Borgen episode recap and review S2 E3 The Last Worker

Quote: Ours is one hell of a victory – Thomas Nielsen, former leader of the Confederation of Trade Unions

Birgitte and the Cabinet are preparing for a key seminar/summit to discuss the future shape of Denmark’s welfare state. Birgitte wants to shift resources from early retirement to education, but the union movement, championed by Labour leader Bjorn Marrot, isn’t keen. Marrot has trouble bringing his Labour colleagues with him and their scorn quickly turns to active plotting.

Things aren’t going smoothly for Birgitte at home: Philip is now serious about his new girlfriend and he wants to introduce her to the children – and thus to Birgitte. Labour’s internal divisions become more open, with implications for the success of the summit. The summit itself does not resolve the issue of the welfare state, but its events will have far reaching effects for those attending.

The Professionals

If the last episode was about ambition and loyalty, then this one is about rejection…with a nod to early retirement policy within the welfare state. Oh, and to post-ideological politics. Remember the first episode, when Birgitte told TV1’s viewers that, ‘All of us have become ever so professional’? She was more correct than she knew. So far, we have seen something approaching conviction politics: on Greenland, women on company boards and on Afghanistan. But that’s not necessarily the case across the political spectrum, and the issue ostensibly being addressed in this episode is to what extent managerialism has taken over the Labour party – an issue close to home in the left/centre-left parties in many liberal democracies. I say ostensibly because after a while it becomes clear that the issue has been settled – managerialism has taken over completely – and the episode becomes more about how many different ways it’s possible to give someone a good kicking. The majority of boots are aimed at Labour leader Bjorn Marrot but not all.

After Marrot wrong-foots Birgitte before her press conference, Kasper reminds her that he’s ‘married to the trade unions’ but she quickly dismisses the Labour leader as a dinosaur. That’s certainly how he’s seen by a large proportion of his now-gentrified party.

At first, we think that the moves against Marrot are orchestrated by Höx. Höx has a rather sour-faced entourage, always the sign of a politician of power. Birgitte and Hesselboe always travel with their support pack. Marrot, by contrast, usually wanders the corridors quite alone, with an unfashionable jumper and a bar of chocolate for company. Anyway, when he bumps into Birgitte (with the previously mentioned entourage) Höx is very quick to blame Marrot for the leadership vacuum – and she’s very quick to buy it (much to Höx’s pleasure if not to the pleasure of his accompanying bootfaces). 

We also see Höx gossping with the odious Pernille Madsen, and although their conversation is evidence of unkindness (which is consistent with what we know of Madsen’s personality), rather than evidence of a plot, we see Kasper observe the exchange, so we know need to read more into it. Marrot’s only ally at this point appears to be H C: the two portly gentlemen have had lunch – or have they cooked up a deal?

But Marrot’s position, already not comfortable, suffers further when Birgitte, full of emotion, gives him a dressing-down in front of the whole Cabinet: as Kasper later points out, it’s odd politics to destabilise your coalition partner – especially when he poses no personal threat – but she is too rattled by her earlier discussion with Philip.

Höx’s stunt to meet Birgitte without Marrot is thin and obvious (and when Birgitte calls him on it he doesn’t try too hard to deny it) but is just another chip away at his leader’s authority. Höx is too smooth an operator to be caught out for disloyalty, but his assurances to Birgitte and even the symbolism of their taking coffee together, suggest that Höx is about to topple another Labour leader. (Given the success of his last bid, will the obnoxious Madsen be next for the Labour top job?) 

But it isn’t Höx’s fingers that are all over the anti-Marrot media blitz. Hesselboe says that it isn’t the opposition – and that Marrot is a decent minister. Either way, we see that perhaps the conscientious Marrot, who visits the Mexican embassy while others plot and scheme, is a better politician than he’s being given credit for. But he is deemed to have embarrassed Denmark by his ‘shoot the parrot’ (basically, ‘we did really well’) remark. In an odd scene TV1’s Ulrik says that Marrot is talking to the BBC, but the footage doesn’t show a Beeb mic. Then we see Marrot ostensibly misunderstand the meaning of ‘black tie’. This doesn’t make sense: we have previously seen him in a dinner suit. There’s something more behind this than meets the eye.

