Borgen episode recap S1 E3 The Art of the Possible

Quote: Democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried – Churchill

Birgitte needs to pass a budget but the process becomes complicated when two Labour MPs resign the party whip and bat for more spending in their constituencies. Birgitte is forced to negotiate with the right wing parties to avoid facing a vote of no confidence. Eventually she buys an extra week to sort things out. She faces an old foe on new territory: Michael Laugesen is now the editor of Ekspres, using the paper to attack the government and the Statsminister personally. She hires a special adviser but this makes things worse.

Folketinget sign on door, Copenhagen

Katrine is expecting Ole’s baby, but no one knows. Eventually she tells Kasper – which brings back some complex memories – and her mum. Both give her advice, but it’s a chance meeting that forces her into a decision.

Philip’s having to cover all bases as the family prepares for Christmas. But his advice to Birgitte starts a process that will unlock the budget problem as the Statsminister turns to two very unlikely allies.

Analysis! Camera! Action!

Birgitte is two months into her administration. How’s it going? Well, on the one hand she’s ready to present a budget; on the other, her office seems barely set up. Her PA, Sanne, is all over the place but Niels Erik (the chief of staff) can’t sack her. There is no special adviser AKA spin doctor. And the art on the office walls still dates from the Hesselboe era. Until now, the design of the budget has probably involved the consensual skills that we’ve seen Birgitte seek to deploy, but will they be enough when she faces her first setback? This episode explores the tensions between fresh-faced enthusiasm, competence and cunning and we observe that Birgitte is perhaps a faster learner than Bent – and better at thinking laterally than in using force to get what she wants.

We didn’t see much of Kasper in the last episode but he’s all over both storylines this time. His arrival at TV1 as a commentator brings him back into Katrine’s life and, thanks to some flashbacks, we realise that their time together had a lasting impact. Though they haven’t spoken to each other since Ole’s funeral, they are relaxed enough with each other for her to let him roam around her flat when he comes to visit. It’s only after her ultrasound (which firms her up in her commitment to have the baby) that she tells Kasper about the pregnancy. He is, we assume, the first to know; he still has that status of ‘really good friend’.

Birgitte and Bent have a problem. Laugesen has pitched up as editor of Ekspres just as the wheels are coming off the budget deal. Two Labour MPs threaten to vote against the budget, and when Marrot ‘does as you [Brigitte] said and pulled no punches’ they resign the whip. Since when did a party leader need to be told to want party discipline?

The appointment of Tore Gudme as spin doctor is Birgitte’s idea – and a good example of lateral thinking that goes wrong. Bent argues they need ‘a man who can administer a beating’ but Birgitte wants someone who shares the values of the Moderates, and Gudme is that man. (It doesn’t seem to have occurred to either Birgitte or Bent that they could aspire to someone who is both a street fighter and an idealist.) Not that you would know that Gudme couldn’t administer a beating. He tells the Moderate pair that he has a clear approach when under fire: analysis, consequences, execution. Let’s face it, execution, is, after all, pretty severe. He takes the job.

We’re beginning to see strains on family life. Birgitte forgets the family trip to go Christmas shopping, negotiates an hour’s space in her diary but then cuts the trip short almost immediately when the independent MPs turn up. I know these MPs hold the key to unlocking this crisis but, frankly, keeping them waiting would show them who’s boss. Instead there’s rather a lot of running around for Birgitte and Bent. Poor Bent has to stay up all night to broker a deal within the coalition, and there’s a meeting with Hesselboe and Yvonne who propose a centre-right deal. Birgitte rejects it out of hand: what’s the point in being in office if you can’t live by your values? The show is keen to prove that she’s still true to her principles.

But when the Speaker refuses more time before the budget vote, and Gudme proposes leaking information about one of the rebel MPs, it is Bent who protests that that’s not how they do things while Birgitte says they’ve ‘passed the point of fair play’. Gudme pecks Birgitte on the cheek somewhat awkwardly, this execution no doubt following analysis and consequences.

Gudme may be a professor of rhetoric, but he has a tin ear for messaging and his plan backfires. Parly, the MP, comes up with populist and easy-to-understand arguments about how his constituency in Ringkøbing needs a motorway. As a professor of rhetoric, the spin doctor is disgusted by the lack of logic in the position. He can’t comprehend how Parly’s position isn’t being ripped apart by an uninterested and sulky Ulrik. Has Gudme ever seen a political argument – or almost any newspaper comment section – in his life?

Now the professor will be undone, in three easy stages. Although Birgitte refers to her deal with Hesselboe as blackmail, it’s a straightforward political deal (albeit with a personal edge) given that Hesselboe would be likely to be cleared by any investigation. We’re invited to contrast Kasper’s correct reading of the situation with the news that Gudme has indeed responded to the incessant pressure from Ekspres by…writing an article for Politiken, the broadsheet that in real life gave birth to the equivalent of…the Moderate party. Bent isn’t impressed with Gudme’s performance so far. Analysis!

Christmas Day. Philip wonders why Birgitte chose Gudme over an operator like Kasper. As they cuddle (Philip and Brigitte, not Gudme and Kasper), Gudme rings with news that Ekspres are running a story of Birgitte and Gudme having an affair. The ‘evidence’ is a picture showing the peck on the cheek. Consequences!

