Quote: Politics is war without bloodshed. War is politics with bloodshed – Mao Zedong
Birgitte’s first state visit is from President Grozin of Turgisia. Formerly part of the Soviet Union, Turgisia will take over from Denmark in chairing the Organisation for Security and Democratic Development (OSDD). Grozin and his government have a poor human rights record. Denmark has negotiated for Turgisia to buy EUR 1BN worth of wind turbines but the deal is put at risk when the separatist leader, political dissident and poet Vladimir Bayanov also arrives in Copenhagen to recite poetry. The Turgisian government accuses Bayanov of terrorism and wants him arrested and handed over. The question of whether to do this splits Birgitte and her senior ministers: they don’t agree that the evidence provided confirms that Bayanov is a terrorist but on the other hand they want him out of Denmark and, besides, all the other OSDD members other than France think they should give him up.
Birgitte and Philip are receiving a state visit of their own: from Birgitte’s father. He disturbs Philip’s routines and is a big fan of Bayanov.
Grozin puts a great deal of pressure on Birgitte to hand over Bayanov. He presents a dossier that he says contains proof that Bayanov was responsible for the bombing of a police HQ, killing six people. Birgitte is determined that the evidence is assessed before doing anything, and Kasper agrees a plan to try to get Bayanov to leave the country, thus making the problem fall away. Eventually the Danish police detain Bayanov in front of TV1’s cameras. But – bad coverage aside – their problem does not end there, as they need to decide whether to actually hand him to the Turgisians. There’s an argument that not to do so makes a mockery of the OSDD. Grozin is increasingly irritated. Turgisia is a young democracy, he argues: we’ve had 20 years to develop, you’ve had 160. Birgitte asks for a few minutes to weigh up her options. Later, she will also need to mull over the results of a late night conversation with her father.
Something is rotten in the state of Turgisia
A thoughtful episode but while it’s the first in the series to involve foreign negotiation – quite a lot of which takes place in English! – it fell, for me, a little flat the first time I watched it. This may have been due to BBC FOUR’s policy of showing episodes as double bills, so this was the second show of the night. The problem is that the formula is not dissimilar to the previous episode: present a problem, chew over it for about 50 minutes, then let Birgitte save the day (but with enough ambiguity not to be cheesy) in the last ten minutes, usually in a scene against an older man, and return home. It isn’t a problem to have a couple of episodes like this – in any case, it’s quite reasonable to show Birgitte growing into the job – but too many and we may start to feel a little short changed.
There’s a counter-argument, of course, for what we see at the end is the predictable unravelling of the North Wind contract. So either Birgitte didn’t realise that this would happen (and that’s possible, given her emphasis on skewering Grozin at the press conference) or she decided to hang the contract anyway, in pursuit of wider human rights objectives. What we don’t see is anyone calling her on it. And unless we return to the same topic in a later episode, we won’t ever know whether Bayanov was a terrorist, or how the North Wind contract negotiations conclude. In a sense, that shows how much this show trusts its viewers but it’s a little frustrating all the same and feels like a business school case study where you’re presented with a scenario and some evidence from which you have to make a decision but never know how it would have played in practice. At least in real life, even if we don’t always know that a particular issue is settled one way or another there’s more often more of a feeling of conclusion.
All that’s a shame because there’s plenty of good stuff in this episode, and it’s good to be presented with a genuine dilemma for Birgitte and co. Rather than a left/right divide (made more complex by the multi-party coalition) the question is, in its most stripped down form, green energy versus human rights: two things that any centre-left government is going to want to pursue. (We’ve seen Birgitte trade away environmental issues before but this time business interests are also involved.) Although it’s never posed starkly, you could also ask why it is that there has to be a trade off between human rights and the environment, but such a wide philisopho-political question will have to wait for another time! We learn that for all Birgitte’s comments about pragmatism, her gut feeling takes her back to her days of idealism (and now we also know how that idealism was forged). Given that Anne Sophie’s comment that Birgitte would once have been campaigning on human rights, that her father has been banging Bayanov’s drum at home, and that even Amir would sacrifice his beloved wind farm deal to keep Bayanov safe, it’s perhaps inevitable that this should be so – but it doesn’t seem inevitable until it happens. For the first time we also get a sense that Birgitte and Philip’s marriage is beginning to break and that it’s no longer inevitable that they will remain together. That doesn’t mean that they’re doomed, far from it – there’s plenty of love and affection between them still – but they’re both beginning to notice that things are not quite right.
