Quote: Trust is good, control is better – Lenin
The Solidarity offices have been bugged, and it looks like the government is culpable. Justice Minister Höx has asked Special Branch for a report. There are 3,000 bugging requests each year and he can’t remember them all – but he defends the system. The building used to be leased to a radical publisher.
The legal affairs committee wants to see Höx, while Birgitte offers Anne Sophie the prospect of a review of Special Branch; Solidarity can nominate who should lead it. But Anne Sophie says that if the problem is deeper than a misunderstanding, she will hound the government – and Birgitte.
Kasper rows with Katrine. Katrine rows with Benjamin. Birgitte rows with Philip.
Höx tells Birgitte that the bugging is a hangover from when the publisher held the rooms: Hesselboe’s government gave the go-ahead – but the committee meeting goes badly. Solidarity moved into the building only after he became Justice Minister – and he knew they had moved in. The Opposition parties have a field day.
Pressure grows. Birgitte tries to control both Höx and Anne Sophie but matters come to a head after another bad performance by Höx. Birgitte gives him some time to decide whether he’d rather resign or be fired, but he has one, high-risk, card to play.
A bug’s life
The professional, polished, cynical politician by the name of Birgitte Nyborg is still under construction. Birgitte doesn’t see what is seen naturally by Bent and Kasper – that Höx has outmanoeuvred her. The Justice Minister has taken advantage of a window that the Statsminister gave him in order to secure his position: by not firing him straight away she lost the initiative.
The two themes to the episode are the recurring themes of the series: relationships and power. There’s a tension between Birgitte and Anne Sophie, two old friends before the pragmatism required by high office got in the way. Anne Sophie tries to have it both ways: to give Birgitte a hard time but to expect loyalty for old times’ sake. Birgitte also tries to have it both ways: she does make Anne Sophie a generous offer regarding the review of Special Branch, but, equally, specifically calls upon their old friendship as a reason for continued loyalty, and then when she could easily dampen down the story about Anne Sophie’s drunken ramblings while still remaining relatively aloof, she chooses not to do so.
And that, perhaps, is the tragedy in this episode, for Birgitte knows something that Bent has perhaps forgotten, that Höx doesn’t care about and that Kasper will never realise: that if Anne Sophie is furious it is with good reason. Solidarity are literally the wronged party, yet Höx is able to bring the Special Branch machine into play to smear the leader.
Birgitte is too distracted too early about what the scandal means for her majority, even though Solidarity is a tiny party and is hardly about to make common cause with the centre-right bloc. She reacts with moral authority, but only when it looks likely that she will be caught up in the issue.
Höx would perhaps dispute the moral issue. As Justice Minister he naturally takes the side of the buggers. But two things are for sure: his sure performance in the last episode has been replaced by incompetence. And Birgitte knows full well that he can’t be trusted. Why on earth does she give him time to consult his family about whether he’ll resign or be sacked? Surely anyone who has taken such trouble to perfect their Nixon impression has an intimate knowledge of politics’ dark arts? We of course see something that Birgitte does not: that two minutes after offering the head of the Special Branch director, it is to him that Höx turns to ask for help.
Incidentally, it isn’t clear why Birgitte would know whether Anne Sophie would remain Solidarity leader – presumably this is a matter for the party only. Or maybe Höx has given her some inside information on Solidarity’s thinking, via Special Branch.
Equally complicit is the media, and I like that the Borgen team suggest that their real life TV news colleagues would knowingly collude in a stitch up as long as it were to make great television. Perhaps in future news anchors should present their shows not in a static studio, but striding along with dark suited aides and umbrellas, meeting their correspondents and reporters under archways. Birgitte and Höx have a Mafia-style rendezvous and it looks terrific.
If professional relationships are under fire, personal ones are in even greater danger. The first family is looking increasingly vulnerable. Philip may not be interested in Freja, but he’s obviously now dissatisfied – what is interesting is that Birgitte can consider Freja a threat but is obviously unwilling to tackle the subject of Philip’s dissatisfaction. That’s a very different position from that in the previous episode.
And Katrine has learned that being very private about your private life isn’t a workable option when your beau comes to see you at work. She’s teased continually by everyone from Pia to Ulrik (except Torben who is brilliantly oblivious). Problem is that Katrine can’t think of a second reason why she’s with Benjamin.
The bugging and Katrine-Benjamin storylines converge at the end. Birgitte goes on TV and says he has her full confidence, that you can’t be affected by issues concerning your friends, and that Anne Sophie will continue as party leader for the time being. As she says this there are two ‘rat pack’ shots – the TV crew, dressed up to the nines, pass a sweaty Benjamin. He and Kat stop and look at each other. Then we cut to Birgitte, flanked by Kasper, Bent and two wing men, striding past a clearly defeated Anne Sophie without a glance. It’s a clever contrast. Anne Sophie has more in common with Birgitte than Katrine does with Benjamin. But it is the politicians with the deep shared history, not the short-term lovers, who no longer acknowledge each other. Friendships and politics, eh?
