Top of the Lake

Elisabeth Moss plays Sydney detective Robin Griffin in this six-episode mystery series (Top of the Lake, 2013). Griffin specializes in sexual assault and has experience working with kids. And so she's brought on board an investigation, in New Zealand, into the disappearance of a twelve-year-old girl. Tui is pregnant and, before she goes missing, tells Griffin "NO ONE" is the father.

This town plays by its own set of rules, and its conflicts are mainly between four groups (with a few misfits and village idiots thrown in). Matt Mitcham (Peter Mullan) is a Scotsman who more or less runs the community as well as a drug operation with his sons and biker associates. Then there's detective sergeant Al Parker (David Wenham) and the cops. Another group is headed by GJ (Holly Hunter), a spiritual leader who shows up in "Paradise" with a bunch of cargo containers, where the "crazy bitches" that came with her will live and draw on GJ's nihilistic wisdom while trying, and failing, to rediscover themselves. Finally there's Tui and her friends. Tui is Mitcham's daughter; her mother is Thai, and for whatever reason (I suppose because Mitcham is the local gangster) she stays at her dad's, when she's not out riding her horse or getting into trouble.

What makes Top of the Lake peculiar is the black humor injected into its very serious theme of sexual abuse of children. This didn't sit well with me. Jane Campion directed the series. Tui, however much Kiwi the character might culturally be, is basically represented as Thai. And I wonder if audiences would've reacted any differently had the show been directed by a man, or centered on a white girl as victim. Would the humorous bits have been less palatable for critics and general viewers?

There are other victims, white, male. But after we learn so much about Tui through Griffin's investigation, we come to what's intended to be the big shocker finale. White kids too! Griffin was also raped, by multiple men, years before Tui's disappearance, and one result was having a child, as a child. Actually, the tension throughout the series boils usually when a kid or children are in danger of sexual violence. So then why all the quirkiness and the over-the-top plot? It shouldn't have tried to fit the Fargo mold. It's not Shameless. Nor does it dive deep into the problem in order to throw light on it or inspire some positive social change; it just paints the issue in a shiny black coat of entertainment. Needless to say thatdespite the strong performances and beautiful sceneryI think a major aim of Top of the Lake is to make viewers uncomfortable for their "viewing pleasure" in ways that cross a line or two.