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

Indiewire By Beth Hanna | Indiewire April 16, 2013 at 2:27PM

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.
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Top of the Lake

Has a cover song ever been used to such effect in a series? Melissa’s rendition of Bjork’s “Joga,” which she performs with a few other women from Paradise for Jamie’s memorial service, gives me chills. (A nice visual detail in this scene: The local teens’ horses have “NO” written on their flanks in large letters, a beautiful and poignant form of protesting a life cut short too soon. Jamie would have approved.)

At the memorial, Simone approaches Robin, understandably emotionally unhinged but more friendly now, and tells her that Jamie wasn’t the father of Tui’s baby. “He was gay,” she says with tremulous matter-of-factness. And then, as she notices Matt and his crew arriving: “Don’t say that in this town.”

Peter Mullan, whose terrifyingly focused, excellent turn as Matt Mitcham I hope won’t go unnoticed at this year’s Emmys, once again communicates his character’s complexities in the memorial sequence. Matt is genuinely bereaved for Simone’s loss, but also shrewdly aware that keeping her on his side -- and quiet about the drug business -- is imperative.

Mitcham’s concerns prove warranted, as Simone tells Robin the next day that she wants to testify against Matt, and that a few other women from his lab will also come forward. Here is another example from the series of women banding together -- as they do in Paradise -- for strength, in search of a sense of peace and personal justice. This is movingly paralleled when Robin returns to the police office, and Al’s brunette colleague (the only other woman I’ve seen around the Laketop police station) gives Robin a hug, without explanation.

Top of the Lake

During Matt's "personal confession" to Robin at his home, he alleges that she is in fact his daughter, the product of an affair between him and Jude. This not only clarifies Jude's intensely negative reaction in last week’s episode to Robin being involved with Johnno Mitcham, but also throws Johnno and Robin's relationship into a seriously complex light. Robin's behavior later -- brashly kissing Johnno and trying to seduce him (her "Hello, brother" line is shiver-inducing) -- suggests that she is willing to run the risk of incest.

How interesting that Robin is literally "brought to her knees," as GJ predicted a few episodes ago, when she gets roaring drunk following Matt’s unsettling confession. At Paradise, a hungover, worse-for-wear Robin tells GJ she "doesn't know how to go on living." In perhaps her best monologue of the series -- a feat, as she’s spouted many a great word of strange wisdom -- GJ tells Robin and the other women to stop trying to help others, to free themselves of the need to plan, strategize, and look for a way out. Here these women are, in a place with the existentially rueful moniker of Paradise, and yet: “There is no way out." Oddly, this parallels the visual space of Paradise. Though the property is a beautiful expanse, it also functions as a safe zone, a container to stay inside (like the cargo containers in which the women sleep). The point of Paradise, as GJ would have it, is to stop looking for a way out -- be contained where you are.

This is the opposite of Matt Mitcham's philosophy, as he condemns his sons cruelly for having "empty" lives. Indeed, throughout the past few episodes, Matt has made it his steadfast pursuit to have a plan. It seems then to follows GJ's unforgiving logic that Matt dies following his own “way out” -- i.e. locating Tui, which he does, and then attempting to kill her baby. Before Matt can carry out his designs on Tui's adorable newborn, his young daughter shoots him in the forest.

We learn that Robin and Johnno are in the clear. It seems Johnno's mother was every bit as promiscuous as Matt Mitcham, and Mitcham is not Johnno's biological father.

The significance of "waking up," as poor Jamie warned his friends, does come into play in the series’ climax. Al has been facilitating the drugging and raping of Laketop's barista-course teens from within his house. In an act of daring bravado that recalls Clarisse Starling from "Silence of the Lambs," Robin shoots Al point-blank in the chest, and then descends into the lurid underbelly of his too-clean mansion, where she discovers the pornography ring in action.

The cryptic photos discovered on Bob Platt's computer were in fact pointing to just such a scene as the one discovered in Al's basement. A blood-splattered Robin, with her gun and cell-phone camera in hand, captures and documents with exactitude the heinous crime about to occur. Filming it (with her eyes peeled open, unable to look away from the horrors) is her way of literally giving clarity to a mystery so shrouded in obscurity. In doing so, she is reclaiming the power of her younger self, providing hard evidence so that justice -- a justice she herself never experienced -- can be served.

The series ends on a beautiful note. GJ is leaving for Reykjavik, perhaps to find a new place to call Paradise. Tui runs after her through the burnt-gold fields, and begs her to stay. For months, GJ has been the bizarrely hypnotic emotional compass for a number of the series’ characters -- and its viewers. As she wisely points out to the young girl, with no sugar coating: Tui has a new teacher. We hear the sounds of baby Noah crying.

Bits and pieces:

  • It should be noted that there is ambiguity on the point of who impregnated Tui; we hear from Al that Matt is the father, but Al of course has his reasons for possibly covering up the identity of another outside rapist, and blaming it on the now dead Matt. Yet it's possible that Matt is part of the porn ring -- he too has a stag's head mounted on his walls. If Matt weren't at least concerned about possibly being linked to the infant via DNA, holding the baby at gunpoint would be a bizarrely extreme move -- why the need to have the child killed? Another possibility is that Matt has molested Tui, but that another man in the porn ring is the father.
  • The finale is co-directed by Jane Campion and Garth Davis, and co-written by Campion and Gerard Lee.

This article is related to: Television, TV Reviews, Top of the Lake, Jane Campion, Jane Campion, Elisabeth Moss, Peter Mullan

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