Monday, December 26, 2016

Top of the Lake season 1, episode 5 (Sundance version) - "A Rainbow Above Us"/"The Dark Creator"


Welcome to my viewing diary for Top of the Lake. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I will review another episode. I will be following the Sundance Channel order, which is the one available on U.S. Netflix. It divides the six BBC episodes (each directed in its entirety by either Jane Campion or Garth Davis) into seven shorter episodes. The episode titles will usually reflect which two BBC episodes were cannibalized. This is my first watch-through of the series so there will be NO spoilers for upcoming episodes.

Originally aired April 8, 2013 (written by Jane Campion & Gerard Lee/directed by Jane Campion with Garth Davis)

The two big developments in this episode are a death and the discovery that someone else is not dead. Jude, Robin's mother, passes away not long after visiting GJ's compound. Her immediate feeling of reassurance is perturbed anew when she notices Robin embracing Johnno. Jude's final scene in the show depicts her extracting a promise from her daughter, that she won't go out with Johnno. Ironically, Robin is with Johnno when her mother dies, only hearing her voice one last time from a phone message recorded earlier. Robin's relationship with Johnno is up and down: she is relieved to discover his "secret" was simply that he didn't do enough to help her when she was being raped, not (as she feared) that he participated himself. Still, she has doubts, and after her mother's vague warning, she presses: did he signal her rapists to pick her up fifteen years ago? Johnno is so offended that he storms out, although later they will reconcile. But he never flat-out says no.

As Jude takes her misgivings about Johnno to her grave, another character emerges from her own disappearance. We receive confirmation that Tui is alive when she shows up in the background of a cell phone video. And at episode's end, when Jamie drops off another bag of food in the woods, Tui rushes into frame, a sighting finally confirmed in real time. Earlier, Robin (brought back into the case by Al) updates a reporter on Tui's situation, and she's also present when GJ's commune sees that phone video and celebrates the good news. Nonetheless, Robin is mostly distracted from the investigation in episode five, not only by her mother and Johnno but by her acquaintance with Bob Platt's widow (Xena herself, an unrecognizable - at least to me - Lucy Lawless), who suspects her estranged husband was murdered. The scenes that do focus on Tui are mostly helmed by Matt, once again alone after violently depositing Anita back on the Paradise commune in the previous episode. Matt remains haunted by Tui's absence; he hires hunters to conduct a private search, but stubbornly insists she will return. His sons suggest Matt has motives other than fatherly devotion, admitting that they saw her walking up and down his back when he was passed out one time. Matt lashes out furiously at the implication of incest.

Who impregnated Tui? By now there are essentially four suspects: Matt, probably the most obvious; Jamie, whom Robin discovered with roofies; Johnno, the most discomfiting option since we want to (but can't quite) believe in his sincerity with Robin; and finally Al, which feels like a stretch but remains plausible. Al is looking increasingly desperate, and slightly pathetic, in his pursuit of Robin. He even absurdly proposes marriage, jokingly saying she should kill him if she declines. Later, his "interrogation" of Jamie disintegrates into physical and psychological abuse. When Robin confronts him, and he flimsily defends himself, Al is staring out his office window and we are gazing at him from outside, partially obscured by the dimly opaque glass. He is a portrait of the injured, but drawbridges-up, alpha.  Never particularly trustworthy, Al also appears increasingly fragile. Personality aside, he's tried to shut down Tui's case (as he has with previous young deaths), he's frequently seen with Matt and his family, and his behavior with Robin suggests he is a prisoner of his desires. Yet there's never been any indication of an interest in younger girls, nor any evidence linking him to Tui.

While Matt remains the most likely, my strongest suspicion is currently directed at Johnno. At the very least, I expect to learn more about his responsibility for what happened to Robin. It's also possible that Tui was impregnated by one of her brothers, or one of the minor characters like Penguine (whom we see filming Robin and Johnno having sex in the woods) or Sarge (the leader of Robin's own gang rape). Then again, we may have seen the last of Sarge when Johnno chases him out of town to the applause of his trailer park neighbors. I don't think these men did it. I think it will be one of those four. I also think, as is usually the case with these mysteries, the central question is a bit of a red herring. I doubt that Tui's rapist is solely responsible for her trauma (this will be especially true if it's Jamie), and what her situation reveals about the larger community will likely be just as damning. "You know nothing," Jamie spits at Robin, and that goes for the rest of us too even as we start to put the pieces together.

Previous: Episode 4 ("The Edge of the Universe"/"A Rainbow Above Us") • Next: Episode 6 ("The Dark Creator"/"No Goodbye Thanks")

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