Thursday, April 11, 2013

Top of the Lake: Episode 5 / S1

Warning:  spoilers ahead!

I'll walk through the Valley of Death.  A fucking rainbow above us."   --Johnno Mitcham (Thomas M. Wright), left, declaring his love to Robin Griffin (Elizabeth Moss)

"Redeem me. Or if you're not interested, go ahead--exterminate me."  --Detective Al Parker (David Wenham) to Robin, proposing marriage to her

"In nature, there is no death, just a reshuffling of atoms."  --GJ (Holly Hunter) to Jude (Robin's mother, played by Robyn Nevin)

"You know what?  I was actually beginning to find this much happiness fucking disturbing."  --Johnno to Robin after she breaks it off with him

"I think I'm going.  And then there'll be nothing.  Hello, darkness and love."  --Jude, dying,  to Robin"* 

These stunning, visceral lines of dialogue are from Episode 5 of the series from Jane Campion and Gerard Lee, who in the recap report that they read a lot of poetry in the writers' room.  Judging by this episode, which also has a gorgeous naked lovemaking scene in the forest, I'd expect that Blake, Wordsworth, Milton, and Dante are among the poets.  

Darkness and love define this series, an intense marriage of heaven and hell that resembles a mash-up of The Killling and Twin Peaks, as others have noted. (A teen, the pregnant Tui Mitcham [played by Jacqueline Joe] , disappears; the female detective played by Elizabeth Moss breaks off a five-year engagement in the process of searching for Tui.)  But there's something far more primal and elemental to Campion and Lee's vision, which is underscsored by the rural New Zealand setting and its characters with their almost tribal tattoos. 

No character is simple or either/or.  Jude is dying and she has a lover who's a domestic abuser, but he also gives her massages and administers her morphine shots to ease her pain.  Matt Mitcham is a murderer and a probable rapist, but he truly loves his missing daughter Tui and he's capable of briefly courting one of the women at GJ's and admitting his impotence.  Al Parker is both a good cop and sometimes a really bad cop.  Even the lovemaking scene mentioned above turns out to be both real and staged.

GJ (Campion's alter ego with her long gray wig?) has purchased Mitcham's land called "Paradise," but Paradise is a trailer park of empty railroad hauling cars camped in by mostly middle-aged women in pain (who do experience occasional delights, like a collective nude swim). The women have come to GJ for healing, but she offers hard solace.   Johnno comes clean to Robin in this episode, but we know there's something far darker he hasn't revealed.  As for Robin, Tui has become the objective correlative of Robin's own experience of being raped; finding Tui, saving her, solving the case are both Robin's penance and her therapy. 

Early in the series GJ asks Robin how her knees are, because, as she tells Robin, "You will go down hard."  We shall see how hard, perhaps, in the final episode of this season, which airs on April 15.  Watch it.  Television doesn't get much better than this.

*Tip:  if you have trouble understanding the New Zealand accents, try watching with closed captioning turned on.

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