Top of the Lake is a very dark and emotional mini series, with plenty of twists, turns and complications (although a fairly predictable narrative overall) The case of a missing, pregnant minor is explored in beautiful rural New Zealand, with many small town personalities and politics crossing and sparks flying die to the return of Detective Robin (the excellent Elizabeth Moss).
The series spends 6 hours piecing the case together from fragments and slowly working out who could be trusted and who couldn't. What really makes Top of the Lake different from other crime dramas is the stark contrast between how men and women are written. We see things through Robin (and outsider/insider to the community) and she distrusts all the men at some point, for different reasons. They all give her, and the audience, reasons to dislike them and seperating the truth of this from Robin's bias is all part of the drama. The reach and influence of the men in Laketop is incredible and the series shows just how destructive this can be in a very startling way, with bombshells being dropped in the last episode, one after the other. In contrast, the women are shown to be survivers and fighters, from the mothers losing their children to the women in GJ's shelter, caring for each other and standing in solidarity after every horrific event in Laketop.
The series lacks a complete resolution to the crimes in the final episode, and GJ's exit let down her character a lot, but aside from that, there's not too much I can fault in the drama. I enjoyed putting together bits of Robin's past from flashbacks and it solidified her as a flawed, but strong character. Elizabeth Moss plays her with subtly and strength and goodness knows how she got into Robin's mindset, but she does so brilliantly and convincingly.
Season 2 of Top of the Lake is really quite a different beast. Firstly, we were shown the case (no pun intended) and who was behind the missing body, completely deviating from the 'whodunnit' structure of the first season and to be honest making the actual police case far less compelling this time around. Although Robin Griffin is still an excellent character, she is working towards something we already know, and without the tight-knit community of suspects and constant second guessing of who/where/why the case exists the crime drama part of season 2 is definitely lack luster. Although the focus on sex workers and surrogacy was a 'tighter' mystery/case, it was all too predictable and at times frustatrating to watch Robin play catch up.
However, the second season worked as an exploration of Robin's character, especially in coming to terms with her biological daughter, her own estranged family and coming back to a workforce that essentially hates her. Robin's work struggles were written well and reflect an all too real struggle, showing how tough it can be for women in the workplace. Pairing Robin with gawky constanble Miranda worked well for the most part but Robin's struggle at work wasn't always enlightening to watch.
The only real worthwhile watch of the series is how Robin begins to bond with her biological daughter, her daughters family and comes to terms with giving up a child 18 years ago. The character study aspect of the season worked well and definitely provided a strong foundation to explore other aspects of Robin's life (it's just a shame those other aspects were a bit mundane). Her brief reconciliation with Al Parker was a dynamic and charged scene, but it reminded me more of how good season 1 was rather than added to my enjoyment of season 2.
Even the finale wasn't really anything special, mostly predictable and not an altogether satisfying (or happy) ending. It lacked the emotional punch of season 1 and to be honest I missed the scenic forest shots of the lake (New Zealand wilderness is far more captivating than shots of crowded Bondi Beach). I'd recommend watching this season if you're a fn of Robin and want to see her reunite with her child, but if you're looking for dark gritty crime drama again, best look elsewhere.