Before Season 2 hit UK screens, critics were asking: Can Borgen break the curse of a second series? Well, as last night’s double billed proved, it most certainly can. The writing is sharper, Machiavellian shenanigans are cranked up to the max and relationships are put to the test. At the head of it all is our beloved ‘Little Miss PC’ PM, Birgitte Nyborg, played with delicacy and heart by the astounding Sidse Babett Knudsen.
Season 2 begins 11 months after the previous season’s events. Nyborg is facing a crisis in Afghanistan. She wants to pull troops out of the war but after recent attacks causing Danish fatalities, she questions her moral standpoint after much deliberation with party members; a UGO representative and bereaved father, Jørgen Hedegård – played by none other than The Killing’s Olaf Johannesen aka Kristian Kamper. Her viewpoint goes against everything the Moderates (and Birgitte herself) believe in, but in the words of her (soon to be ex) husband, Phillip (Mikael Birkkjær), ‘Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do.’ Phillip’s words concern their divorce. Birgitte has been putting off signing their divorce papers because she doesn’t want to lose Phillip. Her emotional outburst was utterly heartbreaking. Here is a woman literally at war with herself, not just at home or the office. The theme of conflict present within the opening episode has metaphorical significance that looks set to foreshadow further events across the coming episodes. Moreover, Phillip’s words are quite personal to Birgitte but they also claim significance on her political decisions. During one of many arguments with Bent Sejrø (Lars Knutzon), she uses the same line.
There’s only a matter of time before Kasper Juul’s (Pilou Asbæk) world falls around him. He is still peddling the same old lies about his past, only now with new girlfriend Lotte. His ex, Katrine Fønsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) now works for Ekspres with former TV1 journalist Hanne Holm (Benedikte Hansen). Her character seems less conflicted than we are used to and she appears to have matured as a journalist, despite working for the vindictive Michael Laugesen (Peter Mygind). She is still presented as an ambitious individual but under Laugesen’s command she appears more subdued at times. However, when Laugesen sets out to discredit Nyborg and blame her for the deaths of Danish soldiers, Katrine stands her ground. One can’t help but think that the old Katrine would have jumped at the opportunity to grill Nyborg on live TV about this issue.
The theme of conflict carries over into Episode 12, ‘In Brussels, No One Can Hear You Scream’, only this time it is concentrated on Nyborg’s relationship with former mentor, Bent Sejrø. He warned Birgitte in season one that she must be prepared to sacrifice friendships for the sake of politics, and ultimately his advice saw Birgitte firing her protégé in the final episode of season one. As we enter season 2, they are constantly in conflict with one another, berating each other about their political viewpoints. Bent was always Birgitte’s confidant and it’s gut-wrenchingly painful to watch as their relationship deteriorates – particular after she has lost Phillip. What’s more, in the second episode, Birgitte’s son Magnus (Emil Poulsen) would rather spend time with his father than with her. How much more can one woman take?
The major political decision governing the episode is the appointment of a new EU Commissioner. Birgitte has the young and ambitious Jacob Kruse (Jens Jacob Tychsen) in mind, much to Kasper’s objection, but in true Borgen fashion backstabbing comes into full flow as we see that Kruse isn’t all he appears to be. He believes that Bent will be the best candidate but we learn that Kruse has other political plans, greater and more devious than what he has stated to the PM. Because Birgitte believes in Kruse, she asks Bent out of guilt to try and salvage their friendship. Once again her decision-making is put into question. After much consideration, Bent accepts the offer. Their exchange is heartbreaking, but no more upsetting than hearing Nyborg talk about the commitment of her mentor to the press. Her rhetoric is empty; a desperate final attempt of a woman to ease her guilty conscience.
Elsewhere, Hanne Holm gets the beginning of a predictable yet engaging storyline as she falls back into alcohol abuse. She messes up at a party conference and Laugesen scolds her behaviour warning her not to embarrass the reputation of the paper, but surely Laugesen’s morals are enough to discredit the paper anyway? When Hanne’s daughter turns her down she drinks at a party conference and has to be escorted out discreetly by Katrine. Katrine’s respect for Hanne is heart warming. She views Hanne not just as a mentor but also as a pseudo maternal figure. Hanne is such an underrated character and it was genuinely interesting to see it develop.
Last night’s double bill was an exceptionally moving and thrilling two hours of television. Although you could figure out Kruse’s game long before it was revealed, the wonderful thing about Borgen is that even though you may know the dirty tricks of many of its players, we are so invested in the lead character that we are sincerely shocked when she learns about these motives herself. Her decisions and sacrifices have devastating consequences, but we invest in her character 100%. I only hope that Sidse’s infamous knee-weakening smile does not disappear due to all this sorrow her character is facing. It is, like Knudson herself, unreservedly sensational and absorbingly magnetic. Special mention must also go to Lars Knutzon who plays Bent Sejrø. He gives such a compelling performance wrought with tension and warmth. Knutzon is a magnificent actor and he has great chemistry with Knudson. I can’t wait to see what happens next!