So far, then, we’ve had a number of little pieces of behaviour calculated (or not) to destabilise the Labour leader: bad-mouthing (Höx), open gossip (Höx and Madsen), overt criticism (Birgitte), sabotage (Höx) and the TV smears. Only Laugesen is prepared to take the high ground, and that’s because he has a different target in mind.

But even if Birgitte was planning to give Marrot her support, Niels Erik’s conversation with Kasper convinces the latter that the PM should let the Labour leader twist in the wind. Niels Erik starts that conversation literally behind Kasper. A man of the shadows, he says the civil service is out of control and has been sabotaging Marrot – but there is no indication that he, Niels Erik, should do anything about it – another kind of betrayal? Thus, when Marrot clumsily claims he has brokered a deal he irritates his front benchers (and causes an outright challenge by Madsen) but Birgitte is warned by Kasper not to support the foreign minister. So, having had Marrot ask for her backing, Birgitte comes out with some mealy-mouthed statement of nothing. 

Marrot chomps sadly on a chocolate bar, alone by the vending machine, as he realises his boss won’t speak up to defend him, and he watches Ulrik and Torben on TV1 discussing his inadequacies, but he misses Torben’s funny about the labour movement. Later, Niels Erik (who seems to have a sixth sense about these things (yes, I know, clearly he doesn’t and it’s just tight TV storytelling. YES I KNOW)) turns up the TV news about Marrot’s ‘pernod and porno’ activities and pretty much states that the ministry is behind the allegations. 

At this point Marrot is fast running out of allies. He can’t seem to swing his Labour cabinet colleagues behind him. (Did he really try?) We knew that Höx and Madsen weren’t to be trusted and that Birgitte’s support is never really there when you need it. But H C wouldn’t betray his lunch buddy, right? Wrong. Höx and H C are going to stick to the deal. Maybe H C is getting some venison, or something. But from that moment we know Marrot is doomed. 

Even with the manoeuvring behind the scenes, you need someone to pull the trigger and it isn’t clear that either Höx or H C could do it. Höx decapitated Laugesen and didn’t get the top job (though he did get a ministry). If only Marrot had managed to get Pernille Madsen to Brussels. But he didn’t and it is she who pipes up and turns what might have been a faintly positive and at least inoffensive speech by Marrot into a career-ending moment.

Was it inevitable? You could argue that Marrot hadn’t spent enough time making the case to Madsen and co. On that basis her intervention was understandable even if insolent. But once Birgitte has had to step in, it’s all over.

After Höx has been to see Birgit, she goes to see Marrot a little gingerly – is she worried he will be ‘going berserk’ in his room? But, almost as though she is visiting heaven, she walks through the darkened room into the light – the decapitated Marrot is standing on the balcony, overlooking the sea.

The issue of post-ideological politics is almost an afterthought – among the beautiful surroundings, Marrot suggests that the traditional Labour party achieved all it needed to do; there was nowhere for it to go. He seems philosophical that the party is no longer needed, even if a few hours previously he wanted to secure its legacy.

In contrast to the peace and tranquillity of Marrot’s balcony, the politicos who have stayed behind are in the bar. For a moment there is some empathy and affection expressed for their former leader – then someone says he’s got his old craft to fall back on and someone else says he has his summerhouse.

Kasper considers his drink. We’re watching him think big thoughts in real time, as though he’s Don Draper, and he observes (but doesn’t necessarily understand) Mikkel’s beeline for Höx. We see Kasper reach a conclusion. We don’t see Höx reach his conclusion, but somebody probably gets it on film.

First family

Marrot isn’t the only one having trouble coming to terms with a new situation: Birgitte is shocked and unsettled when Philip informs her about his new girlfriend.

The events of the last couple of episodes are now beginning to catch up with the PM. In one way it’s astonishing (and in another, entirely understandable) that Kasper is almost Birgitte’s confidant these days, but when she tells him she pines for the old days, the man she says she misses is Bent. But her exchange with her aide (and some banter with Kim, her driver) gives her the confidence to set up a meeting with Philip and his new squeeze.

