Quote: History is a nightmare from which I am trying to wake – James Joyce
There’s no interesting news to be had in Copenhagen for love nor buttermilk soup, but everyone is on standby for Friday when former Labour leader Laugesen is publishing his political memoirs. It’s a perfect storm for Kasper who will have to handle the fall out for the government and deal with any harm to his own reputation over the receipt he stole in episode 1 and any collateral damage to his relationship with Katrine. Kasper tries to get an advance copy of the book. We meet Kasper’s mother for the first time: his father’s died.
Birgitte and family go on a disastrous family holiday to Marienborg. Birgitte’s distracted by the Laugesen book, the kids can’t stand the formal arrangements at the country home, and Philip just gets more and more miserable.
To deal with his father’s funeral arrangements, Kasper must revisit his childhood home. We discover that he was sexually abused by his father before leaving home at the age of 12.
Kasper gets more and more desperate to get hold of a copy of Laugesen’s book, and eventually threatens Ulrik, who is one of only ten journalists with an advance copy. Katrine comes to see Kasper and realises that he must have stolen the receipt the night that Ole Dahl died.
The first family cut their holiday short and return to Copenhagen. Philip’s been offered a very good job. Kasper, meanwhile, must bury his abusive father and fight to keep his own job.
The episode is set during the quiet summer period traditionally known in news terms as the ‘silly season’ but for the main protagonists it is anything but, in an episode that looks at family dynamics, truth and secrecy. It intertwines the day-to-day deterioration of a once strong relationship with the horrors of Kasper’s childhood.
After episode 6 I was concerned that we had stumbled on a formula whereby there were no lasting consequences to the characters’ actions. Episode 7 saw Anne Sophie confront something she said 6 years previously. Now Kasper is confronted by his antics in episode 1, the events of his childhood and a house he hasn’t seen for two decades.
The abuse of children is not a subject that dramas readily portray, and a great deal of care has gone into presenting the issue. We were introduced to the idea of flashback scenes involving Kasper a few episodes ago. The scenes set in the past and the present are lit differently too: the flashbacks take a warmer tone while the contemporary scenes are lit in flat, bleak, cold tones: they come together at the (blue) crematorium where the coffin is set on fire. For Kasper this is the one chance he has to visit any kind of vengeance on his father, and yet the episode shows him distracted by a lesser and more recent crime.
Although Kasper’s interest in Exit lies in the financial scandal, for Amir, Bent and Höx, the book relates to sexual scandal. Is that why Kasper doesn’t bother too hard to manage the resulting spin – that, given what he is reliving, he can’t go and support these men who have (according to Laugesen) also betrayed their families?
In contrast, the affairs of the first family present themselves as black comedy. Most families will remember one or more disastrous holidays. Often, a family that is carrying too much stress will find that the tension spills out during the very holiday that is supposed to heal it. For Philip, Marienborg is a place where he has even less control over his life than he does at home. Whether that means that he ‘deserves’ the CEO role that suddenly puts a spring in his step is another matter. The family that seemed far too perfect in the opening episodes now seems doomed: there is still some kind of will to hold things together, but nothing goes right for it (wouldn’t a different kind of show have had the holiday leading to some light relief for the family?). Philip seems to have made up his mind about Birgitte’s commitment to the family, and for her part Birgitte is increasingly irritated by Philip’s irritation.
The episode starts so innocently, with special interest groups such as the Danish UFO Society and a whale-saving organisation vying to fill aides’ schedules, and with Laugesen as boorish as ever. Birgitte is asked by Magnus’s school’s psychiatrist whether Philip is happy and after a pause says yes. At that point she probably believes it – later in the episode she wouldn’t. And at TV1 they are rising to the bait of the silly season by covering the sudden explosion in sales of cold buttermilk soup.
But Kasper’s mother arrives at Borgen. He isn’t pleased to see her but she has news: his father is dead. She calls Kasper Kenneth. We learn that Kasper hasn’t been home since he was 12. His mother wants his help with practical matters; he offers to contact an undertaker but that’s it. He tells Sanne that it wasn’t his mother who was visiting, but their old housekeeper who had lost her husband and who thought he (Kasper) was her son. It’s one way in which he can talk about death but still, he thinks, remain in control.
