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'Top of the Lake’ reveals a mysterious unfolding of realism

Actress Elizabeth Moss portrays Detective Robin Griffin in the mystery/crime series "Top of the Lake" shown again in its entirety Sunday. She recently won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Miniseries and Television.
Actress Elizabeth Moss portrays Detective Robin Griffin in the mystery/crime series "Top of the Lake" shown again in its entirety Sunday. She recently won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Miniseries and Television.

If you were lucky enough to see the seven episodes of the miniseries “Top of the Lake” on Super Bowl Sunday, you had the chance to see why the production was a hit. The mystery/crime program began at 11:30 a.m. on the Sundance Channel and continued until 7 p.m. So for those who wanted to watch the football game, they still had a chance to see most of it since it began at 6:30 (EST).

Golden Globe Actress (for Best Miniseries and Television) and Critics Choice Television Actress (for Movies and Miniseries) Awards 2013 winner Elizabeth Moss plays the main character, Detective (Det.) Robin Griffin, in the series. Her case involves a missing Asian girl, a pregnant 12-year-old named Tui Mitcham (played by actress Jacqueline Joe). Griffin becomes emotionally and personally involved in the case; hanging the girl’s picture on her wall and watching videos of her and the behavior she displays. There’s even a scene at the beginning of Episode 1 when Tui tries to drown herself; and Griffin goes through the same process in one of her reactionary thoughts. Griffin’s father supposedly had died in the lake.

Other characters in the episodes viewers can’t help but wonder about – the group of women who form a camplike retreat called “Paradise” who have men problems and can’t seem to figure them out. There’s the leader of the pack named “GJ,” (played by actress Holly Hunter), whose hair is almost as long as her small frame. She seems to know all the answers and is somewhat looked upon as either a guidance counselor or spiritual advisor.

A scraggly man who plays a significant part in the series is Matt Mitcham (played by actor Peter Mullan). He is an old, bony, pale ruffian who is abusive to women and displays this behavior at the women’s camp and with a session with GJ. He tells the women he owns the land they’re occupying (which he actually doesn’t) and later becomes involved with one of the women. He can’t stand Det. Griffin though he tries to act polite depending on the situation. He claims to be Tui’s father but Tui hates him; due to her pulling a gun on him at the beginning of the series. Matt also has a drug running business on his sloppily kept land full of dogs (in which he shoots one in front of Det. Griffin purposely to prove a point during one of their sessions). He also visits the grave of Eileen Mitcham and while there beats himself with his belt. In the last episode he tells Det. Griffin her father is alive, claims he's her father, and the man she’s sexing is really her half-brother. Tui finally kills Matt near the end when he wants to kill her newborn.

The pregnant girl Tui is a survivor; with her rifle and horse, as she rides and sees the women’s camp; who welcome her with open arms. But Matt and his cohorts are trying to find her, so she leaves on the run. She makes friends with a fellow teen named Jaime (played by actor Luke Buchanan), who brings her food and tries to protect her until his end. Tui has her baby alone, despite a man nearby acting foolishly with a baby’s handbook, making noises while she screams in pain. After having the baby she does not care to take the responsibility of motherhood, once shouting “Why is this baby always crying!”

So as you can see, the series is full of mystery, secrets and surprises in which Det. Griffin is directly or indirectly involved. She looks like a person in her early thirties, plain yet somewhat attractive, and wears no makeup. She has a tendency to visit the local pub to drink alone and soak up her sorrows, find out information on the case from the boozehounds, or catch her lover Johnno with someone else (which did happen once). Griffin has a tendency not to control her liquor intake. Her relationship with her sickly mother (named Jude, played by actress Robyn Nevin) is somber, and her mother does not want her to keep seeing Johnno. There’s a moving scene when Griffin listens to her mother’s last words on the answering machine.

Her boss, Det. Al Parker (played by actor David Wenham) admires Griffin and invites her to dinner, but it ends with her passing out and spending the night at his place. Parker thinks Griffin is too involved in the case and her behavior makes her get suspended. At this time she gets a call from a man who has three files that involve possible sex trafficking – he wants Griffin to look into it. His daughter died due to the same setup. Parker asks her to come back on the force but again she turns in her badge – and in the last episode finds out Parker is involved in sex trafficking.

Det. Griffin’s relationship with Johnno Mitcham (played by actor Thomas M. Wright), who looks around her same age, is puzzling; are they supposed to get married? This does not the stop the sexual passion they have for each other. Griffin years ago was a victim of rape, and this is revealed in her talks with Johnno, who watched what happened. After the secret Matt later reveals, their relationship comes to a standstill.

The scenery in the series is beautiful, which added a nice background to the story. The mountains, water, woods, the bush…all showing the quiet splendor of New Zealand while focusing on the ineptitude of people’s behavior.

The miniseries was created and written by Jane Campion and Gerard Lee. It was directed by Campion and Garth Davis. Campion won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for the 1993 film “The Piano.” The film also won an Oscar for Holly Hunter, who received the Best Actress award.

“Robin’s history is kind of a crime scene,” says Campion. “She has to solve it for herself, and she has to become aware of it first. She’s in denial ... and Tui is triggering it, her disappearance mirroring something for her.” It’s a classic novel structure, argues Lee. “The character, by following the case, goes into herself and her own psyche and her own past,” he says. “They’ve got to solve that before they can solve this thing.”

Top of the Lake was also nominated for a Primetime and Creative Arts Emmy Award and won a New Zealand Film Award for Best Television Feature or Drama Series.

More on the miniseries can be read at

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