Borgen: Of Children, Monsters and Men

Kasper Juul


So much to say about this week’s emotionally charged double-bill. Those sceptical about the quality of Borgen will undoubtedly have been silenced this week. Yet again, fans are treated to more exceptionally crafted television with a consistently high standard of acting.

Borgen has been laying the metaphors on thick recently and why should it stop? ‘Plant a Tree’ opens with Birgitte, Amir (Dar Salim) and Hans Christian (Bjarne Henriksen) making an advert for a new environmental reform campaign entitled, ‘Our Common Future.’ The tree’s branches symbolise an outlet for growth and development, but in order for the party’s reform to be accepted – or more effective – Birgitte believes multi-party support is the best option. However, Amir, the Green Party leader, disagrees with her gaining right-wing support. She is labelled a ‘bridge builder’ by TV1, which suggests a supportive stance, but one cannot help but think that it is a strategic desire for acceptance, not a power play. Each week Birgitte is loosing credibility for political decision-making – and let’s not forget personal choices. Her flaws make her human, but more so than ever, she is fluctuating between holding onto power and trying to win a popularity contest. It’s playground politics and increasingly inaccessible. As Kasper notes, if she pulls out now she will be considered weak.

Hypocrisy is another central theme of ‘Plant a Tree’ and it’s surprising that ‘Little Miss PC’ can be accused of this. After much political backstabbing, and even a suicide, you would think that Birgitte knows all too well how the media can destroy people. She has given many compassionate speeches to fellow politicians who have been subjected to character assassination by the media and within the government. Yet, Birgitte chooses to expose Amir as a charlatan because he’s not a team player. Kasper informs Birgitte that Amir has a fondness for vintage cars and owns a gas-guzzling Cadillac – the media knew about this but chose not to expose it because of Amir’s popularity. It may be anxiety or refusal to admit defeat, but Birgitte’s moral compass is extremely off kilter this week. She evens surprises Kasper with her decision because it’s so unlike her. Moreover, she is not entirely sympathetic towards Amir’s situation when he and his family are subjected to severe media frenzy, or if she is she didn’t show it very well. The reform is her primary concern. When Amir later resigns from politics he notes that Birgitte is not as sensitive as he thought; he sees no compromise in Government where his party is concerned because Birgitte doesn’t listen and is often influenced by others. ‘We are not the same people as when we started out’, says Amir. More so than ever this rings true for Birgitte. This week, she undeniably makes us question her position.

Birgitte still continues to deal with home pressures and they are insurmountable this week as Laura (a fantastic Freja Riemann) has a panic attack. Borgen’s tagline on the Season 1 DVD is, ‘sacrifice everything for power…except your family.’ Well, Birgitte faces her biggest challenge this week as her job keeps her from comforting and being there for her daughter. Jytte, the secretary, makes the fatal mistake of failing to tell Birgitte that Laura had called several times, and the school had called her stating it was an emergency. ‘This is the Prime Minister’s Office, not an nursery.’ Hej Hej Jytte! Birgitte’s absence led to Cecile rescuing Laura much to the dismay of Birgitte and her fans.  Is our PM finally realising the true cost of power? She admits to Kasper, ‘I can’t see clearly anymore. I’ve lost my bearings.’ She is at a crossroad and she must ultimately make a decision on what path to take, let’s hope it’s the right one.

Elsewhere, Katrine has had a surprising job offer from Lars Hesselboe: he wants her to be his spin-doctor. This is rather confusing because Katrine’s political views are so far from Hesselboe’s it’s unreal. Hesselboe is able to tempt Katrine with a generous monetary package and some business cards that say ‘De Liberale’. If she hands out those cards she will forever be labelled a Liberal, and her moral credibility put at stake. She soon finds out, like Amir, that her ideas are not supported and she leaves, later returning to TV1 under the fantastically dry-witted Torben Friis (Søren Malling). Did Katrine take the job with Hesselboe because it would irrefutably lead to many confrontations with Kasper? Their ‘relationship’ seems to be based on this kind of connection.

Speaking of fractured relationships and damaged individuals, Episode 6, ‘Them and Us’ offers what could be the series greatest episode. The much-loved Pilou Asbæk gives a career defining performance that is so exceptional someone better call up Meryl Streep and tell her to up her game.

In Season One, we gained some insight into Kasper’s past and his relationship with his father. The true nature of their relationship is brought to fruition in this episode as we see a mentally unstable Kasper haunted by his past. It’s all Svend Åge Saltum’s (Ole Thestrup) fault. Svend Åge wants the PM to address juvenile crime and the age in which children should accept responsibility for their crimes – it is currently 14, he wants it lowered to 12. Kasper disagrees with Svend Åge and attacks him in the corridor calling him a ‘political parasite.’ Kasper was robbed of his childhood due to his father. His father and his father’s friends drove him to violence because of multiple acts of sexual abuse. The revelation of Kasper’s secret is extremely powerful and finally gives reason for his behaviour and his inability to commit – it’s no surprise that his relationship with Lotte comes to an end. Furthermore, Kasper becomes more and more volatile as the episode moves on. During a role-play with Birgitte, his sarcastic insults turn vitriolic as it becomes clear that he is no longer talking about the debate Birgitte has been called to. Birgitte seems disturbed, but not enough to question Kasper’s aberrant behaviour. Although, in some way she understands his outburst, ‘we can’t base our legislation on a primitive thirst for revenge.’ Her bill is barely passed.