Niels Erik is trying to protect Denmark from the whoredom of low standards. He tells Kasper off for not wearing a tie and presents Birgitte with some website designs (wouldn’t that be Kasper’s department?). He sees this time of year, when Parliament is in recess, as a chance to do some real work. He is taking a long weekend in August but feels his work involves ‘total dedication’. Wife no. 3 understands this; 1 and 2 didn’t. I can’t even begin to imagine wives 1, 2 and 3. Brrr. Birgitte races home and announces that the family is going on holiday. She hasn’t thought about where, and Philip suggests the Prime Minister’s official residence, Marienborg.
But Marienborg is not used to being the setting for an informal family holiday. Philip’s promise to Magnus of pizza is overturned by the housekeeper’s preferred menu of pork tenderloin in a creamy mushroom sauce. And a potential romantic moment for the first couple is cut short by Magnus interruptus – he can hear noises.
Kasper returns to his family home, a modern bungalow. His mother is pleased he has returned but Kasper wants to meet the undertaker. Over his mother’s weak objections, Kasper opts for a private service (his father will not have his friends gathered around him one last time), cremation (‘burn him’) and an unmarked grave. He calls Birgitte to tell her that he couldn’t get hold of Laugesen’s book and drives to Marienborg to meet her (to discuss what to say if his part in the Mulberry affair becomes known), keeping her from a family canoeing trip.
Finally, Birgitte organises some romantic time with Philip, but he quickly decides that he isn’t in the mood (even though Birgitte offers to do ‘the other thing’). He feels emasculated, a mere participant in the ‘official programme’.
Katrine visits Kasper at work. She rebukes him for his behaviour towards Ulrik but then says that Kasper doesn’t realise that if he could only tell her the truth she would do anything for him. He’s weighing it up and goes to get a beer but while he’s away Katrine watches a TV interview with Hesselboe in which he wonders how Laugesen got the Mulberry receipt, given that they were in the possession of Ole Dahl at the time Dahl died. Katrine confronts Kasper who claims that the receipts fell out of Dahl’s bag when Kasper was trying to clear the scene…and that it was his duty to act once he knew that Hesselboe had broken the law. ‘You stole them from a dead man,’ she says, leaving. For Katrine this brings back memories of the twenty minutes when her life changed: from being about to move in with the man she loved (and unknowingly pregnant with his child) to having to flee his apartment, unable to say a proper goodbye. (And now we know why Ole’s death was effectively drawn out over three episodes.) Oh, Kasper. That beer you went to fetch was so costly.
We see Kasper back at his mother’s, as she signs various forms for the undertaker. He opens the door of his childhood bedroom. In an earlier flashback we saw him cling to his mother who was about to go away for a few days, as his father promised high jinks. Now he relives the sexual abuse that occurred that weekend. Kasper’s father will be cremated the following day, in the pyjamas he wore as he betrayed his son.
Laugesen’s book is out, and TV1’s Simon is having a great time reporting on the stink it’s caused. Among the revelations: Amir is an ‘inept womaniser’; Bent had an affair with Yvonne, the leader of the New Right; and Höx is probably gay. And it was Kasper who gave Laugesen the Mulberry receipt. Birgitte is wound tight and wants to take control, shouts at Laura who is practising the piano and arranges to meet Kasper at Borgen.
Amir, Bent and Höx are discussing tactics when Birgitte (having already been advised by Kasper) calms them down and maps out strategy. They won’t dignify the book with a detailed response. She gives a few short, relaxed answers to the press and confirms that Kasper will make a statement about the receipt. She tells him to go on TV1 and warns him that he can’t be a liability to the government.
Back at Marienborg, lunch for a hot summer’s day is…meatloaf. Magnus fell over at swingball, (Laura: ‘Crybaby!’ Magnus: ‘Bitch!’) Laura wants to visit her friends and Birgitte’s texting. Birgitte and Philip bicker about whether Birgitte is really participating in the holiday, while Magnus and Laura break an antique dish. When Birgitte suggests they leave, Philip and the kids can’t pack quickly enough leaving Birgitte alone in her fine dining room to finish her meal alone. They get home, happy in the rain (watch for Magnus running through the hall with an enormous robot), and the headhunter rings Philip with an offer. He tells Birgitte that he’ll say no but should meet with them.
Ulrik interviews an unusually nervous Kasper (he had to use booze to gee him up) on TV1. He stonewalls on how he got the receipt, and claims he resigned – he wasn’t fired. Whether he will remain in his job depends on whether ‘ethical people can be spin doctors’. It’s a low-key performance but an effective one, as Torben grudgingly observes. Kasper runs into Katrine outside. She tells him that he’d ‘rather lie about everything than look [himself] in the eye’. They bicker a little and then he says that his father died. ‘Really died? Or did he move to France again?’
