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‘Top of the Lake’ Finale Recap: State of Emergency

'Top of the Lake' Finale Recap: State of Emergency

Certain episodes of television stand out not only within the
course of a series, but within the course of a year. In 2012, it was the
eleventh episode of “Mad Men,” titled “The Other Women” (incidentally also
featuring a stunning performance from Elisabeth Moss). This year, the finale of “Top of the Lake” achieves that same skin-tingling, harshly
heartbreaking, core-shaking status.

Robin wants to mount a case against Matt Mitcham, but initially
isn’t getting any help from Jamie’s mother, Simone (Mirrah Foulkes), or the other women who work
in Mitcham’s drug lab. After lying, saying they’re on their way to a book group
(to discuss the literary classic “Blue Velvet,” ha!), the women admit to Robin
that the money, health insurance and general support they receive from Matt is
too great to lose.

Bunny’s daughter and fellow Paradise resident, Melissa
(Perth-based musician Georgi Kay), is strumming away on her electric guitar in
the woods when Jamie and Tui appear. The teens head to Paradise for a meal,
where GJ repeats her terse wisdom from last week, that “the body knows what to
do.” Tui is resisting the advice to have her baby in hospital, stating that she
doesn’t want to be naked for the delivery. Her fear of birthing the child
around professionals — many of whom presumably would be men — hints at the
likely reality that she’s repressing a sexual trauma. She’s also bleeding,
which doesn’t bode well for an out-of-hospital birth.

A group of Laketop teens, all sporting “Yes” and “No” on
their hands and many of whom are participants in the local barista course, meet
Tui and Jamie at their forest hideout. It’s Tui’s birthday. Jamie denies that
he impregnated Tui, instead telling his friends that it was the “Dark Creator…
the snake of Paradise.” (This seemingly implicates Matt Mitcham.) He then says
something even more troublesome: “You know who it is. Wake up.” The idea of
“waking up” signals a sense of dreaminess or lack of awareness, which is echoed
later when Tui confesses to Jamie about her baby: “I don’t even know how it got

This episode screams “Warning!” through the mise-en-scene.
The most salient example, of course, would be Robin’s rifle-wielding assailant,
the undistinguishable figure in the dusk who aims his shotgun at her as she
prepares dinner. After Matt’s gang of hunters ambush Tui’s friends to get
information on her whereabouts, the barbecue at the Mitcham residence has a
number of visuals that put us on alert. First, there’s the dead female deer
head skewered on a spike (in contrast to the glorified taxidermied stag heads
we see throughout the series). Next, Matt smashes his hand through a glass
cabinet, and then sends a family heirloom — his mother’s “precious” teacup —
shattering to the floor. His message is clear: He won’t hesitate to kill any of
the hunters if they harm Tui. (Ironically, this also suggests a violent streak
in Matt towards what’s precious to him —
i.e. his family members.)

A nerve-rackingly uncomfortable scene finds Robin stuck between the devilish glares of Al and Matt on Al’s boat,
stranded on the freezing lake. This scene parallels Bob Platt’s precarious situation
in the first episode, and we all know how that turned out. I can’t imagine
Robin’s visceral fear of being, yet again, in a position where she is
outnumbered by men in an isolated setting. Luckily, if somewhat implausibly,
Johnno materializes on his boat to whisk her back to shore, claiming he smelled
a rat after hearing “from Luke about the fishing trip.”

He also tells her that Matt’s hunters have staked out Tui
and Jamie’s forest hideout; once ashore, Robin and Johnno begin searching on
foot for the location, hoping to intervene before the hunters can do any harm.
Too late. After getting into a bloodless shoot-out with their unwanted
visitors, Tui and Jamie switch jackets (so that Jamie is hidden inside Tui’s
puffy white parka, and Tui concealed under Jamie’s signature blue hood) to
throw off the hunters. As the men chase Jamie, mistaking him for Tui, the young
boy slips on a landslide area of rocks, and after skidding hundreds of feet,
falls to his death over the edge of a cliff.