Svend Åge is attacked and pushed down a flight of stairs by a 13 year old in the district of Nørrebro. The incident has leverage in Parliament and allows Svend Åge to play the role he knows so well: the martyr. Birgitte’s low profile has caused her to come off as a ‘soft school teacher who is afraid to punish the young bully who pushed a man down the stairs.’ However, like Kasper, she too has a personal connection to the legislation and a commitment to see that her daughter experiences childhood.

In between all the political shenanigans, there was yet another uncomfortable meeting between Birgitte, Phillip and Cecille. They sit around the table discussing what is the best course of action to help Laura. Phillip doesn’t seem entirely engaged in the conversation and his responses lack compassion. Cecille looks at him fleetingly as if indicating that he should interrupt Birgitte, who appears to be doing all the talking. However, he feels a more objective approach is the answer and that they should look to Cecile for the answers. He even accuses Birgitte of being jealous. For helvede Phillip’s got a nerve! What happened to him?

The final scenes of the episode are remarkably touching and emotionally heart-wrenching as Kasper reveals his secret to Katrine. It was only a matter of time before he would reveal it to her, and the show constructs this in a flawless manner: he doesn’t tell Katrine of his abuse, he gives her the hard facts in the form of a video tape and newspaper clippings. The use of silence is astoundingly beautiful

If you’re feeling the need for lift, I would like to give a special mention to the hilarious synchronised exit of Kasper and Neils Erik in ‘Plant A Tree’. Neils Erik is the Glenn Morshower of Borgen – if you were an avid viewer or 24 you will know what I mean. Also, there may not have been much of Hanne this week but her exceptionally large scarf garnered some attention. Start your scarf collections…nu!



4 thoughts on “Borgen: Of Children, Monsters and Men

  1. Great review of a couple of great episodes.

    I thought it was telling that Birgette threatened Kasper with the sack if they lost the vote due to the advert, she told him to use his own judgement and he went too far. She used her own judgement with the Amir story and it went too far. No room for errors where anyone else is concerned although Birgette makes many and so we saw proof that even Kasper, her only confidant this series, is not immune to her increasing ruthlessness.

    I do think that Birgette sees more in people than she lets on though, she’s developed a hard shell to cope and focus on the job but I think there was a flicker of guilt when Amir was talking about the impact on his family and when Kasper was ranting at her before she went into the final part of the debate she must have been able to see that this was personal. Kasper, her workaholic, seemingly unprincipled spin doctor getting that worked up and saying that he would sacrifice his job for it? She’s not that blinkered surely? I guess when you’re the PM, about to go into a crucial debate it’s not really the time to take a member of staff aside to see if they’re alright because they seem a bit upset? However she may have just thought he was ‘loosing it’ and really is that out of touch with fellow human beings. You would have thought the situation with Bent (miss him!) would have taught her something about looking after the people who are loyal to you but then again I’m still not clear on exactly how Birgette views her relationship with Kasper. At times they seem so close and at others he’s just another dispensable employee.

    Ulrik made me laugh the number of times he said to Torben ‘this is just a cover position isn’t it?’ every time Katrine was given a task – threatened much?!

  2. What a brilliant pair of episodes. I was completely wrung out when the final credits ran, and thought that the second, which finally saw Kasper’s long-running and damaging silence crack, was particularly fine. I’m not sure there’s a completely happy ending in store, but it was good to see the two of them get another proper chance. Let’s hope he doesn’t throw it away this time…

    I like that we are seeing the less-than-perfect morality of Little Miss PC. The corrosive influence of politics and power is surely impossible to withstand *completely* that high up, so it felt like quite a realistic portrayal to me. And of course it’s easier to do something morally dubious when you have a spin doctor to do your dirty work for you…

    Thanks for your write ups – I’m enjoying them greatly!

    • Mrs P, thank you (as always) for your lovely comments. Kasper borders on brilliance and annoyance for me. He’s definitely his own worst enemy. It will be interesting to see how Birgitte copes without him, and if he ‘will’ return after he’s cooled down!

      Birgitte is such an interesting character and the development in this series is of particular interest to me. She is losing credibility as a politician and as a person, and she really is struggling to be both herself and an effective leader. Furthermore, she has more responsibility at home and with Laura’s illness she will definitely need to make some tough decisions. One great decision was bringing Sanne back 🙂

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