Philip’s drinking Carlsberg at 11.00am when Birgitte comes home to change. He was offered a CEO position. She commiserates, but it turns out that he accepted the job, even though they’d agreed he couldn’t, because he really wanted it. No longer a mere participant, he takes Birgitte on the kitchen sink.
Katrine tries to get hold of Kasper. She phones his office and to Katrine’s immense surprise, Sanne says he’s at a funeral. Actually, he’s at his mother’s house. He sees Birgitte’s TV1 interview and has a third flashback: his father telling him that they must keep their little secret from his mother – she would be upset and angry with him. In the present day, his mother says that she can’t come to the funeral. So Kasper is the only attendee until Katrine arrives and takes his hand. They watch the coffin as it is consumed by the flames.
The first family
Being asked whether Philip is happy makes Birgitte stop and think. Unlike in the previous episode, Birgitte does try to get Philip to open up, but she seems slightly disappointed that number one on Philip’s wish list is not a domestic matter but a new career. This would involve different childcare. They previously ruled out getting an au pair, but that conversation almost definitely happened when becoming prime minster wasn’t remotely likely. A chief executive, which Philip wants to be, would notice that circumstances had changed and different decisions needed to be taken. But Philip is increasingly playing the martyr, at the same time as he gets a bee in his bonnet about getting a new job.
On the other hand, Philip’s had a number of years of putting his wife’s career first. During that time, however, he has presumably remained equal at Nyborg/Christiansen Mansions. We’ve already seen that he doesn’t react well to others – like his father-in-law –on his home territory. Now he’s not even number two at home while Kasper seems to have more sway. He certainly blames Birgitte for not putting her foot down with the housekeeper at Marienborg. The result is that having suggested that they take advantage of her professional perk, he isn’t able to stop thinking of her in her professional context. He’s on the record as not liking ‘that Prime Minister lady’ and he’s now on holiday with her and not with his wife. Perhaps it’s understandable that he isn’t in the mood even when she creates the right circumstances to rearrange the Marienborg furniture.
By the way, word is that Birgitte doesn’t really offer to do ‘the other thing’ but just to try ‘something else’. But I’m sure there’s already a whole library-full of fanfic on the web somewhere exploring just what that ‘other thing’ might be.
Does Katrine really not understand the concept of the silly season? And does she really think that her viewers are going to take kindly to worthy and patronising-sounding reports about other lands? I am not saying that cholera in Bangladesh is not important – of course it is – just that it was never likely to become a TV1 News lead.
After the Benjamin diversion, Katrine almost seems ready to declare herself for Kasper. She seems quite happy with aspects of his personality other than his secrecy: his ‘primitive’ behaviour in the previous episode seems forgiven, she’ll forgive him for the way he treated Ulrik and shall probably get over being called a spoilt brat. And yet the possibility that he might have been telling the truth about his father appeared not to have entered her mind. She knew nothing about the circumstances of Kasper’s relationship with his father, nor what the ceremony would be like, but there was no question about whether she would be there.
Kasper is confronted with a past that he has done so much to leave behind. It must be around 20 years since he was last in his childhood bedroom. During the episode he struggles between coping with both a private secret and a public secret – the latter is professionally pressing and emotionally easier to deal with. What we don’t know is how he will react to this double pressure – or even whether he will notice that they are two sides of the same coin.
Will he now share the truth about his family with Katrine? Certainly, he seemed close to explaining matters when she came to see him at Borgen. We can’t expect a neat ‘and then Kasper was OK’ storyline though – that would be crass.
Laugesen doesn’t wash his hands in the bathroom – but the clinical Ekspres gents is quite a contrast to the last place we saw him relieve himself. He does seem to make a habit of meeting Kasper under these circumstances. Supply your own jokes about this.
Niels Erik sees doing a website as ‘real work’.
The toilets at the Ekspres offices are space age and rather amazing. Kasper’s childhood home obviously hasn’t been updated since the 1980s but still contains a decent lamp or two – and a big old TV.
When Birgitte met Bartlet
The list of organisations bidding to see Kasper and others is reminiscent of Leo’s Big Block of Cheese Day outlined in The Crackpots and These Women and Somebody’s Going to Emergency, Somebody’s Going to Jail.
The White House is under attack from a tell-all memoir in H Con 172 – like their Danish counterparts, the West Wingers decide not to dignify the book with a detailed response.
What do you think? Leave a comment and check out our other Borgen coverage.