While the sequence leading to Jamie’s death is horrific and gut-wrenching, it’s also
a brilliant example of skillfully choreographed action. Notice how Robin,
walking along the river bed, can hear the shouts and gunshots but can’t locate
the chase; we as viewers have no particular geographic sense of where she is in
relation to the action until Jamie’s body falls into frame. Suddenly, two
planes of action, joined only by editing and sound, are thrust together visually
with one stomach-turning reveal. The importance of sound in this sequence is
reiterated when, as Jamie’s body is hauled into shore, Tui lets off those
plaintive gunshots, accompanied by animal-like wails of anguish. Robin hears
the noises reverberating through the hills.

Has a cover song ever been used to such effect in a series?
Melissa’s rendition of Bjork’s “Joga,” which she performs with a few other
women from Paradise for Jamie’s memorial service, gives me chills. (A nice
visual detail in this scene: The local teens’ horses have “NO” written on their
flanks in large letters, a beautiful and poignant form of protesting a life
cut short too soon. Jamie would have approved.)

At the memorial, Simone approaches Robin, understandably
emotionally unhinged but more friendly now, and tells
her that Jamie wasn’t the father of Tui’s baby. “He was gay,” she says with
tremulous matter-of-factness. And then, as she notices Matt and his crew
arriving: “Don’t say that in this town.”

Peter Mullan, whose terrifyingly focused, excellent turn as
Matt Mitcham I hope won’t go unnoticed at this year’s Emmys, once again
communicates his character’s complexities in the memorial sequence. Matt is
genuinely bereaved for Simone’s loss, but also shrewdly aware that keeping her
on his side — and quiet about the drug business — is imperative.

Mitcham’s concerns prove warranted, as Simone tells Robin
the next day that she wants to testify against Matt, and that a few other women
from his lab will also come forward. Here is another example from the series of
women banding together — as they do in Paradise — for strength, in search of
a sense of peace and personal justice. This is movingly paralleled when Robin
returns to the police office, and Al’s brunette colleague (the only other woman
I’ve seen around the Laketop police station) gives Robin a hug, without

During Matt’s “personal confession” to Robin at
his home, he alleges that she is in fact his daughter, the product of an affair
between him and Jude. This not only clarifies Jude’s intensely negative
reaction in last week’s episode to Robin being involved with Johnno Mitcham,
but also throws Johnno and Robin’s relationship into a seriously complex light.
Robin’s behavior later — brashly kissing Johnno and trying to seduce him (her “Hello,
brother” line is shiver-inducing) — suggests that she is willing to run
the risk of incest.

How interesting that Robin is literally “brought to her
knees,” as GJ predicted a few episodes ago, when she gets roaring drunk
following Matt’s unsettling confession. At Paradise, a hungover, worse-for-wear
Robin tells GJ she “doesn’t know how to go on living.” In perhaps her
best monologue of the series — a feat, as she’s spouted many a great word of
strange wisdom — GJ tells Robin and the other women to stop trying to help others,
to free themselves of the need to plan, strategize, and look for a way out. Here
these women are, in a place with the existentially rueful moniker of Paradise,
and yet: “There is no way out.” Oddly, this parallels the visual space of
Paradise. Though the property is a beautiful expanse, it also functions as a
safe zone, a container to stay inside (like the cargo containers in which the women
sleep). The point of Paradise, as GJ would have it, is to stop looking for a
way out — be contained where you are.

This is the opposite of Matt Mitcham’s philosophy, as he
condemns his sons cruelly for having “empty” lives. Indeed,
throughout the past few episodes, Matt has made it his steadfast pursuit to have a plan. It seems then to follows
GJ’s unforgiving logic that Matt dies following his own “way out” — i.e.
locating Tui, which he does, and then attempting to kill her baby. Before Matt can carry out his designs on
Tui’s adorable newborn, his young daughter shoots him in the forest.

