Quote: A prince never lacks legitimate reason to break his promise – Machiavelli
Birgitte’s preparing for the October opening of Parliament, and Kasper’s trying to write her speech. The polls don’t look good for the Moderates – they’re down and Labour is up. Birgitte’s been living at Marienborg. Bent visits with breakfast and marital advice: talk to Philip, while Hanne Holm warns Kasper that the gutter press knows something’s up. So Birgitte goes to see Philip, but her timing’s off: he’s returning home from a tryst. They argue. Kasper comes up with the idea of a personal interview on TV1 – presented by Katrine, naturally – in which Birgitte and Philip play the happy couple.
Birgitte makes Philip an offer: play the field but just do this interview. She moves back home. And Katrine returns to TV1. Kasper sells to Torben the unheard of idea that Birgitte should hold editing rights over the interview.
Labour want Bent’s position at the finance ministry. Kasper kisses Sanne – and Niels Erik catches them. And Katrine interviews Birgitte and Philip at home – they give a great performance but Philip leaves for a ‘meeting’ almost immediately afterwards. But the following day Philip turns up at Birgitte’s office: he’s appalled by their performance. He wants a divorce. Kasper immediately shuts down the domestic section of the programme.
Katrine has heard about Kasper and Torben’s editing deal. She resigns from TV1.
Birgitte wants a more ambitious speech. Kasper dumps Sanne.
Bjørn and Pernille tell Birgitte that Amir agrees that Labour should have Bent’s ministry. Birgitte sacks Bent.
Birgitte’s family gather together as she gives her speech. And Niels Erik gets his way on a recurring staffing matter.
Bleak. The last page of Sons and Lovers. The last few minutes of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Clacton Pier in February. Clacton Pier in August. Half of King Lear. These last two episodes out-bleak them all.
When the first few episodes of Borgen were aired, many people found the warmth and closeness of the first couple refreshing. They hoped that the couple would stay together, as many power or professional couples do. They observed that keeping the couple as a firm unit avoided a well-worn TV drama cliché.
At the end of series one, her marriage is not all that Birgitte has discarded: she has lost everything that matters in the pursuit of a fleeting term of office. A different couple from Birgitte and Philip might have held each other tight against the strong winds, and we could have, each week, watched Birgitte take on the big political issues of her time and winning (and, occasionally enough to be realistic, losing) in 60 minutes of drama. We saw what that might be like in the early part of this series. (And pretty much throughout The West Wing’s seven year run.) But what the Borgen team have shown us is one particular, very warm family falling apart despite the obvious love that still exists between the protagonists. Birgitte and Philip are not and cannot be the Sejrøs or the Hesselboes, with their arrangements and their secrets, and although it’s disappointing that it’s implied that Bent, Lars and their wives have the only workable models for a marriage, a separation is consistent with everything else happening in Birgitte’s life right now.
Is it that Birgitte has become a bad person? She out-cynics Kasper in this episode. Her make up is heavier, her crinkle-nosed smile has been replaced by a stare; there are times when she looks ill. Where is the woman so many people fell in love with? The cycling to work couldn’t have lasted, but the wardrobe changes have been severe and the uniform looks less and less comfortable. This is not a person at ease with herself. Before episode 9, we’d take her side against Philip and yet her proposed ‘deal’ leaves us speechless. Even at the end of this episode, though, his reaction seems like another ratcheting up of the stakes, though it’s really the result of a slow build up of resentment and a sudden tipping point.
Katrine, as the idealistic character who is allowed to remain untainted by pragmatism, shows what you do when you can’t live with stuff – you resign. In his way, Philip has also, of course, resigned for idealistic reasons, even if his idealism is rather tainted by his readiness to arrange the meetings he later realises he despises.
Would episode 1 Birgitte recognise herself? Would she still choose to take office? It’s difficult to say. Buried at Marienborg she assumes Philip is having an affair, but the reality is still upsetting when it confronts her. Yet episode 10 Birgitte assumes Bent’s marriage is the only possible model. Philip tells Birgitte he doesn’t always recognise her. There’s no way he recognises his wife from what she proposes next: he is visibly appalled by her suggestion. She does have second thoughts about whether her family is strong enough to withstand the interview; she knows she is not in control.
