“Top of the Lake”: A Review

If regular readers haven’t noticed from some of my earlier posts, I am a big fan of well-made miniseries, and probably some less-well-made ones as well. Miniseries can allow for greater depth and more complex stories than one would normally want to squeeze into a movie, but without requiring as much commitment as a television show. A lot of British television shows function as miniseries for me because of the longer episodes and short seasons (I’m looking at you, Sherlock), and luckily there are usually plenty of them on Netflix. Top of the Lake, however, is not British but Australian, and follows the same format. It’s set in the fictional small town of Laketop, New Zealand, and stars Elisabeth Moss as Detective Robin Griffin (fans of Mad Men will know Moss as Peggy Olson). Top of the Lake is focused on Robin as she takes on the case of Tui, a pregnant 12-year-old girl who then disappears.

Please note that this show includes multiple instances of sexual violence (which are discussed in my review below), so read on with care.

The opening titles (Source)
The opening titles (Source)

I’m going to be honest–Top of the Lake is anything but an easy show to watch. If you’re having a rough day/week/month and want to watch something to distract yourself, then Top of the Lake is probably not what you should choose. But if you want to watch a show that deals with sexual violence (and its consequences) in a very real and honest way, with a setting and characters that pull you in, then Top of the Lake might be perfect. Plus, as Jezebel noted, it’s very hard to not binge your way through, although the violence and misogyny were bad enough that I was sometimes tempted to take a little break.

Beware–the following paragraph will contain some minor spoilers.

Tui (Jacqueline Joe) and Robin (Elisabeth Moss) embrace. (Source)
Tui (Jacqueline Joe) and Robin (Elisabeth Moss) embrace. (Source)

One of the aspects of the story in Top of the Lake that I found so compelling was how well Robin’s own history and trauma from growing up in Laketop is woven into the events in the present day. It’s very clear that this is a place she left for good reason, and coming back is traumatic, both because of what it brings up, and because of the fact that her attackers were never prosecuted. As a teenager, Robin was raped. Tui is younger than Robin was, but because of the similarities in their stories, Robin refuses to give up hope that Tui is still alive after she has been missing for a long time. Tui becomes in some ways symbolic of Robin’s own past, and desire to heal.

The Ms. blog has a much longer and more detailed analysis of the violent masculinity and representation of rape culture in Top of the Lake that I highly recommend reading after you watch the series. I don’t think I’m capable of providing such careful analysis yet because I’m still reeling from the violence of it all. Like I said before – this is not an easy show to watch, but I do think it is powerful and important for portraying such violence with such candor. Trauma and sexual violence are very difficult topics that society likes to ignore when it can, and Top of the Lake doesn’t let the viewer do that.

Have you seen Top of the Lake? What did you think of it? And please – like, share, and comment if you thought this review was interesting!

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