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‘Top of the Lake’ Episode 4 Recap: A Devastating Revelation, and a Simple “Yes/No”

'Top of the Lake' Episode 4 Recap: A Devastating Revelation, and a Simple "Yes/No"

This recap contains spoilers from the fourth episode of “Top of the Lake,” airing April 1.

How do the characters in “Top of the Lake” communicate with
each other, and how quickly do they choose to divulge information? This is a
central question in this week’s episode, which finds significance in both a harrowing,
complex monologue and the two most basic written responses in our language.

Al (David Wenham) invites Robin over for what is supposed to
be a sexy, intimate dinner at his luxurious lakeside home. The
detective-sergeant’s interest in Robin is news to her, as she arrives dressed in
jeans and a t-shirt, less prepared to accept Al’s freely flowing wine and
more ready to discuss what she sees as a possible revelation in Tui Mitcham’s
case: The note Tui scrawled to Robin, reading “No One,” could indicate the girl
had been raped by no one person, i.e.
she was multiple-raped.

Though Al misjudges the tone of the evening, he correctly
surmises that Tui’s case is hitting particularly close to home for Robin. In a
stunning monologue that reminds us yet again of Elisabeth Moss’ vast natural
talents as an actress — as if five seasons of being “Mad Men” MVP Peggy Olsen
weren’t enough — Robin reveals that she was gang-raped as a young teenager
living in Laketop. She subsequently had a baby daughter, who she put up for
adoption, and who has recently contacted her in hopes of getting to know her
biological parents. Robin doesn’t reveal — and probably doesn’t know — which of
her four rapists is the father, but we do learn that Laketop local Sarge (Oscar Redding) was one of
the culprits.

Al, who hasn’t been given much of a character arc up to this
point in the series, here walks a queasily smudged line between vague
gentlemanliness and predatory sexism. Probably fifteen years Robin’s senior, Al
worked on the police force at the time of Robin’s rape and assures her that the
young men were adequately punished (read: not incarcerated), even mentioning
that Matt Mitcham forced Sarge to lick the buttholes of the other assailants as
a method of humiliation. Al’s assumption that a revenge scenario, as opposed to
legal justice, would quell Robin’s pain of being brutally violated shows not
only his brazen misunderstanding of the situation, but also reflects the
general misogyny lurking at the heart of Laketop society.

Equally upsetting are the following events of the evening.
Robin becomes fall-over drunk, a reaction not in keeping with the amount of
wine we see her drinking. “What was the alcohol level of that red?” she
asks Al the next morning, with unapologetic suspicion in her voice. More
importantly, she wakes up in Al’s bed, wearing his shirt and her underwear. He
claims she threw up on her clothes, and that he didn’t take advantage of the situation.
It speaks to the series’ subtle characterizations that in an episode where Al
potentially date-rapes Robin — we don’t know what happens between those
crucial edits of Robin stumbling belligerently downstairs and waking up the next morning —
that we also feel a pang of sadness for Al. He’s a lonely guy, whether puttering
about in his geometric mansion or forlornly waiting outside of Robin and Johnno’s

Johnno Mitcham wasn’t one of Robin’s rapists (as Robin heartbreakingly
mentions to Al, “He was my date,”) but Robin’s interest in rekindling a romance
with him could be a subconscious move on her part to right the trauma of their
abruptly ended first love, to find closure but also to recapture a sense of

In the later part of this episode, we see flashbacks to the
night of Robin’s rape, as she and Johnno discuss what happened. Two points of
significance: First, Johnno mentions that he has “something bad” to tell Robin
about that evening, though he doesn’t elaborate; and second, we see a deerhead
mounted on the dancehall wall during the prom flashback. Not only does the
image of a deerhead have prominence in the show’s gorgeous opening credits, but
similar taxidermied bucks adorn both Matt Mitcham’s home and Al’s office.

When Sarge approaches Robin at the local bar and fails to recognize her, he gives her this piggish come-on: “Have we fucked?” Robin breaks a beer glass in half and grinds the jagged end into Sarge’s torso, at which point Johnno intervenes, hauling her kicking and screaming out the bar. This sudden burst of passion — both disturbingly grizzly and admirably badass — gets Robin kicked off the Tui investigation the next morning.

Meanwhile, who is the person in the blue hoodie from Tui’s home videos? Robin catches a glimpse of the adolescent apparition while
jogging, but loses him. (I couldn’t help but be reminded during this
wonderfully ghostly sequence of Nicolas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now” — the primary-colored
coat, the allusive nature and unknown identity of the person wearing it, the pursuer
being lead into a malovelent labyrinth of mystery.) The blue hoodie-wearer
turns out not to be a murderous dwarf but a local teen named Jamie (Luke
Buchanan), a bone collector who’s taken an oath of silence against adults. When
Robin tries to interview him, he holds up a hand in response: One hand has “Yes”
written on it, while the other reads “No.”

When we look at Jamie’s silence in contrast with Robin’s
monologue about her rape, it becomes apparent that this episode is about
communication, and the strange intersection between personal stories and secrets. Robin
is suddenly verbally forthcoming about her past — and her spoken words are sharp,
stinging and devastating — while Tui’s disappearance is visually signified by one major yet brief written statement, “No one.” Similarly, Jamie’s
opacity on the subject is signaled by the “Yes” and “No” on his hands. The
secret of Tui’s disappearance isn’t yet ready to be revealed; it isn’t yet ready
to be spoken out in the open like Robin’s heartrending history.

Bits and pieces:

  • Robin is contacted by pathologist Ian Fellows, who has been
    following what he suspects is the Laketop police’s mishandling of three cases:
    The “accidental” drowning of real estate agent Bob Platt (who we know was
    killed by the Mitchams), the suspicious suicide of pedophile Wolfie Zanig, and
    the death of a 13-year-old girl, April Stephens, who was apparently hit by a
    car on Laketop Road. Traces of cocaine were found in her vagina during an
    autopsy report.
  • Matt Mitcham’s self-loathing is exemplified in this episode
    when he takes Anita back to Paradise after their extended date from last week’s
    episode. He crashes his truck through the land’s gate, shockingly injuring
    Anita in the process, and storms on to the commune, spitting at all the women
    that they’re “unfuckable.” With Matt’s admission in last week’s episode that he
    has impotency problems, it’s now made clear that Paradise represents much more
    to him than just a trespass on his family’s land; for Matt, these middle-aged
    women represent his sexual inabilities, his own increasing age and his troubled
    past relationship with Tui’s mother.
  • This episode is directed by Garth Davis, and co-written by
    Jane Campion and Gerard Lee.

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