Birgitte’s storming speech in episode 1 told us that she once had strong views about how Denmark should be. It’s fitting that at this half way point in the series she sits down with Anne Sophie and updates that doctrine: ‘It’s your privilege not to be pragmatic…I’m the Prime Minister even for those who didn’t vote me in.’
It’s good to see Coalition members who have been quiet in recent weeks: Amir ebullient with the news of the wind turbine deal, Anne Sophie keeping the government honest on human rights. Among the inner circle, Höx is turning into a competent justice minister, and Bjørn is Bjørn: at the Swan Lake performance, he warns that they’ve got to do something about Bayanov. Seemingly worn down by a combination of the issue and her enormous earrings, Birgitte tells Marrot to have Bayanov detained; he in turn looks as forlorn as though he has to handcuff the poet himself.
If Bjørn is Bjørn, Kasper is Kasper, only more so. After the ball, Kasper’s back in the office, swigging beer and hitting on a tipsy Sanne. Niels Erik arrives with photocopying for Sanne and tells Kasper, in English, ‘don’t shit where you eat’, and also recommends that he checks out Katrine’s coverage of Bayanov. Kasper rings Katrine to chastise her (it’s clever how you see her on his screen as he bellows down the phone), but she is with ‘Mr Fitness’, so, full of anger, booze and jealousy, he calls round to continue the argument and gets a bloody nose for his trouble (and for his prodding). It isn’t clear where he spends the night: Sanne’s surprise? amusement? interest? as he comes out of Birgitte’s office shower suggests that he doesn’t do that too often.
Grozin’s part is well acted but never seems particularly sympathetically drawn. Certainly, Birgitte believes Anne Sophie’s Amnesty dossier more than she does Grozin’s folder on Bayanov. The handed list of banned questioners seemed clumsily done and an easy way to wind up your host. As it is, we feel that Katrine will be offered the chance to ask question after question until she actually asks the one that Kasper has given her.
Bayanov is, in contrast, a far more romantic character. His first encounter with Katrine, as she warms up her vocal chords is very funny, as is the umbrage he takes when she’s trying to be reassuring. His poetry on the other hand, is probably grounds for extradition on its own. He’s reassuringly laid back, unlike the all-too-serious president.
The first family
We’ve had flashbacks involving Kasper and Katrine, but it looks like Birgitte’s back story is going to be provided through the character of her father. We can see that he at least was into progressive, anti-establishment causes, and his daughter (and economics lecturer son-in-law) must seem to him to be ludicrously right wing. Through her drift towards decency in the middle, Birgitte has in her own way rebelled against her background. But it takes her late-night conversation with her father to make her think of Philip, and to question the extent to which they still talk and listen to each other.
It’s probably a timely reminder, for we aren’t even at the opening titles before it’s clear that all is not well at Nyborg/Christiansen headquarters, and it’s almost ironic that the topic causing unhappiness is the parental visit. Birgitte, understandably distracted by her first state visit, is vague about her father’s stay. Philip can just about live with that but her first reaction is to slip into a business-like, professional tone that irritates him greatly. Not that Philip would know this, but it’s probably his obvious irritation that saves him from being dragged into sitting in on the school run.
The North Wind shares issue was surprising. Many British politicians put their holdings into blind trusts while they are in office, which means they neither profit nor lose from decisions that their government might make. Will Birgitte force Philip to liquidate his holdings, or will sales be made on an individual basis? (In which case Philip’s broker effectively receives inside information.) Looks messy.
