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.
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.”
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.