We learn that Robin and Johnno are in the clear. It seems Johnno’s
mother was every bit as promiscuous as Matt Mitcham, and Mitcham is not
Johnno’s biological father.

The significance of “waking up,” as poor Jamie
warned his friends, does come into play in the series’ climax. Al has been
facilitating the drugging and raping of Laketop’s barista-course teens from within
his house. In an act of daring bravado that recalls Clarisse Starling from
“Silence of the Lambs,” Robin shoots Al point-blank in the chest, and
then descends into the lurid underbelly of his too-clean mansion, where she
discovers the pornography ring in action.

The cryptic photos discovered on Bob Platt’s computer were
in fact pointing to just such a scene as the one discovered in Al’s basement. A blood-splattered Robin, with her gun
and cell-phone camera in hand, captures and documents with exactitude the
heinous crime about to occur. Filming it (with her eyes peeled open, unable to
look away from the horrors) is her way of literally giving clarity to a mystery
so shrouded in obscurity. In doing so, she is reclaiming the power of her
younger self, providing hard evidence so that justice — a justice she herself
never experienced — can be served.

The series ends on a beautiful note. GJ is leaving for
Reykjavik, perhaps to find a new place to call Paradise. Tui runs after her
through the burnt-gold fields, and begs her to stay. For months, GJ has been
the bizarrely hypnotic emotional compass for a number of the series’ characters
— and its viewers. As she wisely points out to the young girl, with no sugar
coating: Tui has a new teacher. We hear the sounds of baby Noah crying.

Bits and pieces:

  • It should be noted that there is ambiguity on the point of who impregnated Tui; we hear from Al that Matt is the father, but Al of course has his reasons for possibly covering up the identity of another outside rapist, and blaming it on the now dead Matt. Yet it’s possible that Matt is part of the porn ring — he too has a stag’s head mounted on his walls. If Matt weren’t at least concerned about possibly being linked to the infant via DNA, holding the baby at gunpoint would be a bizarrely extreme move — why the need to have the child killed? Another possibility is that Matt has molested Tui, but that another man in the porn ring is the father.
  • The finale is co-directed by Jane Campion and Garth Davis, and co-written by Campion and Gerard Lee.

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Cece Rider

No one has mentioned that Al ruffied Robin that night she had dinner at his house. And probably raped her.

Susan L.

I agree that this recap is one of the best I’ve read. I think the odds are against Matt being the father of Tui’s baby. There are many verbal clues: Tui says she doesn’t know how the baby got in there to begin with. As for Matt being Johnno’s father, in the scene where Johnno rescues Robin off the boat, Matt angrily yells that Johnno is no son of his. A lot of the clues are sometimes too obvious: the date rape pills conveniently labelled as such. Al would have no reason to lie about Johnno’s paternity test. I am not sure whether Robin refused to get herself tested or whether Al was being unusually sensitive and didn’t tell her the results. The scene where Al was laying out the sheets of paper went too quickly for me to read what was on them. So, while Robin may be Matt’s daughter, I don’t think Johnno was. As to why Matt wanted to kill the baby? Again, his first reaction to the news of her pregnancy was that there was going to be no baby, that she was too young, and that he wouldn’t allow once of his dogs to get pregnant so young, much less his daughter. If he knew about Al’s child sex/pornography ring, then maybe he realized too late that Tui had been one of its victims. Maybe he feels guilt over this? But this last bit does not seem plausible. Matt is so hot-headed, he would have had Al’s head for involving his daughter like that. This is where I began to feel that the plot was becoming a bit contrived: why on earth does Matt want to kill this innocent little baby? Mind you, it was an excellent reason for Tui shooting her father dead – and the ONLY reason to kill him, especially if he wasn’t in fact the father’s child. As for Al: I think he began to believe he was "God’s gift to women"; he was a legend in his own mind: the ultimate criminal, thinking himself either too smart or too powerful to be caught. I like to think that Robin stays to help raise the baby with Johnno, to help the women in her town, now that the two main MALEfactors are dead/vanquished. And a few final words about one of the most interesting characters in this series: Johnno – he may have been your standard selfish lout, but when confronted with the possibility that Robin may be his sister, he had enough moral backbone to step back from continuing the potentially incestuous relationship. A move away from selfish to selfless. As for Guru GJ – I think she is a a caricature of what we have come to expect from all Gurus: she seems to have all the answers and inner wisdom. She often contemptuously spouts bits of cryptic wisdom to her lost flock of followers. In the final episode, she is seen to ask how the price of gold and the Chinese economy are doing, revealing herself to be yet another "Prophet for Profit" guru, cashing in on her followers’ blind belief in her. She tells Robin that in order to learn how to live again, she needs to "die to herself" and says that Robin and her followers need to stop trying to save everyone else and look to themselves first: to be, in effect, more selfish. How will Robin die to herself: by taking a nice long nap in the containers out in Paradise? Or simply by releasing herself from the identity which her past has shaped for her: she has to decide that regardless of whether Matt is her biological father, her self worth depends on how she has refused to let the ugliness of the past destroy what was good and honourable in her. In the end, she appears to reject GJs advice to give up and just look after herself. She cares for little Noah, solves the horrible secret of the child pornography ring, and saves the children. I’m glad this movie ended on this hopeful note. Finally: we need more positive messages like this: I’m tired of all the doom and gloom/there’s no hope for the human race endings.