The first family
The family is supposed to be gardening together (though Birgitte keeps trying to read official reports – as Philip would put it, she’s there but she isn’t) when Kasper rocks up with news of the bugging. The gardening is also interrupted by one of Philip’s students, who turns up to discuss her CV. Freja offers to come back later, but Philip pulls back and says he would prefer to respond in writing. Birgitte isn’t too pleased to hear about the visit but Philip answers with the air of a man with nothing to hide. But when Birgitte returns home to find Freja in the flat with Philip and the kids not at home, she is suspicious – especially when she finds that Freja forgot her scarf. Philip’s shrug of surprise is hilarious.
Birgitte gets home late to find Philip and the kids all asleep in the main bed. She snuggles up with Magnus’ monsters instead.
Later in the episode, Birgitte returns home late. Freja’s scarf is on the table. She opens Philip’s laptop and finds an email from Freja. Philip catches her, and Birgitte asks him if he’s having an affair with Freja. For the first time, Philip’s frustration boils over. He sees himself, effectively, as a single parent, with little adult company or stimulation (just the kids or students) and no interesting work, while Birgitte swans around being flash. Freja’s not who he’d look for – she’s just 22. They begin to argue about it when they wake Magnus.
Until now, Philip has been more-or-less good-natured about picking up the extra tasks. He has whinged every now and again – it’s unrealistic to expect that he wouldn’t – but he has tried different things to keep the family together. It’s several months in and he’s really bored. Birgitte describes his position as freedom but it seems to him to be more like a prison. At this point, he’d clearly prefer relief from boredom to come from his wife, but something’s got to give.
Benjamin distracts Katrine when she’s hearing about the bugging: a political junkie or journalist wouldn’t have done that (they’d have been too intrigued by the story) but she’s open to distraction. Much banter at TV1 about her lateness and her love life (which everyone assumes are connected).
Katrine continues to be the one in the newsroom to push the boundaries.
She tells Benjamin that she’s very private. Is she more like Kasper than she knows?
The vehemence of Kasper’s reaction to Benjamin reopens her doubts as to whether the instructor can be any more than an enjoyable fling – and when, in the next scene Benjamin doesn’t know who Höx is and says he isn’t interested in politics, he’s pretty much toast.
It is a little disappointing that Benjamin couldn’t be a fully rounded person with a knowledge of but not obsession with current events. That would have wound Kasper up even more. Having said that, why should Benjamin be interested in politics? He is dedicated to his work and is clearly good at it – he got a promotion at work the day he got the sack from Katrine. Borgen creator Adam Price has often said that he developed the series because he was disappointed that people weren’t engaging with political issues. Perhaps the audience are meant to see themselves in Benjamin? On the other hand, someone once said that politics is showbusiness for ugly people. The anoraks will be pleased to note that although the political geek doesn’t get the girl, the himbo doesn’t either.
Kasper takes a meeting with Katrine just to say she can’t have an interview with Birgitte. As she leaves, disgusted, he criticises Benjamin’s political analysis skills. Life’s more than work, says Katrine. Not for you, Kasper counters. He knows he’s blowing it with her, acting ‘primitively’, and his reaction to her agreeing that he’s primitive is to call her boyfriend a smurf! But his words strike home. When Birgitte changes her mind and he has to offer Katrine the interview after all, he’s visibly shattered when she refers to Benjamin as her boyfriend.
Kasper flirts with Sanne as Birgitte looks on. Not taking Niels Erik’s advice (from the last episode) too seriously then? It’s a horrible thing to watch: a little like Pat Mustard romancing Mrs Doyle in the Speed III episode of Father Ted.
Höx enjoys the parallels with Watergate. The cloister meetings heighten the cloak-and-dagger feel. If you were a reporter, perhaps you’d stake out the cloisters so that you could land a scoop. If I were Niels Erik, I’d think about organising some additional meeting rooms. Höx has a little twitch when under fire.
Torben finally nails his colours. He says that they can run the story about Höx being incompetent, but it won’t be the top story. He wants great TV, not to reflect the values of a ‘school of journalism’. But Ulrik is up for a top journalism award so things are topsy-turvy in TV land.
Hanne Holm on the other hand definitely should win some sort of award for her consistent and persistent questioning at press conferences. I am surprised if a journalist like her does not follow up on the Special Branch-framing-Solidarity story.
When Birgitte met Bartlet
There’s a scene in Transition where Bartlet is reported to have bugged Matt Santos’ phone call to President Lian of China. Anne Sophie’s response to Birgitte’s how are you, ‘You ought to know. Aren’t you listening in on us right now?’ is similar in spirit to Santos’s comment to Bartlet, that if he wants to know how the Lian call went, he can read the transcripts.
What do you think? Leave a comment and check out our other Borgen coverage.