What follows is heartbreaking. The interview is cosy, domestic and romantic, and Philip plays his allotted role perfectly. But after the cameras leave, he’s silent, and immediately dinner ends announces that he has a meeting to attend. He doesn’t want to go, and he doesn’t want her to want him to go. She doesn’t want him to go – perhaps she mixed the appearance behind the camera with reality – but she doesn’t believe she can show him that. So she pretends she’s not dismayed but instead thanks him for his TV performance, asks conspiratorially whether he’ll be back before the kids wake up and sends him off with a cheerful ‘Hej hej’. He doesn’t really believe what he’s seeing.
The two separate threads of the results of the interview come together. Among the flat hues of the TV1 editing bay, we see Kasper and the editors working to show Philip at his happiest, just as Philip asks Birgitte for a divorce. He and Birgitte betrayed their relationship with big smiles on their faces: they have ended up like the Hesselboes. She is shocked, but rallies enough to call Kasper, who shuts down the domestic section of the edit – we freeze on Philip’s face with its big smile.
In among all this we do indeed see Birgitte take on the big political issue of her time and winning in 60 minutes of drama. Unfortunately, ‘winning’ on this occasion is gaining reasonable coverage for…sacking Bent. Current polls show that the Moderates would lose 5 seats and the Greens 2, while Labour would pick up 5. If the figures in our episode 2 commentary is correct, that would leave the Moderates with 26, the Greens with 15 and Labour with a whopping 40 seats. The centre-left coalition would lose power. Why the different coalition parties would fare so differently isn’t explored, other than the possibility that the Moderates have suffered through their control of the ever-unpopular finance ministry. It says something about the attractiveness of power and what used to be called the ‘greasy pole’ that Labour want this ministry.
Birgitte stands up for Bent, a little, but we see that their relationship has changed. Once, he could give her a hug. Now, she recoils. She’s prepared to meet Bjørn and one of his deputies without her own. Oddly, she is prepared to take Bjørn’s word that Amir is in favour of the reshuffle without herself consulting Amir. (That’s the second time this has happened: in episode 2, Laugesen claimed to speak for the Greens.) If you use the polls as your argument, as Labour do, why also claim for your cause the Greens, who are tanking? As Birgitte weighs up the options, we see her with her back to camera, facing out of the window. Is she remembering Bent’s words: ‘All this can be yours’?
Bent’s sacking is by the fountain, which means that Birgitte can wear shades. He thinks it’s all about his affair with Yvonne. We’ve got too much US symbolism: Kasper thinks he’s Sorensen to Birgitte’s JFK, and we’ve seen Höx’s Nixon. Now Bent reckons he’s Bill Clinton: ‘Sorry I had sex with that woman’. It’s the first time in the episode that her façade cracks a little and she looks close to tears. Later she’s in her office when a tangle with a phone cord leads to desk rage: she throws her papers off the desk and howls.
What’s it all for? Laugesen isn’t alone in wondering what Birgitte’s vision for Denmark might be. Kasper enjoys a joke with Sanne about how Birgitte is all about Birgitte – and she doesn’t listen. He challenges Birgitte to say what she wants beyond clinging to power. The strains of the day are beginning to show on her face, but she eventually riffs on a theme of the Danes working together, as they’ve realised that they can’t have it all. ‘Fight and live for all you love,’ she concludes, quoting an old Danish song, and the camera pans back to remind us of the pathos of this moment and encouraging the question: does Birgitte, at this moment in time, remember what she loves?
Political foes and friends acclaim the speech – Hesselboe’s two-faced comments are a nice touch – but we already know that Kasper can write fine speeches and Birgitte can ad lib brilliantly. What’s important is the set of closing scenes that end the series with the same theme with which we started: appearance and reality. It appears that she’s doing great. Sacking Bent has given her the headlines she wanted. Her children hug her, but her husband is unsmiling. They leave her, alone in the corridor. After a while, she walks back into her office. Niels Erik is there and gives her an incredibly patronising compliment. He has solved the Sanne problem. He gives Birgitte some papers to sign. He leaves and she signs her name, next to the words: Prime Minister. She has become, as she would have said in the first episode, ever so professional.
The first family
In eight hours of television (episodes 3-10), Birgitte and Philip have seen their perfect relationship hollow out. Philip is right: they are at this point not much different from the Hesselboes. Birgitte has tried to play the role of Statsminister – and the woman who once chastised the political class for its professionalism has adapted the decisiveness and the hardness of the supposedly successful leader. Gone are the cardigans: Birgitte is now acting a role and wears the uniform – uncomfortable, claustrophobic and toxic for their relationship.
