Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan



The Sundance Channel has been doing original series programming lately. We watched one of them, Top of the Lake, and liked it, so we decided to give this one a try. We’re three episodes in just now, and I’m still not sure if I want to continue.

Dan (played by Aden Young, who looks a little like Aiden Quinn to me) was convicted of raping and murdering a young girl when he was sixteen, and sentenced to die. It’s now nineteen years later, and through a technicality or an exoneration, depending on how you look at it, his conviction has been set aside and he is being released. What the DNA test proved was that he didn’t rape her. Who killed her is still very much in doubt. One of two men who seem to have been involved somehow has killed himself. Dan was found beside her dead body, adorning it with flowers and babbling something. And he later confessed.

We all know about coerced confessions, how after being browbeaten for hours and hours some people will confess to anything and regret it later. I have to hope, as an optimist, that it doesn’t happen too damn often, or at least not as much as TV drama and news headlines would lead you to believe. I do firmly believe that the huge majority of people who are in prison are, in fact, guilty. I was in the LA County jail for 30 days a long, long time ago, and in that time I didn’t meet a single inmate who denied doing what he was charged with. For whatever that’s worth.

The story has been left deliberately vague so far. The ex-DA who convicted him is now a state senator—this seems to be happening in Georgia, though it hasn’t been specifically mentioned—and he’s making a lot of political hay about it, pretty much flat-out saying that Dan is guilty. He wants a new trial, and so do many people in the Sheriff’s department and in the new DA’s office.

As for Dan, he hasn’t said much of anything about the crime. After nineteen years in all-but-solitary confinement in a featureless room with nothing but books and a grating where he can talk to inmates on either side of him, he is almost pathologically withdrawn. He learned yoga and other techniques to stay sane, and the rush of events on the outside looks to be way too much for him. I can’t say that I am convinced of his innocence, and I think that’s a good thing for the story. I would need to know a lot more before I would want him living next to me.

And of course this has produced very high tensions in the family, from worshipful little sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer) who has spent all this time trying to get him out, to the … let’s see, he’s the half-brother by his mother’s new husband, who is sure he did it. Mostly they are supportive, and seem to understand that he needs time to sort things out. But the people in town are not so generous. Things threaten to get ugly.

It has kept me involved enough so far, but Dan better start doing bit more than staring into space and being utterly passive pretty soon, or he’s going to lose me.

LATER: Well, we just saw episode six … and were shocked to learn that it represented the end of the season! Actually, we learned that a week ago, but we had already invested five hours, so we decided to finish it up. Six episodes is a pretty damn short season, in my book. For a continuing story? Not nearly enough. And of course it didn’t come to anything even close to a revelation, so now if we’re interested (and I’m far from sure we are) it will be an indeterminate time until we see more. And for me, that means I will probably have forgotten most of what I’ve just seen. I feel cheated.

Maybe this review will refresh my memory. Just so I can get back into it, maybe … Dan just got the living crap beat out of him at the grave of the girl he was convicted of killing. He was beaten by seven or eight total cowards who wore masks. I have to say, he defended himself well, but it was hopeless from the start. And these pieces of shit kicked him in the face and body so many times when he was down that Season Two is going to have to start with him in the hospital, maybe in intensive care. One of the animals took his mask off at the end, when it wasn’t clear that Dan was even conscious, and he pissed on Dan. I think he might have been the brother of the dead girl, but we had seen him so briefly I wasn’t sure.