This past weekend, I finished two amazing dramatic series that feature women as main characters and focuses of the drama: "Orange is the New Black" (which was fantastic, but you've been hearing about it all over the Web before you stopped here, I'm sure) and "Top of the Lake," a BBC/Sundance Channel collaboration. The reason I'm writing here about Jane Campion's "Lake" is because it has gotten precious little coverage compared to the more commercial "OTNB."
To nutshell it, "Top of the Lake" is a creepy drama bordering on the horrific, with more in common in feel with "Twin Peaks" than a typical police procedural like "Law & Order: SVU," even though, like "Peaks" it concerns a missing young woman; whether she is already dead or not is the concern of much of the series. Set in New Zealand, the terrific Elizabeth Moss ("Mad Men") is the police detective who returns home after a 15-year absence, having worked in Sydney, Australia. Her mother is dying, and while she is back in her hometown, a pregnant young girl's disappearance draws her into policework.
Seemingly unrelated (but this is a small town after all), is a battered women's group of international ladies who have bought and set up a shipping-container camp lakeside beneath some mindblowing mountains. They are a loosely organized group of mostly middle-aged-and-older women, who have been used and abused — and may have done some of both themselves. Their esoteric, Western-accented leader is played by Holly Hunter, who is by turns acerbic, hilarious and just plain weird (and who completely rocks an all-white veil of hair and androgynous clothing).
There are all kinds of devious — and good — characters in this show: Part of the fun is figuring out who is who, and let's just say it's not that obvious who ends up on the sides of good and evil at the end. But it's the setting, which Campion — as she does in most of her films — that steals the show sometimes. From the battering rain to the shafts of sunlight through the forested lowlands, from a giant mountain-range-reflecting lake to frequent soaking rains, the location for "Lake" is an omnipresent character in its own right. As these human beings navigate the strange and familiar, and the story unravels, they are almost never inside — and even when they are, giant windows (or, in the case of the shipping containers, the ends open like windows), frame impossible views. And the players here are down in it too, drowning in the water, lovemaking in the forest, drenched in sunlight or covered by darkness; this is not the urban world that so many mysteries are set in.
The climax of the series is entirely outside, in the wilderness that's so close to the small town portrayed here; the natural highlighted against the human, sometimes moving together, sometimes miles apart.
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