Why I Should Binge-Watch Top of the Lake


Elisabeth Moss (“Peggy” from Mad Men) is Detective Robin Griffin, who investigates the disappearance of a 12-year-old pregnant girl in a small New Zealand town that is the home of an organized crime ring and a cult.

Original TV Home: BBC Two, SundanceTV

Number Of Seasons: 1 (2013)

Total Episodes/Time Table: Seven 50-minute episodes

Viewing Strategy: It’s important to finish this series as fast as you can. There are a lot of subtle yet important clues that may be forgotten if you take your time watching it. Top of the Lake is a short enough series to complete in one evening if you’re a seasoned binger. If you can’t carve a full evening out of your schedule (and you’ll probably be watching the last episode early in the morning), watch two episodes per night until you’re done.



top-of-lake-s1-castElisabeth Moss, Thomas M. Wright, Peter Mullan, David Wenham, Skye Wansey, Geneviève Lemon, Robyn Malcolm, Holly Hunter, Madeleine Sami, Kip Chapman, Sarah Valentine, Jay Ryan, Alison Bruce, Lauren Dawes, Georgi Kay, Jacqueline Joe, Stephen Lovatt, Calvin Tuteao, Gavin Rutherford, Oscar Redding, Robyn Nevin, Erica Englert, Luke Buchanan, Mirrah Foulkes, Edward Campbell, Byron Coll, Ben Barrington, Layne Opetaia, Sam Dickson, James Blake, Dra McKay, Griz Pomirska, Edwin Wright, Connor Olivia Moore, Cohen Holloway, Darren Gilshenan, Maria Walker, Jacek Koman, Phoene James, Fletcher Boswell, top-of-lake-s1-groupElliot Fell, Toni Mager, Sydney Telfer, Alice Ward, Annabella Bruce, Stuart McKenzie, Lucy Lawless, Michelle Ang, Loren Taylor, Andrew Beattie, Peter Coates, Matt Whelan, Stephen Bain, Andrew Grainger, Chris Haywood, Tammy Davis, Benjamin Farry, Pat West, Elizabeth Hocking, Anthony Phelan, Shane Blakely and Ewen Leslie.



Netflix, Amazon Instant Video



I was first drawn to Top of the Lake for a few reasons. I’m a big Mad Men fan and wanted to see Elisabeth Moss out of the shadows of Don Draper. She is very much “Peggy” in that she is in a male-dominated line of work that doesn’t look kindly to women in lead roles. She’s “Peggy” in that she asserts herself, is highly intelligent and has a complicated personal life. But here she shoots guns, confronts murderers and is unwavering when confronting her counterparts on the police force.

Top Of The LakeHolly Hunter was another draw to the series. Hunter, I’m sure, has been in other films but the ones that matter are Raising Arizona and The Piano (minus Harvey Keitel’s penis). I was ready for a quirky character from Hunter and I got it in this series. Hunter plays “GJ,” a reluctant leader of a cult of women traumatized in various ways. I was disappointed with Hunter’s character (not necessarily Hunter) because it was unclear how she and the cult fit into the story, other than purchasing land that a family of thugs claimed squatting rights to. I am still working through why “GJ” and the cult are in the story, but it helped to read Lori Acken’s article about the series when it first aired. Lorrie Moore also published a good review in Harper’s Magazine a few years ago.

I’m also a sucker for unusual, foreign locations with characters not normally seen on mainstream television or your typical Hollywood movie. Other than Moss and Hunter, the actors are not well known — at least to the U.S. crowd. top-of-lake-s1-grave-stonePeter Mullan has a standout performance as the patriarch of the family of outlaws. Although, you’ll notice that his New Zealand accent is more Scottish. And Jacqueline Joe, the actress who plays Tui, is excellent. The 12-year-old isn’t in many scenes because she turns up missing after a suicide attempt and a positive pregnancy test. But when she’s onscreen, she makes the most of it … without giving anything away.

I got restless watching the first episode because major events in the story occur that are odd and seemingly unrelated. It left me feeling like I shouldn’t continue to watch because I needed a notebook to keep track of everything. Don’t worry, friends, the stories connect; they twist when least expected and get really good. I don’t blame you if you multitask when watching the first episode so here are the Cliff Notes: Tui, the 12-year-old, tries to commit suicide. She meets Robin the detective and they find out Tui is pregnant. Then there’s a family of thugs who find out that a cult of strange women bought the land that they squat on. They confront the cult while cult members wander naked and ramble on about themselves. The thugs then go fishing with the guy who sold the land to the cult. They kill him. Then Tui, who turns out to be the daughter of the thug leader, turns up missing. And then, as they say in the TV writers’ world … hi jinks ensue! There, that’s Episode 1. Watch it while checking email, Facebook or doing your nails. Then move on to the good stuff.



Episode 4: This is the episode that reveals information about Robin. She’s far from just the crime-fighting hero of the story. She is connected to the story more than ever imagined. Episode 4 is also where we get introduced to a very important character — watch for the blue hoodie.



Oh, starting with Episode 4, there are multiple shocking scenes. Characters you’d think are merely supporting the story may have a central role. Main characters are more than you think they are — and they think they are.

Here are some clues that won’t spoil the show:

Always listen to your mother.

Everyone loves each other, at some point, in a small town.

Thank goodness for friends.top-of-lake-s1-e4_bones

Stories about good, ethical cops are boring.



Episode 2:

“No one loves her more than me. No one.”

Matt Mitcham, Tui’s father, says this after being unconcerned that she is missing. She knows how to take care of herself, after all. Robin is suspicious that Matt had something to do with her disappearance or, even worse, her pregnancy. This is shortly after we witness Matt killing the man who sold land to the cult, then shooting the man’s dog. That “No one loves her more than me” line has DANGER written all over it.

Episode 3:

“Can’t we do more of the wrong thing before we do the right thing?”

Robin tries to convince Johnno that it’s OK to love each other.


  1. I’m a big fan of Top of the Lake. I’m currently watching it for the 5th or 6th time, and I’m seeing more clues than ever before.
    The first time, I watched it all at once because I had to know what happened to Tui. I noticed just one clue (recurring motif) then, and guessed whodunnit on that basis.
    This time round, I’m noticing the word ‘angel’ a lot, but am yet to link it to anything but ‘Paradise’. Maybe I haven’t seen enough Jane Campion. I’m also noticing a few good clues happening in the background. After the first viewing, I am really appreciating the acting of Peter Mullan and Ben Wenham, but as an Australian, Elisabeth Moss’s ‘accent’ drives me up the wall every time. It’s not Australian, it’s not NZ, and sometimes it’s pure American. This show has haunted me, and fan fiction provides some relief.

    • Thanks for your comments Vee! I ended up watching Top of the Lake twice for the same reason. It’s full of clues to what happens to Tui. Elisabeth Moss’s accent didn’t bother me too much, but her American accent is definitely present in her speech.

      If you haven’t watched it already, I recommend “The Killing” with Mireilli Enos. It’s originally from AMC and can be found on Netflix. It’s a good detective story like “Top of the Lake.”

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About Dave Lange 16 Articles
Dave enjoys growing potatoes, riding bikes and quoting Jesse Pinkman from "Breaking Bad" (in that order, Yo).