Marni Smith

I just finished season 1. I’m arriving a little late to the discussion. What I haven’t seen discussed and has bothered me in terms of unresolved bits is the scene at Al’s house. He came out drunk with his shirt inside out and backwards. Tui was "asleep" on his couch and not downstairs getting filmed. That suggests to me that he raped her again or was about to when Robin showed up. I’m thrilled that there will be a season 2. I hope the loose ends will get wrapped up. I think Al is the father of Tui’s baby; Al isn’t dead (we saw him moving after being shot); Matt was worried that he molested Tui given what his sons told him but he isn’t the father; Matt attempted to kill the baby because he was afraid he might be the father but also because he thought it was best for Tui not to have the baby; Matt abhorred pedophiles (remember his reaction to Al when he found out the Austrian guy was a pedophile); Al switched the dna tests and used his own dna; Johnno and Robin aren’t siblings… either Matt lied to Robin or regardless of the fake dna results, Matt still wasn’t Johnno’s father.


None of the Top…Lake season-finale analyses have mentioned that Campion went to a bit of trouble to establish that Matt Mitchum has an erectile issue. Although I agree with this commentator that his vehemence in killing his grandchild needs to be explained somehow. But it could simply be Matt's horror — what can induce horror in a man capable of such cruelty as to kill a dog and self-flagellate — at the baby being proof of his innocent and precious, to him, young daughter's defilement. Matt does everything, including leasing a helicopter, to find her, which indicates he truly cares about Tui. On the other had, when in the beginning, Tue is delivered back home after her ultrasound…Matt says, "At least you didn't say anything." That is a huge indication that Matt is not wondering who the father is or how the pregnancy happened. He's not even that angry at Tui. So it seems that there may be a mutual agreement between Matt and Al. "You can keep your Meth Lab if I can keep my Porn Ring." However, knowing Matt the way we do now, it seems he would kill Al himself for getting Tui pregnant. The mirroring of Robin's rape and adoption of her own gang-rape progeny was well brought out in this rewiew — knowing as we now do that she and Tui are half-sisters — is quite poignant in retrospect. And that is the thing I loved about Top of the Lake…everything only makes sense in retrospect. Tui's ferral response to Matt's pointing a gun at her father is brilliant as Tui has been living in the wild for approximately seven months. Tui's telling her baby boy to "shut up" just as her father had told the baby is chilling. A case of "the apple not falling far from the tree"? But then where does that leave Robin…also an apple off Matt's tree? Though she seems to have come full circle with the care of her half-nephew. I think she and Johnno will be good caretakers, as Campion made sure to communicate in the cafe scene where Johnno is toting the baby carrier, looking for the formula, and cradling the child as Robin takes off…to solve a crime. A tell-tale sign of the way it will be? Johnno, as we saw throughout as when he draws Robin's bath and when he gets her a towel…is the nurturer. But I guess we will never be sure if he organized Robin's rape while he was high. Even if he did…it seems like of anyone in the series Top of the Lake…Johnno has redeemed himself.


