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Series / Top of the Lake

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Top of the Lake was a 2013 mystery television series. It was a coproduction between the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and America.

Lake Top, a small remote town in New Zealand, is shaken up when twelve-year-old Tui Mitcham is found to be pregnant and then disappears. Robin Griffin, a big-city female police officer who grew up in the town and has returned to look after her cancer-stricken mother, is persuaded to investigate. As well as New Zealander male machismo, she runs into a conspiracy of silence and obstruction, which seems to center around Tui's father Matt, who happens to be the local gangster and has the cops in his pocket. Matters are also complicated by the arrival of an eccentric feminist women's commune led by weirdo therapist GJ, and old wounds related to Robin's own gang-rape after a high school prom years before.


A Twin Peaks-like thriller series directed by Jane Campion, and starring, among others Elisabeth Moss, Holly Hunter, and Lucy Lawless.

In 2017 a second season, subtitled Top of the Lake: China Girl, was released. This season has Robin, still suffering the emotional wounds of the Lake Top case, working for the Sydney police force and investigating the death of a woman whose body washed up on Bondi Beach inside a suitcase, while attempting to build a relationship with the teenage daughter she gave up as a baby for adoption.


Tropes present in this TV thriller series:

  • All Bikers Are Hells Angels: Matt is in a meth racket with a local biker gang and tends to recruit them as muscle when required.
  • Artistic License – Law: Robin says that Tui is the victim of a statutory rape. No such offense exists in New Zealand law - the correct terminology is "unlawful sexual connection". Also, Robin carries a gun, which the vast majority of New Zealand police officers do not.
  • Ascended Fridge Horror: People on the YMMV page speculated that Al probably raped Robin during her blackout in the fourth episode of the first season. In the first episode of the second season, there's a line of dialogue that confirms that she thinks he did.
  • Asshole Victim: Unrepentant gang-rape participant Sarge is a non-fatal example.
    • Bob Platt's death is pretty shocking, considering he's killed off at the beginning of the first episode, but in-universe, it's noted that no one really cared about him, save for his wife. He retroactively becomes this once it's revealed he participated in the sex ring.
  • Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: The Lake Top police are corrupt, lazy, and completely unprepared to deal with a crime that demands actual investigation.
  • Berserker Tears: Tui after Jamie's death
  • Bestiality Is Depraved:
    • A character openly boasts of having shagged his sheep and loudly extols how this is superior to sex with women.
    • One of the feminist commune may or may not have had a sexual relationship with her pet chimpanzee.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Both seasons.
    • Season 1 ends with Tui and her baby safe and the pedophile ring exposed, but Tui loses Jamie and has to kill her own father, while Robin has to cope with the possibility that Ray may have raped her while she was passed out at his house.
    • Season 2 ends with Mary out from under Puss's thumb and reconciled with her adoptive parents, but Puss got away with his scheme, Miranda is severely wounded and may never see her baby, and it's strongly hinted that Robin and Julia are going to continue waging Passive-Aggressive Kombat over Mary and Pyke.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Matt, G.J., and Puss.
  • Broken Bird: Robin.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: What really sets Robin off when Sarge hits on her in the bar is that he either doesn't recognize her as the woman he raped or has forgotten about the incident altogether.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Pretty much all of the commune-dwellers.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Al's barista scheme for disadvantaged local children gets far too much attention to be irrelevant to the plot. It turns out it's actually a cover for him pimping out the children to businessmen, and it's implied one of these people was the father of Tui's baby.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • Tui's friend Jamie is mentioned briefly in the first episode and turns out to have a large role in the plot later, as he's the one helping Tui survive out in the bush.
    • Bob Platt dies in the first episode but posthumously proves quite important. It's evidence on his computer that first alerts Robin to the existence of the paedophile ring.
  • Corrupt Hick: Matt Mitcham
  • Crapsack World: Small rural New Zealand town where a paedophile ring is being operated, the police are corrupt, and abuse towards women is rampant.
  • Dirty Cop: Al seems like a nice guy but he's far closer to Matt Mitcham and his drug operation than a policeman should be. And it turns out this is only the tip of the iceberg - he's also running a paedophile ring disguised as a work experience programme.
  • Disposable Fiancé: Steve.
