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Tobey’s TV Goodness All-Stars 2013: Top of the Lake’s Elisabeth Moss 

Photo Credit: Sundance Channel
Photo Credit: Sundance Channel

Most people know Elisabeth Moss solely from her role as secretary turned copywriter Peggy Olson on AMC’s Mad Men, for which she earned a Golden Globe nomination in 2011. This year, if you were lucky, you also caught her deservedly acclaimed performance in the BBC Two/UKTV/Sundance Channel production, Top of the Lake, available on Netflix.

Created by Jane Campion (The Piano; Angels at my Table), Top of the Lake is a difficult, brilliant and worthwhile program to binge-watch. Elisabeth Moss brings life to its lead character, Detective Robin Griffin, in a strong, nuanced, layered performance which has earned her another well-deserved Golden Globe nomination.

Set in a small town in New Zealand, Top of the Lake finds Griffin drawn into a disturbing case of a 12-year-old girl attempting suicide by drowning in the freezing cold waters of the titular lake. Back in New Zealand, visiting her ill mother from Sydney, Australia where she’s been living for years, Griffin is brought in to lend her particular expertise as a police officer to this unusual case in the quiet town when it’s discovered the young girl, Tui (Jacqueline Joe) is pregnant.

The case brings back Griffin’s own teenage trauma, and has her re-visiting places and people that formed her adolescence, all while she tries to rescue Tui and bring her abusers to justice, while coming to terms with the fact she’ll never have justice of her own.

Elisabeth Moss is nothing short of remarkable in this role. She plays Griffin as a grizzled survivor of an unthinkable attack who is still haunted by the horrific events that helped form her. She is in charge of this investigation even though she’s an outsider, and Moss’s strength is her ability to appear vulnerable, and yet reveal she is made of absolute steel.

You never doubt once that Moss’s Griffin is solely focused on Tui, while you come to the realization that she relates to the girl in ways that are deeper than should be imagined. She wants to stay focused, but cracks, and Moss’s performance relates every emotion Griffin is experiencing. Make no mistake: Moss will grab your heart and crinkle it up like so much tissue paper.

I can’t say this enough: Top of the Lake is astounding, and you need to include it in your life. But it is not easy, nor is the role of Detective Robin Griffin. Moss’s only weakness is her shaky Kiwi accent, but, in the grand scheme of things, that’s a small complaint considering what she actually accomplishes. She embodies the role of survivor, and warrior, and yet somehow, in the midst of all the turmoil and ravages of reality, manages to convince us she could still be, totally, difficultly in love with her childhood sweetheart.

A lesser actor wouldn’t be able to pull off that duality of the character, yet Moss does, and we find ourselves wanting to find a baseball bat to hunt down not only the men who hurt little Tui, but the young Griffin as well, even though we’re certain she can now take care of herself, in every way possible.

That’s a long way from the secretarial pool, Peggy.

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