Messy’s one description for the house once Birgitte’s father has been making pancakes. Philip’s up one morning at 6.28am to see the debris from the night before. His coffee jar – and his wine bottles – are empty. Birgitte can’t stay to chat, and Philip assumes the sulky position with his back to her and his shoulders drooping. He can’t know about the conversation she had that night with her father; she looks at Philip’s back, wondering if they will stay together forever and is perhaps for the first time worried that they might not.
Compared with previous domestic disruption involving trips to Greenland or late night poker, this is a domestic issue with which many people who have been in a couple can understand – which perhaps makes Philip seem a bit of a wimp, even if this time his own space is being invaded. But to threaten to leave the house for a couple of days seems like an over-reaction, even if his father-in-law seems to go out of his way to wind him up. Philip has acted like a martyr, which made the ‘Martyr’s Blood’ wine a fantastic choice. I can’t decide whether he loves the wine or thinks it’s atrocious. Mind you, his response to Birgitte’s dad – that it’s OK for the elder man to pontificate on how he’s still a rebel because all he, Philip, gives the kids is ‘market economics and football’ – is more poetic than anything that gets read at the table that night.
The trip to the ballet (it takes Birgitte an hour to get home from work, change and get to the theatre. Really?) does give Philip a chance to sample the perks of power spousing. He and Birgitte should certainly dress up in white tie more often, if only in private to dazzle each other. Sadly, he still says he hasn’t taken a shine to ‘that Prime Minister lady’ – a line which punctures Birgitte’s attempt to show her love for him (and her personal triumph) and which also feels as though he’s waited a while to say it.
Are Birgitte and Philip married? Or was their wedding just not to the taste of her dad? We’ll have to look out in future episodes.
The main sign of Birgitte’s busyness is Magnus’ more frequent wetting himself, which isn’t resolved and will probably therefore return.
Katrine reacts to some very different men this week. She swoons a little when meeting poet/dissident Bayanov. But really it’s the two masters of spin who have the most effect. She isn’t that excited by Benjamin, but the appalling behaviour of Kasper pushes her away from the spin doctor and towards the spin instructor. It’s indicative of her relationship with Kasper that it even influences the extent to which she finds Benjamin attractive. Thus she’s slightly irritated with Benjamin one minute, for turning up while she’s in make up and mixing work and fun, and then when Kasper rings her (she won’t know this but he’s literally pointing as he’s scolding her for supposedly flirting) she looks at Benjamin with new eyes and initiates some fun of their own.
Kasper continues his destructive streak – at least as far as Katrine is concerned. He has to have her attention, even if that means that he harms his own romantic prospects with her. Not that that stops him from seeking amusement elsewhere. Did Sanne have a lucky escape or is there more to come?
It’s obvious that Höx would make a better leader than Marrot. Given that we’ve already seen Höx’s penchant for slippery manoeuvres, perhaps he will move again for his party’s leadership.
The romantic moment with Kasper is the first time we’ve seen Sanne portrayed as an adult. Not that this has changed Niels Erik’s view of her. The chief of staff sends her home but treats Kasper with some kind of respect. But why on earth are Kasper and Sanne still at Borgen after the ballet?
Lampwatch: a nice freestanding lamp I can’t recall seeing before, as Birgitte meets Grozin. And in coffee pot news, there’s an awesome coffee set used as Birgitte and her team discuss their Bayanov dilemma.
The Danish for ‘breaking news’ appears to be ‘breaking news’.
The radio station run by TV1 is called, confusingly, TV1 Radio.
When Birgitte met Bartlet
The scenes setting up the formal dinner are reminiscent of those at Camp David before the Middle East peace talks in The Birnam Wood. Birgitte’s gamesmanship with Grozin has loose parallels with the negotiations with China in Impact Winter.
There are numerous points in The West Wing where Bartlet or staffers tell people that they are the administration for the whole country, whether they voted Democrat or not.
What do you think? Leave a comment and check out our other Borgen coverage.