We’ve already seen Bjørn Marrot, a man unused to throwing his weight around, trying to do so with little effect. Now, perhaps fired up by being the personal subject of one of Laugesen’s tricks, it’s Gudme’s turn to try to be the hard man. He goes head to head on TV against the former Labour leader and gives a calamitous performance. Birgitte sacks him. Execution!

It’s perhaps inevitable that Birgitte will be forced into hiring Kasper. Although Bent and Philip have both argued in his favour, she personally believes Kasper to be amoral and therefore his appointment signifies some kind of sell out. So here is the first chink in Birgitte’s idealistic armour. And it’s almost inevitable, too, from what we’ve already seen, that once Kasper swaggers into the Statsminister’s suite, Birgitte will prevail. Luckily for the viewer’s intelligence, although his analysis of the Parly/Laugesen relationship proves to be correct (to the surprise of Bent who on basis of the previous episode should be able to pick up these things), it isn’t Kasper who brings home the deal. Instead, it is Birgitte who remembers a remark made by the former Statsminister and, despite the protests of Bent, whose encyclopaedic knowledge can be as much a cage as an asset, thinks laterally again and cuts a deal with Yvonne and the New Right. Mind you, Birgitte is far more comfortable than Bent with the idea of working with the right.

If we’re not careful, we’ll get to the stage where each episode poses a difficult problem, which is solved at the last minute because someone remembered a clue from a previous scene. You could argue that this formula shows the triumph of Birgitte’s emotional intelligence over the standard political posturing of traditional politicians, but Kasper’s re-emergence on the team also shows the need for balance.

Now Kasper is working for Birgitte again there is the chance for him to be the cynical link between the idealistic prime minister and the idealistic journalist. This programme also likes us to consider the contrasts between rhetoric and fact, appearance and reality, and between the political and personal. The sad final scene sews all these threads together and shows Kasper at his most tender. But for Birgitte a glass of champagne signifies her first triumph.

The first family

Birgitte spots a man collapsed on the street, and we can see that her first instinct is to stop and help. She is now driven to work.

It might just be me but didn’t useless spin doctor Tore Gudme look a little like Philip?

Is it beginning to get tough for the first family? Birgitte’s delighted to see Philip and the kids but has forgotten Christmas shopping – and is called away almost immediately.

Philip’s had enough of the security men but is still trying to keep things together. He manages to keep Father Christmas alive for Magnus for one more year.

Katrine and Kasper

Katrine and Kasper haven’t seen each other for two months.

Katrine tells Kasper she wants Ole’s baby – their baby. It’s the last link to the man she loved. The flashbacks seem to remind her of the clash between the secrecy surrounding her affair and the pregnancy and the openness and honesty she wanted from Kasper. Her memories of Ole and her still unsated grief cause her to reject the advice both of Kasper and her mother. The lie she tells about the father at the ultrasound appointment is, she realises, just one in a series of lies that she will be forced to tell. It is only when she meets Ole’s family at his graveside (just after replacing their flowers with her own? An act of territorial possession, surely?) and is chased away by his widow – who knows, but doesn’t want to know, about his infidelities – that she realises that claiming Ole isn’t a realistic option.

In the flashbacks, Katrine does some investigative work on her own – checking Kasper’s tall tales about his family: they don’t add up. And she dumps him when she decides she can no longer believe his stories about his family.

He, meanwhile, is too proud to spend Christmas with her family (or to drop his obsessive secrecy), and the phone call he makes from the snooker hall shows the gulf between their family circumstances. Yet the ‘emotional crap’ New Year speech he writes is really a love letter to Katrine. He’s clearly besotted and unable to do anything but admire from afar. There’s obviously more to come about these two.

Other characters

Sanne may be a hopeless PA (is she here for comic effect?) but is great with Laura and Magnus (and realises when Birgitte and Philip need to speak).

Hanne Holm is now at Ekspres but turns up on TV1, despite Torben’s animosity.

Danish delights

Christmas markets

Best. Lampshade. Ever. in Brigitte’s office

‘15 minutes of fame’ seems to be Danish for ‘15 minutes of fame’

Both Hesselboe and Gudme fear that Denmark will turn into Italy if a budget settlement can’t be reached.

When Birgitte met Bartlet

The political stories in this episode are all based firmly in West Wing territory. And though I am not sure that Kasper’s character is really that close to Josh’s, they do certainly overlap here as Kasper enters government service with a bang, providing analysis and tactics. Bent knows how to get things done (he brokers a deal on the motorway) but it’s Kasper who understands that this won’t be enough. There are some parallels with the episode Shutdown where a previously out-of-favour Josh brings the answers to a very tricky budget negotiation.

Birgitte’s remark, ‘There’s a press conference in half an hour. I suggest you attend,’ is very similar to words used by Leo McGarry in Two Cathedrals.

Birgitte and Philip are beginning to find that the commitments of office make family life difficult. Most White House relationships are doomed – but Matt and Helen Santos seem to make a reasonable transition: perhaps Philip and Birgitte will go through a similar story arc.

What do you think? Leave a comment and check out our other Borgen coverage.

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