Borgen episode recap S1 E9 Divide and Rule

Quote: You won’t know what hit you before it’s too late – American arms producer

Philip leaves the university as he prepares for his new job. Birgitte’s there but she’s interrupted: a news releases is needed for the new fighter plane purchase. She isn’t convinced they’ve made the right choice and re-opens the decision. While wading through the detail she realises that Philip’s company, VIA Electronics, is a subcontractor. She’s concerned about the appearance of corruption but Kasper says it’s OK.

Birgitte Nyborg at press conference

Hanne Holm at Ekspres splashes a story about Defence Minister H C Thorsen’s super-luxury breaks: grouse-shooting at £3,000 a pop, paid for by the plane makers, Trident. Thorsen does an interview but Katrine isn’t satisfied. After doing some (unauthorised) investigative journalism of her own, she establishes that he also received hunting rifles worth £25,000. Thorsen returns the rifles to the ministry just in time but now the press decides that Birgitte’s government is not as clean as it seems. Kasper panics and demands that Birgitte gets Philip to resign his job. Philip does so but is furious and walks out.

Birgitte comes up with a ham-fisted idea of ‘total openness’ whereby ministers’ diaries are posted on the internet. But Philip’s disappearance has thrown Birgitte’s home life into chaos. She suspects he is having an affair with one of his former students, and demands entrance to her rooms – but Philip isn’t there. He returns, and confesses that he has been with someone else. Birgitte falls and bruises herself. She leaves for a set piece TV1 interview that will have lasting effects. 

Top Gun

The aphorism at the top of this episode is spot on: this episode isn’t, at its heart, about fighter planes or even corruption, but to misquote Bent, it’s about what’s important.

Everyone’s losing control in this episode. Birgitte’s openness policy means she has to lie, and no one notices, let alone Birgitte herself as the moral compass of the government. She thinks everyone’s incompetent but her – as when, to the amusement of Kasper, she chastises H C’s PR man for suggesting spilling coffee on the itinerary. (It’s churlish but the itineraries, supposedly prepared in the UK by a five star resort, are riddled with typos and their website is curiously un-British too.) But the decision making process in her government is a shambles. How come she doesn’t question the purchase of the fighter until the press release is about to go out? Not only does she re-open the fighter purchase but she is looking into all the detail rather than demanding a decent briefing. In a bizarre meeting, she endures a truly terrible promo film for the F26 and then tells Thorsen’s team that she can’t trust their decision because they’ve made other bad decisions. Then why entrust them with this problem at all?

What’s the point of all this activity? In the early days we had a sense of what she believed in, but now she seems to think that her competence (compared to the incompetence of those around her) makes the survival of her government necessary. The ‘openness’ idea is a populist gimmick that is a knee-jerk reaction to a short term problem. Anyone reminded of Gordon Brown? There is confusion here between perceived corruption and actual corruption. Had she signed off the original news release, the issue of HC’s grouse shooting and rifles would still have come up, but Philip’s appointment would be a non-issue. Her meddling has made matters worse. (There is a counter-argument: that Philip’s appointment could be construed as a thank you for the contract – but we’ll leave that to one side.) I’m not a big fan of Niels Erik but he seems curiously absent at a time when Birgitte really needs advice from the prince of vested interests.

We don’t know whether there’s a sense of drift in the government but there will be soon if Birgitte doesn’t take Bent’s advice and start looking at the bigger picture: as he puts it, who will do her job as she does theirs? In the meantime her time management is hopeless. And among all that low level activity it’s difficult for her to know when she’s reached the point of no return. For neither Birgitte nor Kasper can currently see the wood for the proverbial. Following his father’s death, Kasper has rebuilt his façade, but makes it clear to Katrine that there has been no healing since the cremation, and he seeks out the TV1 make-up room’s secret booze stash to settle his nerves when Birgitte gives her fateful interview.

For once, Kasper’s counsel is far from the mark. It is his advice that Birgitte can’t sack H C Thorsen, because that would ‘put her in the spotlight’ – but she is blameless for Thorsen’s love of fine living. Kasper’s wrong to suggest that Thorsen’s antics require her to be quiet: ‘It’s like infidelity.’ No it isn’t. And he is wrong to say Philip should resign. Birgitte, too, is all over the place and it isn’t that clear why. She seems genuinely proud of Philip at his leaving drinks. And when Kasper initially gives Philip’s job the OK, she tells the spin doctor that he might just have saved her marriage – indicating that she recognises the high stakes. Later, when Kasper changes his mind, she protests in Philip’s favour but it isn’t clear whether she now reconciles herself to marital difficulties or simply thinks Philip will be upset.

Philip is asleep among his papers when Birgitte gets home. He’s affectionate, but she tells him he can’t take the job – it might jeopardise her position. He’s angry, but she adopts a detached, professional tone that winds him up even more, and he retorts that she’s sacking him because she can’t sack Thorsen. ‘My husband can’t take that job,’ she says, and he retorts, ‘Can you even have a husband at all?’ She gives him a news release Kasper has written – which says Philip resigned so as not to undermine Birgitte’s credibility – and then requires an answer straight away. The following day Kasper asks how he took the news; the answer comes in the report that the kids haven’t been picked up from school. Philip’s absence will mean domestic disarray. No trunks for Magnus! No milk!

The basket presented to Philip at his leaving drinks becomes a symbol for his entire career. It sits, forgotten, engulfed by the increasing levels of family debris. Then, when Philip doesn’t return home, Birgitte sits and pigs out on his leaving chocolates. (Betrayal! They’re not your chocolates Birgitte!) Then she comes across the photo in the basket, of Philip and Freja. It is an odd thing to be there. But Birgitte’s lack of perspective is further in evidence when she utterly misuses her power to burst into Freja’s (rather well appointed) rooms. Freja’s look of surprise shows just how innocent she had been – that there never had been any serious intent to seduce her professor. She does contact him though – to complain? To warn him? The basket remains on the table, once more forgotten until its final, electrifying role during the interview.

