“Top of the Lake” is a powerfully dramatic mini-series that stars Holly Hunter, Elisabeth Moss and David Wenham, among others. The setting for the show is a small mountain town in New Zealand, whose natural beauty and innocence contrasts sharply with the harsh damaged humans that populate it.
In the first episode, it is discovered that a twelve year old child named Tui is pregnant. She has just left her father’s residence where she was surrounded by men like Luke and Mark Mitcham, her brothers and Matt, her father. Upon leaving that home pregnant, she tried to commit suicide by drowning herself in the lake. It’s not long before the school nurse finds out Tui, played by Jacqueline Joe, is pregnant. Besides the shock of discovering a twelve year old pregnant child, people in this close-knit community also have to deal with the sudden loss of one of their own. Bob Platt is drowned by the Mitchams over a land deal gone wrong.
Elizabeth Moss is Robin Griffin, a visiting detective who is asked to step in to find the father. Robin has her own problems with a mother that is under an abusive boyfriend while she suffers from cancer. Robin asked Tui who the father was and received a written answer that simply stated “no one”. With no help from the child, Robin’ only alternative is to go to the top officer at the local police station. But that proves useless when he indifferently tells her the best place for the child is back with her father. The top officer takes the girl back to her father. They fight and Tui steals a gun and leaves again. After that, she disappears.
Throughout the drama Holly Hunter is seen as the leader of a support group for damaged women. She is uncharacteristically masculine in men’s clothing with a shocking head full of long gray hair, but she brings some levity to the show, needed amidst the drama and dark acts of violence and statutory rape. The suspense builds as the plot unfolds and the difficulties and complications are revealed. In this series, Robin continues to search out the truth of the baby’s father while she deals with personal problems and faces some ghosts from her own past. The combination of balance and surprise has kept viewers glued to their seats from the beginning to the end.
The show has been called a police drama and a psychological thriller, but it is also a portrait of the human landscape. It introduces gritty characters with secrets, like drug dealers and murderers. Even the main character, Robin Griffin, has secrets and a past she can’t reconcile with. It shows the strengths in the characters of the small New Zealand community, but it also lays bare their vulnerabilities and weaknesses. It puts a spotlight on all that is undesirable about these characters in a way that the audience can relate to.
The series airs on the Sundance Channel. It was created and written by Gerard Lee and Jane Campion. Jane Campion and Garth Davis have directed it. Campion is remembered for her work as writer and director of “The Piano” in 1993.
The series has been compared to “Twin Peaks” due to the visual impact of the New Zealand landscape. With the human drama set against the natural background, “Top of the Lake” is a series that most have enjoyed watching.