Birgitte and Philip’s kids have key moments in the speech. Philip’s smile at Birgitte’s joke about the national anthem makes Laura – who was unconvinced by Philip’s late night meetings – visibly relax. But later, as Birgitte says they are the same people who together rejoiced when Denmark won Euro ’92, Philip’s face is full of sadness, and Laura clocks it. Magnus steals the whole scene by walking on his hands: as Birgitte paints a picture of a Denmark that is more innocent and less worried about things that aren’t important, Magnus shows a more poetic idea of a better world, not that Birgitte can see it.
Katrine and Ulrik
Katrine’s return to TV1 isn’t hugely welcomed by her colleagues. Ulrik is miffed that she gets the big interview; Simon suggests, ‘the princess is back’.
Poor Ulrik has been portrayed as out of his depth for much of this season, with his bad interviews with Henriette and H C Thorsen. I still think he was the source of the Hanne-Holm-drinking email. He is Katrine’s great rival but never her equal. But he tells her that Kasper’s in the edit suite, and then looks through the partition pane as she lets rip at Torben.
The contrast between Katrine’s resignation and Birgitte’s clinging to power cannot be overstated.
Back to form in this episode, after last week’s dodgy advice – though his idea of a personal interview will bring everyone’s world crashing around them. A brilliant performance in Torben’s office, all bluff, as he plays the TV1 editor like a bass guitar. But even Kasper has a limit to his cynicism, in contrast to Birgitte these days. He orders Pia around as though he believes in the project, though, but once Birgitte tells him he has to shut the interview down he knows it will be a tough call and he straightens his suit and mentally prepares himself.
This programme doesn’t do nationalist fervour. Birgitte’s speech is suitably self-deprecating. But the writers are obviously proud of Theodore Sorensen and his brilliant speeches for Jack Kennedy.
It isn’t as though Kasper suddenly becomes a trappist (Pia) Munk. He uses speech structure theory to flirt with Sanne: the three stage rocket seduction strategy. Yes, writers are like rock stars and often get the girl…if it wasn’t for pesky Niels Erik prowling the corridors for no apparent reason.
Earlier, Kasper has told us that he doesn’t want negative stories when Parliament reopens. Got that, Kasper. Perhaps you could let us know when you’re happy to have negative stories?
With each episode, Torben more and more resembles that other great TV newsman, George from Drop the Dead Donkey. He wears weird cardigans and can’t even smack the wall properly. He agrees to the edit and even to keeping the cancellation from Katrine. He’s unable to balance his own track record as a journalist with the different requirements of a TV executive.
Sanne lasted eight episodes as Birgitte’s PA: hopeless at many things but a humanising force who made the office child-friendly for Birgitte’s kids (and remembered to buy presents in Greenland). Her best line: ‘Magnus and I are really busy.’ Bless. She’s intrigued by Kasper enough to take a risk with him, even though she knows he doesn’t treat women that well. When she brings up the subject the following day it seems as though he’s just remembered an item on his to-do list: give Sanne the brush off. Birgitte went from thinking Sanne was an idiot, to liking the strengths she could bring, to forgetting those things were important. Birgitte’s working environment just got colder.
This show is fond of the wide-angle shot. As Philip leaves Birgitte’s office, having asked her for a divorce, we see her alone in the centre of the room. To the top right, and bang next to the camera, the lampshade looks like a UFO about to take possession of Denmark.
Not Danish but Scandi: the score, by Halfdan E, has been a delight throughout the season (and won awards). In this episode Halfdan presents a real Scandi Noir vibe: we half expect Martin Beck to stride onto the scene to inspect the bodies that Birgitte is leaving in her wake.
When Birgitte met Bartlet
The Bartlet family experience frequent bust-ups, notably at the beginning of series 3 and 5, which result in Abby moving up to the family farm. Marienborg isn’t an option for Philip and the children, nor is it a long-term solution for Birgitte. Besides, Abby is angered at things that Jed has done, and so distance is a good thing, while Philip resents that Birgitte isn’t with the family.
None of the President’s senior staffers has a successful, long-lasting relationship during the series’ run. It takes Donna and Josh the best part of seven years to get together. The West Wing doesn’t have a problem with that because its characters, finely drawn as they are, don’t go through change. Borgen is more interested in what happens to its characters, but doesn’t allow them to have successful relationships either.
What do you think? Leave a comment. And check out all our Borgen coverage here.