  • Does Not Like Men: Averted with the women's commune; it might seem as though they've gotten their own place in order to get away from the men in their lives, but they're not antagonistic towards the men who arrive and treat the handsome Johnno very warmly.
  • The Dog Bites Back: After bullying and threatening them, Matt's attacked by his two sons, who blame him for their problems (which probably isn't too far off the mark).
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Al, the local police chief, towards Robin. It's portrayed as a harmless crush at best and an annoyance at worst. And then it's downright terrifying when the last episode comes into play.
  • Driven to Suicide: Wolfgang, after he's accused of kidnapping Tui. It's implied, but never confirmed, that he may have been murdered instead, though.
    • Jamie's death could be seen this way as well.
    • Tui going out to the lake in the beginning is implied to be her trying to commit suicide, though Matt asks if she was trying to kill the baby instead.
    • The young April Stevens apparently walks in front of a car. It might have been a murder covered up by Al in order to hide the sex ring, or she might have really committed suicide, knowing what happened to her.
  • Emo Teen: Tui's same-aged male friend Jamie.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: Al is the leader of a paedophile ring, and almost certainly lied about Tui's baby's parentage. Also, Matt is Robin's father but not Johnno's.
  • Family Theme Naming: The male Mitchams are named Matt (presumably short for Matthew), Mark, Luke, and Johnno (presumably long for John).
  • Fan Disservice: There's quite a lot of nudity but the clinical style and the fact that most of the actors aren't stereotypically hot means that it isn't particularly erotic - with some obvious exceptions. This trend continues in Season 2, where much of the nudity involves exploited sex workers and their clients.
  • Fanservice: Robin has quite a few lingerie and nude scenes. On the flipside, Johnno is basically a walking fanservice machine. Pyke in Season 2 is less of a Hunk and mostly keeps his clothes on, but one scene quite blatantly showcases his none-too-shabby naked behind.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Robin and Miranda, after a lot of awkwardness and bickering.
  • Foreshadowing: In the penultimate episode, Matt tells Johnno that he's no son of his. Turns out he's not his son at all.
  • From Bad to Worse: The finale. Matt is killed by Tui. Tui is brought to the commune with her baby, but goes missing along with some friends. Robin goes over to Al's house and finds the pedophile ring that's been alluded to for the last few episodes.
  • Girls with Guns: Tui.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Deconstructed with Robin, who only kept the child conceived by her gang-rape because her devoutly Catholic mother forbid her to abort.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Not a good idea to hit on a woman you once raped, even if it was several years ago.
  • Harmless Villain: Mark and Luke Mitcham are loud and sexist and set up to be bigger bads, but the most they ever do is get high and make drugs. Not to mention that they genuinely seem bothered when they mention that they've seen Matt in Tui's bed, and in the last episode they beat up on Matt, blaming him for them growing up so badly.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: This trait is common among the residents of Laketop:
    • Sarge is an unrepentant rapist and is still largely accepted in the town even though this is common knowledge.
    • Matt, Mark and Luke Mitcham openly look down on the women in Paradise, at different times calling them "lezzers" and "unfuckable".
    • There are also the men in the pub who question Robin to see if she's a feminist, before declaring "no one likes a feminist except a lesbian". One of these men is also the sheepshagging man mentioned elsewhere on the page.
  • Hate Sink: Puss actually isn't responsible for Cinnamon's death, but he's such an arrogant Troll and his treatment of Mary is so despicable that he comes off as the most villainous character introduced in the second season.
  • Heroic BSoD: Robin gets one when Matt tells her that she's his daughter.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Jamie impersonates Tui when Matt's bikers hunt for her and ends up getting chased over a cliff to his death.
  • Incest Subtext: Who is the father of Tui's baby? Suspicion falls on her father and brothers. Hints are also been dropped that Robin might actually be Matt's daughter, which would make her relationship with Johnno Surprise Incest (subverted when it is revealed that Johnno is not Matt's son)
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Attempted unsuccessfully by Al on Jamie.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • The second season reveals that Al got off in exchange for testifying against the other members of the paedophile ring he ran, although he was paralysed when Robin shot him.
