I have been writing a post about Top of the Lake
for literally like 4 years. FOUR YEARS. I keep writing drafts and never finishing them, because it all just feels so enormous and too much and I need like an entire day to get all my thoughts in order.
But, it's happening today friends. IT'S HAPPENING TODAY. SO HELP ME, THERE WILL BE A POST. It will be cobbled together from different drafts I've started over the years, but IT WILL EXIST.
So, below are my thoughts, which were written a few years ago, before I'd seen Mad Max: Fury Road, before Jessica Jones, before Wonder Woman.
Anyway, this post is still not even a fraction of the thoughts I have in my head about this show, BUT. We are doing this. THIS POST IS GETTING POSTED.
Well, there's now not one, but two versions of Broadchurch (both starring David Tennant!) and I still haven't gotten around to the show that, to me, is the far more subversive, far more interesting, far richer and more beautiful original version of what has now become a multi-season franchise.
I haven't been able to write about Top of the Lake until now because my talents do not lie in talking about the things I find overwhelmingly amazing. I had to wait such
a long time for the edges to fade, for this show to settle in my head and become digestible (this is after multiple viewings, because of course I rewatched parts of it ad nauseum) and analyzable and describable.
The non spoilery version is this: Robin (Elizabeth Moss) is a detective who comes back to her small town in New Zealand to visit with her gravely ill mother. At the same time a 12 year old girl in the town is discovered to be pregnant. Robin is called in, because of her big city specialist training, to help interview the girl - however the girl claims she remembers nothing, and Robin ends up leading the investigation into what happened. To unravel this mystery Robin will have to face old friends and enemies, the local gang, police corruption and the secrets of her own family.
If you, like me, are utterly bored by detective stories and mysteries, let me attempt another pitch: Top of the Lake is probably the greatest story I've ever seen about a heroine who is flawed and competent and human, who's allowed to unravel, whose power is never undermined even when she's as low as she's ever going to get, even when the odds are insurmountable. Robin is a heroine you root for when, like Buffy, she has nothing left but herself, her body, her wits. She's someone you root for while you recognize her blind spots, her privileges, her biases. Robin is someone who always, always comes through. Stripped down to the bone she rises, like Lazarus, unstoppable in her passion, her moral duty to do right by the marginalized, her incredible strength.
The amazing thing about Top of the Lake is that it's about a girl who loses everything, but never loses herself. It's about trauma, it's about survival, it's about revenge, it's about justice, it's about compassion and love and forgiveness, it's about asking the ugly questions about ourselves and being uncomfortable and trying as hard as you can to be the best person you can be. It's about trying to make sure no one has to suffer the way you've suffered.
And of course - Jane Campion is an amazing director, and stepping into her world for 7 episodes was like suddenly finding myself in an alternative universe where complex, challenging visual stories are told for me
, as a woman. Where the male gaze is not even a distant memory.
Here's one last way of putting it: Robin and Leslie Knope (of Parks and Rec) are two extremes on the same continuum. Leslie is Robin in a light-hearted, brightly lit comedy - Robin is Leslie in a graphic, gritty detective story. Robin is the grown up version of Veronica Mars. The settings, the moods, the tropes are different but the women are the same - beacons of resilience, fortitude, open-eyed optimism, competence, who are the heroes rather than the victims of their narratives. ( spoilers )
And now an addendum written by today!me:
Top of the Lake is the spiritual mother of so many modern shows, and I'm so happy (SO SO HAPPY) that I get to place it a broader than ever tapestry of women heroes of all kinds.