I came looking (through google) to see if anyone else made the connection, but apparently it was just me (so far, on my search).

Johnno is Matt's son. Robin is Matt's daughter (my wife pointed out that Robin's mother begged her not to see Johnno. Why? Now we know). Tui is the daughter of Al or one of the sex ring members.

Al knew that the child was from the sex ring. He also knew that Matt was a convenient scapegoat (his inability to maintain an erection notwithstanding), and was confident that Johnno was Matt's son. Accordingly, he switched the baby's DNA with Johnno's for the testing, confident that the tests would come back showing Matt as the father of the baby. The added benefit for the show runner was that it obfuscated the quasi-incest; but we've now seen through that.


Matt was not Noah's father. He was in Al's pocket (Al was letting him be the dealer in town) and knew that Tui was being used by Al in the sex trade. He knew how she got pregnant and felt useless and powerless to protect her which is why he was falling apart.


We really enjoyed this series and it made a refreshing change to have a story told and completed in 6 episodes, with no cliffhanger ending to allow another series (which very often spoils things). The only thing we were left unsure about was the lake contamination – was that ever attributed to anything specific?

open your eyes

no way Matt fathered that baby. In order to have sex he would have to pop a pill! Tui could reload her double barrel before he would even have an opportunity to rape her. After the scene with his sons, in which they state he was high and not thinking clearly, it appears it was a mercy killing in his eyes or perhaps a sacrifice? (all the mitchem men named after biblical figures?) great show!


I don't think that Matt was the baby's father nor that he molested Tui. I found that his trying to shoot the baby harked back to when he shot Platt's dog in the first episode (or was it the second?). I don't remember the exact dialogue, but he said something about liking the dog and giving him food – no do should starve. And then he shoots the dog, in what I saw as a mercy killing (though it felt pretty merciless) because no one else liked it or wanted it and it didn't get along with his other dogs. I think his reasoning for trying to shoot the baby was something along those lines, that no way should a twelve year old girl raise a child and it would be better for everyone – the baby included – if it just died.


The ambiguity over who is the father of Noah is a bit nitpickish: Matt really seems to care and miss her, and he wants to get her an abortion, which makes sense: There's is no situation EVER where it's wise for a 12 year old to have a baby.

There are THREE DNA tests, to see if Matt was the father of Robin, Johnno and Tui. It's a little convenient that he's not Johnno's father, but that he's Robins father adds to the drama.
What's a little too happy-endish (but apparently it's necessary to sell it to the Yanks, otherwise they won't buy it) is that we're supposed to believe that Al told the truth about Johnno's parentage, which is detrimental to him as it ruins his chances with Robin, but not about Tui's? Lying about Tui's parentage would be positive for Al, as it turns attention away from him.


I watched the entire series with my husband and thought it extremely difficult to understand the dialogue because of the accents. I thought Holly Hunter was miscast. Elizabeth Moss was excellent as was the actor who played Matt Mitchum. I needed to read a synopsis of the finale to understand exactly what happened.


Jamie saying, “You know who it is. Wake up.” And the female deer head were excellent foreshadowing, although a little heavy handed.

Tui’s hissing when shooting Matt and Johno…brilliant. So primal and it reminded me that this whole situation has turned everyone into basic animals.

Jamie’s chase and death scene was shot so amazingly. My hands covered my mouth the entire time.

After the pathologist said cocaine had been found in April’s vagina I knew it had something to do with Al. He was the only one with that much money. Then I remembered the party he was having when Robin called him and I thought, “Oh shit, he is having a sex party and the kids are the entertainment”. I never thought that it would be as horrible as it was, with the kids unconscious. Practically dead.

