that he was in fact Robin’s father since he paid for Jude’s house and punished Robin’s rapists. It must have been possible too since clearly Jude believed it as well (she let him pay for the house and she was really worried about Robin and Johno having relations).

    Over the course of the series that the Paradise compound kept getting fuller and fuller, not just with people but with things too. I remember early on one of the women explaining that they were only allowed to have beds because everything else would just make them play house. Towards the end, that became very true.

    Boy, Matt really lost it. He really believed that just getting rid of that baby would fix everything. That she could go back to being a little girl. Did he really not wonder how it happened? He punished Robin’s rapists, a girl he thought was his daughter, but then turned a blind eye to what happened to the daughter living under his roof? I guess, in all fairness, he thought she had been fooling around, but he never thought to ask? Oh. Wait. Misogynistic asshole. My bad.

    I don’t think that Matt was the father of Tui’s baby. He was in such denial, even when he wasn’t around Al. Nor do I think he was part of the porn ring as I am pretty sure that it was he and his boys who trashed Wolfie’s house and hung him. He clearly was not ok with pedophiles.

    There were a lot of things left unanswered and opened. Who lied about what? The actors, all of them, really sold me their characters. Because I the acting was so convincing I tend to buy into these storylines a little easier. It seems more real to me than many other shows. Because of that, I am willing to let some things go. Like Robin said, “Fuck the truth”.

    This was an enjoyable series for me and I really loved your recaps, Beth. Let me know when you will be recapping another show and I will be sure to follow you!

  • TheMelancholicAlcholic | July 24, 2013 5:52 AM

    I think you're wrong about Matt and Noah, I don't he wanted to get rid of the baby.

  • Beth Hanna | April 17, 2013 1:00 PM

    @Mandy -- Thanks for your kind and thoughtful comments throughout the series. I like your idea about Robin using her cell phone camera as a barrier between herself and the horrors she's witnessing in Al's basement. Like her gun, it acts as a form of self-protection, a shield.

  • laura | April 16, 2013 4:53 PMReply

    i so looked forward to the finale but had to read recaps to understand what happened!
    i felt that the dialogue was the only clue to time jumps. ex.jrobin with johnno for a while...apparently so since her dying mother was trying to locate her for days.., every one out hunting tui, jamie dies, there is a funeral of for a day or two tui put on the back burner? plus the last 5 min. seemed thrown together. all that reveal in a few min. at the end did not do the series justice. so many liars so what was the truth? since al gave her the dna results, were they even true? and the whole sex ring scene...multiple roofied teens and the kids never banded together and told or cashed in. come on! acting excellent and i did relish the suspense.

  • Julie | March 16, 2014 8:30 PM

    Maybe you oh-so-sophisticated non-Americans who thought the ending was "thrown to together" (two words: Jane Campion!!!)...ought to watch Top of the Lake again and look for foreshadowing, and while you're at it, pay attention to the dialogue and seemingly unrelated incidents, like killing Platt's dog, and Robin waking up in Sargeant Detective Al's house with her clothes spinning in the dryer. Why would he even bother to say a couple of episodes later, "...Nothing happened." That may even be true, but why say it. He was her boss.

  • TheMelancholicAlcholic | July 24, 2013 6:03 AM

    @Joseph Lazy writing??? The parallel is entirely NECESSARY since it explains why Robin cares so much about Tui: she wants to prevent what happened to her! Did you even watch this show?
    Throwing out phrases like "smacks more of lazy writing" is very unoriginal reviewing, a little jealousy/toxic and of course also pretty .... lazy.

  • TheMelancholicAlcholic | July 24, 2013 5:57 AM

    The finale seemed a bit hastily construed, but 1. it might have to do with lack of money. 2. we've been polluted by overly explicit american fare, where every little plot detail and emotion is explained ad nauseam. We expect that everywhere. We shouldn't, we should watch more African and European films. I recommend "Little Senegal", an excellent lesson in the understated use of film music.

  • Joseph Angier | April 17, 2013 12:31 AM

    True Laura, so many of the plot turns in this series seemed thrown at the wall without a lot of thought. (Sorry, the parallel ambiguities of Robin's and Tui's babies smacks more of lazy writing than of dramatic depth.)

  • inga | April 16, 2013 4:34 PMReply

    I didn't think that Matt was the father of Tui's baby rather that Al or one of the men in the sex ring was (hence why Tui didn't know who did it or how it got inside her). I thought Al was lying about the DNA test proving Matt's fatherhood in order to convince Robin that rapist was no longer in question. At any rate, I loved the series. Great story, great acting, great direction. Well done, Jane Campion!

  • Beth Hanna | April 16, 2013 5:36 PM

    @Inga -- You're right, there is some ambiguity. I added an asterisk to that part of the recap, explaining my reasoning for suspecting that Matt is indeed the father. Mainly, why would he so clearly want the baby dead? Holding the infant at gunpoint seems like an outlandish move if he weren't at least concerned that the child could be linked to him through DNA. It's also possible that Matt raped Tui, but the child wasn't his (and, like you say, was the child of one of the members of the porn ring). It's fascinating how Robin and Tui's storylines parallel one another in so many ways; we never learn which one of Robin's rapists was the father of her child (though she very well may know), and there is similar ambiguity surrounding the father of Tui's child.

  • Joseph Angier | April 16, 2013 3:14 PMReply

    Wish I could have shared at least some of your enthusiasm. For me, the final two episodes only confirmed my creeping sensation that Top of the Lake was a hackneyed pastiche of previous grand guignol dramas - too numerous to mention - with their half-cooked stews of incest, child sex abuse, and tired critiques of macho mayhem and misogyny. I was in awe of Jane Campion after Sweetie and The Piano. But when she followed that with the torpor of Portrait of a Lady and the idiocy of Holy Smoke, I began to question my initial reverence. Bright Star was a promising step forward, I thought, till I slogged through Top of the Lake.

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