Top of the Lake created by Jane Campion and Gerard Lee (See-Saw Films, Escapade Pictures, Screen Australia)

Starring Elisabeth Moss, Thomas M. Wright, Peter Mullan, David Wenham, Holly Hunter, Robyn Malcolm, and Jacqueline Joe


The wall beauty and horror is paper-thin. My hometown team, the Seattle Seahawks just won the Super Bowl. They dismantled the Denver Broncos with one of the most bruising defensive performances of all time. For me, it was a thing of beauty. Yet, early in the game, the Seahawks’ strong safety Kam Chancellor hit a Bronco wide receiver with such force that he separated the player’s shoulder. From one perspective, beautiful aggression; from another, sheer violence.

Couldn’t the same be said of love? The ideal requires harmonious relationship—two people sharing life together on an equal plane. But what if the emotion is imbalanced? Such a wedge offers an opportunity for improper wielding of power.

Ultimately, what drew me to Top of the Lake is this juxtaposition of beauty and horror.

Draped in Mystery

Set in a remote area of New Zealand called Lake Top, Top of the Lake depicts the mysterious movings of the young, Tui Mitcham (Jacqueline Joe). The show begins with a shot of Tui attempting to drown herself in the lake. Having been rescued, the succeeding medical evaluation unveils a pregnancy.

Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss), a Sydney detective back home to take care of her mother, gets the call from local detective Al Parker (David Wenham) to interview Tui. Pressing Tui on who the father is, Tui writes “no one” on a note before requesting permission to go home to her powerful and criminal father, Matt (Peter Mullan).

The next day, Tui grabs a rifle and heads to the lake, meeting up with a group of wounded women led by the mysterious GJ (Holly Hunter). After admitting her pregnancy to the women, she disappears into the stark and stunning habitats that surround the lake.

The rest of the miniseries seeks to solve the mystery of Tui’s disappearance. In a frantic attempt to recovery Tui, Robin and her lover of yore, Johnno Mitcham (Thomas M. Wright), compete against Matt and his obstreperous sons to find the missing girl.

As the story unfolds, we see the depths of depravity submerged beneath the consciousness of this sleepy town.

Beauty as a Band-Aid

If we’re speaking about the visual components of artistry, Top of the Lake gets a perfect score. The New Zealand backdrop provides stunning visuals at every second of every scene. Even more, the actors perform with conviction, drawing the mystery into deeper levels of intrigue.

But I find myself a little disappointed with the storyline. Too often, I found myself asking, “To what purpose did this person/scene/development serve?” While the story resolves and the mystery unearths meaning about this small community, it felt as if there were more stories to tell, or there was a tighter way of resolving all of the character arcs. This criticism is not strong enough for me to not offer a recommendation, but it certainly left me in a position where I was wanting more.

Nevertheless, I am glad I gave Top of the Lake a shot.  At the end of the day, it exhibits the balance between beauty and horror, much like Super Bowl XLVIII or an imbalanced relationship. Recommended if you’re interested in mysterious crime dramas with gorgeous cinematography.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5

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