Philip now specialises in ‘meaningful’ expressions. He’s managed to get through security – and to disrupt his ex-wife’s schedule to discuss his romances – which shows either determination, a rather unhealthy dollop of self-entitlement, the enthusiasm of a man at the beginning of a romance, or elements of all three, but when his meeting isn’t going the way he hoped his face collapses into a whinge. Why did he think that going onto Birgitte’s professional turf was a great idea?

Birgitte’s kids are several steps in front of her. Flowers for the house are worthy of remark. Laura reckons Philip has a girlfriend as he seems ‘happy and silly’, which makes Birgitte look sad. But Philip arrives on his own and claims maybe Birgitte was right all along. Actually, of course, there’s a huge difference between Philip’s ‘I want our kids to meet my new lady love’ and Birgitte’s ‘I’ll meet your lady love and then we’ll all be together when the kids meet them’. Lots of enforced jollity as they arrange to meet the following day, but when Philip leaves, Birgitte snuffs out the candles straight away. They’re lit again the following day, of course, while Birgitte plumps up some jolly-looking polka-dot cushions and snips at Laura – until Philip rings and is all happy and silly with Cecilia on the phone. Birgitte can’t go through with the meeting and, in a moving scene, Laura hears her lie about still being in the office.

But Birgitte can’t put off the meeting for ever. So she sits with her children and tries to get them used to the idea of not liking their dad’s new partner. She’s learned a few tricks in politics, and for once gets to use them for her own purposes. But by the end of the episode, not only can she not save the country, but she isn’t given the chance to save her own family: her offer to pick up Laura and Magnus isn’t needed because they’re having a great time. She is overwhelmed by her loneliness.

Kasper, Katrine and Lotte

Who else gets betrayed? Anyone who predicted Lotte receives no points but only because it was so obvious it would happen. Kasper appeared to have decided that the best way to handle his continued feelings for Katrine was to avoid her – unsustainable given their professions. But Lotte wants more than to listen to Kasper talking to Torben about financial policy. She isn’t convinced that his inattention is just because he’s busy and notes that it’s been going on for a few weeks. Since Katrine’s birthday, perhaps? He offers a debauched holiday in the future, but we can see Borgen reflected through the car windows which doesn’t bode well for romance, and he doesn’t look back once he’s left the car. 

We know from Katrine’s relationship with Benjamin that it’s important to her that people know that politics is of utmost importance. In the lift, she leans into Mikkel. ‘Been this close to the elite before?’ she demands. ‘No,’ he responds, not really understanding what she’s talking about and possibly half-thinking that she is referring to herself.

There’s a little light relief involving Kasper, Katrine and TV1’s Simon (who asks an intelligent question). The scene with Kasper pretending to take a call and Katrine calling him on it is comparatively playful and moves the characters from the formality of Borgen to a seaside, holiday setting. Later, Kasper and Katrine can talk about the similarities of the conference centre to somewhere in Brittany where they took a vacation. And it sets him up to attempt to seduce her once more.

Scarfwatch

Hanne Holm is sans scarf when in the Ekspres office. 

Labourites who lunch

Marrot owes HC a shrimp sandwich and two drinks. No wonder HC looks smug. Probably, HC bought lunch and that’s what the debt refers to, but you can’t help wonder whether there’s real pork barrel politics going on. A new fighter for the defence ministry? That’ll be a plate of herring, thank you. A rise in unemployment benefit? For you, that’s four crab puff vols-au-vent.

Is Hesselboe an unlikely ally of the Labour leader? (Less unlikely than Laugesen, who has banned Ekspres from raking up muck on his last contact in the party.) Politicians often manage to strike up decent relationships with those in other parties – just ask Bent and Yvonne. Indeed, given that Marrot is seen as someone with principles perhaps Laugesen is the less likely ally. Maybe Marrot was intimidated by his predecessor, or maybe respected him as someone who would get things done.

Laugesen kindly shares his two-step plan to bring down an opponent: first, humiliate him, then launch the character assassination. It’s a neat way to predict the mini-bar allegations.

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

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