    • Also in the second season, Puss gets off scot-free for his vile abuse of Mary and general arseholishness.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: To some, Matt's sons finally standing up to their abusive father. Though it turns out that Matt isn't the worst character on the show by far, and by the end of the final episode, it's clear that his unintentional drowning of child rapist Bob Platt was this.
    • Johnno kicking Sarge out of town. A woman even applauds him as he's doing it.
  • Killed Offscreen: Robin's mother dies between two episodes.
  • Left Hanging: By the end of the final episode, no one knows the real father of Tui's baby, though he's probably some middle-aged businessman participating in the sex ring. Al's fate is uncertain, and Robin and Johnno's relationship is as well. The possibility of Wolfgang Zanic being murdered isn't touched upon, and we can never be really sure if April Stevens was murdered or if she really did commit suicide.
  • Lingerie Scene: Some of the scenes with middle-aged people in their underwear (in a non-sexual context) can be considered a deconstruction of this trope: they just look cold and underdressed.
    • The scenes with the sex workers in Season 2 have a similar effect.
  • Little Miss Badass: Downplayed with Tui, but still very much there; she manages to live four to five months in the woods almost all by herself, only getting help in the form of food from some friends. She somehow manages to give birth to Noah all by herself, too, and then kills Matt for pointing a gun at him.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Matt Mitcham had an affair with Robin's mother, and is in fact her real father.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Al appears for most of the story to be a corrupt cop who's acting as Matt's minion, but the final revelations suggest that it may have been the other way round all along.
  • Mood Whiplash: Because of the show's mix of quirky characters and deeply disturbing subject matter, this happens quite a lot.
    • Matt takes ecstasy with a woman from the commune. The two get half-naked together and have a good time in the wilderness, and it seems as though Matt's having a serious Pet the Dog moment... And then he takes her to his mother's grave, she stands on it, and then he starts whipping himself with a belt. It goes downhill from there.
    • A birthday party hosted by Tui's friends is lighthearted and fun; They're caught by Matt's men and Jamie dies shortly after.
    • In Season 2, Miranda Hilmarson's Cloudcuckoolander behavior often goes from funny to creepy to sad and back again in the space of a single scene.
    • Also in Season 2, the scene in which Al tries to murder Robin starts off deadly serious but then unexpectedly veers into Black Comedy as Robin starts fighting back, the room accidentally catches fire, and the focus shifts to the stunned security staff belatedly noticing what's happening.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Johnno holds his own with Robin.
  • National Stereotypes: The sheepshagger does nothing to dispel a common slur levelled against all New Zealanders.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Matt likes to act like a permastoned old hippie, although few people buy it.
  • Obviously Evil: Matt is set up to be this way; Tui even points a gun at him in the first episode. He's a bastard, sure, but he's not the Big Bad.
  • Official Couple: Robin starts the series engaged to Steve and eventually hooks up with Johnno. Their relationship is obviously strained when Robin is revealed to be Matt's daughter, but later it's revealed that Johnno isn't related to Matt, and their relationship is basically Left Hanging by the end of the series.
    • As of Season 2 Robin has left Johnno, after he got arrested for drug possession while in the company of another woman, on their wedding day.
  • Old Flame: Robin and Johnno.
  • Only Sane Man: Al seems to be the only competent or level-headed cop in a Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop station. This starts to slip when Robin finds out that he's been covering up investigations. Turns out he's the biggest villain in the entire force.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: While Elisabeth Moss made out generally (and, to some, surprisingly) well with a character whose background called for a hybrid Australian/New Zealand accent, there are nevertheless scenes in which she can just barely conceal her native American accent.
  • Out, Damned Spot!: One of the last shots of the series is Robin wading in the lake attempting to get Al's blood out of her shirt.
  • Overlord Jr.: Matt's two younger sons. Pity that, unlike their father, they're about as intelligent as the sheep.
  • Parental Incest: Robin suspects this occurred between Matt and Tui.
  • Patricide: Tui shoots Matt dead believing that he's about to kill her son.
  • The Patriarch: Matt
  • Pet the Dog / Kick the Dog: Matt has a brief sexual relationship with one of the commune women, which appears to be humanizing him, but ends up exploding at her after she disrespects his mother's grave and nearly drives his car over her.
  • Quirky Town: A peculiar subversion of the trope: practically all the characters constantly cross the line between "amusingly quirky" and "scarily dysfunctional".