Robin was using her phone as a way to not only document what was happening but also to put a barrier between herself and the horror.

Thank god she shot Al. I hope he lived though so she could crucify him in court.

I am unclear as to the DNA results. Is Matt not Robin’s father, or not Johno’s. Either way, it’s not incest, so yea! Matt must have believed that he was in fact Robin’s father since he paid for Jude’s house and punished Robin’s rapists. It must have been possible too since clearly Jude believed it as well (she let him pay for the house and she was really worried about Robin and Johno having relations).

Over the course of the series that the Paradise compound kept getting fuller and fuller, not just with people but with things too. I remember early on one of the women explaining that they were only allowed to have beds because everything else would just make them play house. Towards the end, that became very true.

Boy, Matt really lost it. He really believed that just getting rid of that baby would fix everything. That she could go back to being a little girl. Did he really not wonder how it happened? He punished Robin’s rapists, a girl he thought was his daughter, but then turned a blind eye to what happened to the daughter living under his roof? I guess, in all fairness, he thought she had been fooling around, but he never thought to ask? Oh. Wait. Misogynistic asshole. My bad.

I don’t think that Matt was the father of Tui’s baby. He was in such denial, even when he wasn’t around Al. Nor do I think he was part of the porn ring as I am pretty sure that it was he and his boys who trashed Wolfie’s house and hung him. He clearly was not ok with pedophiles.

There were a lot of things left unanswered and opened. Who lied about what? The actors, all of them, really sold me their characters. Because I the acting was so convincing I tend to buy into these storylines a little easier. It seems more real to me than many other shows. Because of that, I am willing to let some things go. Like Robin said, “Fuck the truth”.

This was an enjoyable series for me and I really loved your recaps, Beth. Let me know when you will be recapping another show and I will be sure to follow you!


i so looked forward to the finale but had to read recaps to understand what happened!
i felt that the dialogue was the only clue to time jumps. ex.jrobin with johnno for a while…apparently so since her dying mother was trying to locate her for days.., every one out hunting tui, jamie dies, there is a funeral of sorts…so for a day or two tui put on the back burner? plus the last 5 min. seemed thrown together. all that reveal in a few min. at the end did not do the series justice. so many liars so what was the truth? since al gave her the dna results, were they even true? and the whole sex ring scene…multiple roofied teens and the kids never banded together and told or cashed in. come on! acting excellent and i did relish the suspense.


I didn't think that Matt was the father of Tui's baby rather that Al or one of the men in the sex ring was (hence why Tui didn't know who did it or how it got inside her). I thought Al was lying about the DNA test proving Matt's fatherhood in order to convince Robin that rapist was no longer in question. At any rate, I loved the series. Great story, great acting, great direction. Well done, Jane Campion!

Joseph Angier

Wish I could have shared at least some of your enthusiasm. For me, the final two episodes only confirmed my creeping sensation that Top of the Lake was a hackneyed pastiche of previous grand guignol dramas – too numerous to mention – with their half-cooked stews of incest, child sex abuse, and tired critiques of macho mayhem and misogyny. I was in awe of Jane Campion after Sweetie and The Piano. But when she followed that with the torpor of Portrait of a Lady and the idiocy of Holy Smoke, I began to question my initial reverence. Bright Star was a promising step forward, I thought, till I slogged through Top of the Lake.


Do we understand fully Matt’s ritualistic self flagellation at his mothers grave site?


Great recap. However we found the plot messy instead of intriguing. And the author’s directional hand was so heavy there was little contrast. May was wooden and blank. Completely sucked the character dry and by the last episode, I simply could not care if she was anyone’s daughter, or believe her role as a policewoman. Never let the author near the actors is a saying Campion should have followed – and it might have breathed a stunning New Zealand harmony. Top of the Lake slud into it by Ep 4.

Kent Davis

Good serieđ

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