Over at TV1, Katrine, like Birgitte, is also doing the jobs of others, but with Katrine it’s not always clear whether she does this because she’s industrious or because she too doesn’t trust those around her. We know that she certainly doesn’t respect ‘Dad’ and his judgement. For someone who is good at picking up clues (though she was right about Thorsen for the wrong reason) either she doesn’t notice Torben’s increasing irritation or she just doesn’t care.

The interview itself is probably the most pivotal scene since Birgitte became Statsminister. Katrine asks about the ‘openness’ theme, and whether ministers are being punished. She goes rogue in the final part of the interview, even taking off her earpiece as she asks whether Philip has paid a very high price for HC’s mistake. Tanja, who does make-up in the TV1 studio speaks for the public – she’s impressed by Birgitte’s performance, but Philip has a different reaction. He watches at home, surrounded by his basket and looking very unhappy as Birgitte says he made the decision himself, that they are not above other Danes and that she is ‘very grateful indeed’ that she can count on him, as he gave up ‘something he really wanted’. Is she addressing those remarks to him? It was a matter of his not benefiting from her policies she says – and at that point Philip kicks the basket at the TV screen, glass splinters obscuring Birgitte’s face as she concludes with a slight blink, ‘at least as long as he’s married to me’.

Afterwards, on the phone, Philip apologises (for her black eye) and for a moment we think that reconciliation is likely. Birgitte wants to talk, but Philip says she would be ‘leading negotiations’. One of them needs to be at home for the kids; if it’s her then he’ll stay with a friend. He won’t talk to her because they don’t talk any more. He says he’ll stay in the house (is that an invitation to her? If he went to a friend’s house she wouldn’t know where he was but if he’s at home she can turn up and at least try to talk) and puts the phone down. Birgitte tells her driver she isn’t going home but to Marienborg. She starts to weep.

The first family

Meltdown. Birgitte seems to have got herself into a real rut, professionally and personally. She seems to trust no one but Kasper (who currently thinks only in terms of immediate headlines) and possibly Bent – and is very quick to reject Bent’s advice. Nor does she open up to Philip who in the early days was a pretty good sounding board. There is no one to offer her any sense of perspective. If she doesn’t trust the quality of the defence ministry isn’t that something to tackle? Did she even think to question Kasper’s analysis that Philip needed to resign? Or decide that the short-term rough ride in the press was worth the long-term benefit of saving her marriage? With the benefit of hindsight, we even see that Kasper judged it wrong: the press (or at least the one part of the press we can observe) was more interested in what the forced resignation would do for her marriage, so she sacrificed it for nothing.

Philip, sleeping among his papers and dreaming about making his own destiny is awoken with a requirement. He thought he’d made a decision, then it turned out Birgitte and Kasper had to ratify it and then, once Birgitte has accepted from Kasper an argument that she wouldn’t accept from Philip, Kasper has now changed his mind. And written a press release about it. And Birgitte wants Philip’s answer straight away. Not for Philip the dignity of discussion with his family that was offered to Höx. Nor, crucially, is there the idea that there could be any other job, at any other time. Philip believes that he just has to sit it out. He behaves like a teenager, regularly whingeing and going off in a sulk, but he has been treated like one.

Birgitte’s rather oddly choreographed fall (I watched it several times and couldn’t quite work it out) could perhaps have been the spur for some kind of rapprochement, if it were not for the TV interview. Philip watches it, full of self-pity and anger. Who was this woman, lying about him? It isn’t clear whether he aimed to smash the TV screen, and this could, again, have been a shock that in some roundabout way led to reconciliation. But Philip is full of the paradox of his affair. Domesticity equals emptying the dishwasher and having quotes made up for him. Elsewhere there are jobs, affirmation and guilt. Once he would have loved to play poker against the prime minister (or against Crohne). He doesn’t want to play that way for his marriage.

There’s amazing symbolism as Philip hits out at Birgitte’s TV persona. The real Birgitte, Philip’s beloved, is actually bruised, by accident. The TV Birgitte, that Prime Minister lady, is shiny and single-minded, but a sulky, bitter Philip shows us that her façade is no less brittle.

There’s no redemption for anyone.

Katrine

In this episode we see Katrine do quite a bit of actual journalism, much to Torben’s dismay. She is not yet Hanne Holm. And almost all journalists have an editor. Katrine’s ability to think on the spot – think of her terrific reporting when Bayanov was detained – and bravery can outweigh her sense of professionalism. She’s so pleased with herself after the interview, but it isn’t as though Birgitte really came clean on the Philip situation. Torben has no alternative but to suspend her after her antics with the earpiece. An interesting riff on the relationship between truth and teamwork, and we consider that the two people who have really lost out from Thorsen’s venality are Philip and Katrine.

Kasper

Kasper has studiously avoided talking about his father since the funeral. It seems from his uncharacteristically poor advice during the episode that the funeral continues to affect him: that perhaps he hoped for some closure that has not yet occurred. It’s clear when he meets Katrine for lunch that he doesn’t want to discuss matters, and eventually erupts that his father was ‘a nasty little coward who led a dull life’. He hated him, so he made up stories about him and yes, he has seen a psychologist. It’s as much of the truth as anyone is going to get at this stage.

Other characters

H C Thorsen’s smugness, indolence, self-indulgence and general lack of awareness are a sight to see. There’s a marvellous scene where he’s about to generally pontificate on TV1 and Katrine cuts him off mid-waffle.

Danish delights

The contact at Defence Command is the marvellously-named Lars Bang.

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

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