Top of the Lake

The Manly Appeal of Johnno and His Sex Tent
Talking television.
March 25 2013 10:45 PM

Top of the Lake

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What was up with Mitcham and Anita's awful trip?

TOTL
Anita and Matt's Edenic encounter

Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh

In Slate’s Top of the Lake TV Club, Dan Kois will IM about each episode of Jane Campion’s Kiwi miniseries with another fan of the show. This week, he chats with Brow Beat editor David Haglund.

Dan Kois: Hey David! I'm glad you're here to discuss this week's episode of Top of the Lake, which saw Austrian barman/lederhosen enthusiast Wolfie commit suicide (or did he?), Matt Mitcham take a bad trip with poor chimp-mourning Anita, and Robin and Johnno do a bit more of the wrong thing before they do the right thing.

Kois: But my first question for you, obviously, is: What is the nature of the human mind?

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David Haglund: Ask something a little more personal, Dan.

Kois: THAT IS PERSONAL.

Haglund: We also learned that Robin was Johnno's first kiss, while Johnno was only Robin's "first long kiss." Their relationship is fascinating to me. In a show that is largely about sexual violence and consent, the first bit of the wrong thing we see them do has him going down on her in a bathroom, without asking, after she tells him forcefully to "move away." Campion may seem heavy-handed to some, but I think she sees the complexity of human relationships pretty clearly.

Kois: Yes, I too love the weirdness of Robin and Johnno—including when, in last week's episode, she posted him up on the Suspect board with all the other Mitcham boys. To us, of course, he's not really a suspect—but her attraction to him seems all wrapped up in her extremely complicated feelings about this small town and her history here.

Kois: Plus, he has a Sex Tent.

Haglund: Yes, and a drug conviction. Why did he want her to wear the engagement ring? That was an odd touch.

Kois: Because he's screwed up!

Kois: There are plenty of people on this show whose sex lives are all wrapped up in their ability (or inability) to connect to others. Bunny, who gives Sarge seven minutes of Paradise upstairs at the pub because otherwise she'll get compulsively attached.

Kois: Or Matt, who surprised me with his softer side in admitting his impotence (and lack of interest) to Anita at the end of their super-weird date.

Haglund: It's not a date—it's an apology. Either way, it is indeed super-weird.

Kois: What did you make of Matt's foray into Paradise? And of his self-flagellating visit to his mom's grave?

Haglund: It did seem to show a softer side, like you said—and the apparent mommy complex added some shadings to his misogyny. Their Adam-and-Eve-style frolic seemed to me a celebration of sex and nature—Anita's floral tattoo was a lovely visual grace note—but I was struck that it was partly drug-induced. The ginger son also had a chemical experience with "erotic overtones" in this episode.

Kois: I dunno, I thought their frolic was a real low point of the episode, though I appreciated it more in retrospect once Matt started hitting himself with a belt. But for a while there I was like, Come on, Jane Campion.

Haglund: Too much?

Kois: WAY too much. I mean, I don't really care about on-screen drug trips anyway, but in this case—when there's so much that's more interesting going on—it seemed particularly self-indulgent. You ever get the feeling Jane Campion doesn't care where Tui is?

Haglund: Well, Matt Mitcham doesn't either. And most of the police seem convinced she's already dead. Robin is the only character (mostly) focused on her whereabouts, so I'm not tremendously bothered by Tui's occasional disappearance not just from home but from the TV show ostensibly centered on finding her. It's maybe a slight flaw, but this isn't a procedural—as the Matt-and-Anita romp makes clear, this is a show largely about varieties of sexual experience.

Kois: Maybe I just thought that was the dullest of all the varieties.

Haglund: But a variety nonetheless!

Kois: Well, despite me and Robin being the only ones, I still care about Tui, you monster. She’s a 12-year-old girl. So let's review: She's not at Mitcham's—that under-the-bathroom secret chamber is a drug lab, not a hideaway.

Kois: She's not at Wolfie's. Sorrie Kitten.

Kois: But there is someone out there with a blue hoodie who knows more on the subject.

Haglund: Yes. And I was a little confused by that video. They found it at Wolfie's, right? But he didn't shoot it?

Kois: That's my best guess—that he shot the lederhosen scenes but that someone else shot the later moments with Tui. In an attempt to frame him posthumously?

Haglund: Huh. Maybe. The video seemed to go seamlessly from Austrian-style folk dancing to mysterious running in the woods, which is ... odd. Though again, I don't think it makes a lot of sense to get hung up on standard procedural-style realism when it comes to this show. Fretting about proper police jurisdiction in the Pacific Rim, for instance, is a complete waste of time.

Kois: Yes, that's true. Also, it is hard for me to imagine that Robin can actually get DNA samples from every man in Laketop, as is apparently her plan. 

Kois: I've been interested, though, speaking of the police, at how Al Parker—or Detective Sergeant Faramir, as I think of him—has become Robin's biggest (only) supporter inside the force. He seems to have her back, even to the point of not minding when she spears some mulleted jerk with a dart.

Kois: But I can't say I have a good feeling about his invitation to Sunday dinner. That sort of seems like an inappropriate way to respond when someone tells you on the phone she's cracked the case.

Haglund: Right. Sunday dinner?! And we already know he's in cahoots with Matt (were those drugs Matt gave him on the boat?), so it's not like he's an upstanding guy. His support for Robin may be purely strategic.

Kois: I thought Matt was giving him like a monthly bribe, but either way, they're entirely too chummy. I think they're plotting something.

Kois: After all, plotting and scheming, planning and calculating—that is the nature of mind.

Dan Kois is a senior editor at Slate and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog. Follow him on Twitter.