  • Rape as Backstory: Robin was a victim of a gang rape, leading her to think that Tui's "no one" means that she wasn't raped by one man, but multiple men. Al points out that her history is coloring her judgement. Turns out that he's the head of a sex ring where wealthy businessmen drug and rape kids, so Robin is right for the wrong reasons: Tui genuinely doesn't know she was raped, and Al is deliberately misleading her.
  • Red Herring:
    • Wolfgang Zanic. He's a convicted paedophile, but he's not guilty of kidnapping Tui.
    • It's briefly implied that Matt may be keeping Tui in a secret room under his shower. This is not the case - the secret room is actually Matt's drug lab.
    • Jamie; he was teased in the first episode, he's a close friend of Tui's, they ran around the woods together, and Jamie had roofies in his possession when he was arrested. He's actually gay and therefore couldn't have impregnated Tui. The roofies are the same ones from the sex ring, implying that he was raped, too.
  • Riddle for the Ages:
    • It's never entirely clear whether the death of Wolfgang Zanic was murder or suicide.
    • The show also doesn't completely resolve who the father of Tui's baby was. Tui doesn't remember who it was and while Al claims it was Matt, he almost certainly doctored the test results to cover up his paedophile ring.
    • Did Matt know about the paedophile ring and that Tui may have been a victim of it?
  • Scenery Porn: Used as a constant counterpoint to the grubby and depraved events.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: G.J. gets fed up with the commune and leaves in the final scene of the finale, despite Tui begging her not to go.
  • Self-Harm: Matt has a habit of whipping himself with a belt at his mother's grave.
  • Shirtless Scene: Johnno gets a lot of these.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: In the second series it turns out that both suspicious deaths were probably suicide, Puss runs off to Thailand with all the pregnant women, apparently having planned to do so from the start and keep the money, and the cops are left with only a couple of small fry to deal with.
  • Shout-Out: to a dark British drama, The Lakes, which was also about murky goings-on, sexual irregularity, violence and skullduggery under the surface of a remote inbred community living next to a scenic lake. It also has some character and atmosphere similarities to the first season of Forbrydelsen.
  • Suicide by Sea: The series begins with Tui being rescued from an attempt to drown herself in the lake.
  • Surprise Incest: Robin and Johnno, seeing as Robin is Matt's daughter. It's subverted later, though, with the reveal that Johnno isn't actually Matt's son.
  • Tattooed Crook: Matt's sons have some striking ones.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Tui. Deconstructed in that she has a regular 12-year-old's opinion to children; she's disinterested and even disgusted in the ultrasound, and when Noah's born, she'd rather play with her friends and doesn't understand why he's crying, wishing that he'd shut up.
  • Turn in Your Badge: Robin, temporarily, after she stabs one of her rapists with a broken bottle.
  • The Un-Reveal: The father of Tui's baby. Al says it's Matt, but by the end of the last episode it's pretty obvious we can't believe a damn word he's said.
  • The Voiceless: Jamie mostly refuses to speak and communicates with "yes" and "no" written on his hands.
  • Wham Line: "Your father's not dead. Followed by a Wham Shot where Matt shows Robin a video of her father. It's him.
  • What a Drag: Matt and his two younger sons dragged Bob Platt to his death behind a boat after he sold the land Matt's mother was buried on to the feminist commune.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: A minor version, when Johnno calls Robin out on accusing him of conspiring with her rapists, after he confessed that he had the shit kicked out of him during her rape.
    • Al, not unreasonably, calls Robin out on whenever she does something in the investigation that goes against protocol.
    • An anti-hero (or anti-villain) version when Matt's sons are horrified to find that their father has unintentionally killed Bob Platt.
  • White Sheep: Johnno Mitcham. He's a recovering drug addict while his father and brothers are dealers and he doesn't seem to have their He-Man Woman Hater streak. Which could foreshadow the revelation that he's not really Matt's son.
  • Who's Your Daddy?: A big plot point is trying to figure out who the father of Tui's baby is; when Robin asks her who impregnated her, she writes down "no one." Turns out she really doesn't know; she admits that she doesn't know how it happened and it was most likely drugged at the time. Al says that Matt's the father, but that's almost certainly just him covering up for his sex ring.