Borgen episode recap and review S2 E4 Battle Ready

Quote: If an injury is to be done to a man, it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared­ – Machiavelli

We’re back in Borgen after our roadtrip and Troels Höxenhaven has been confirmed as Labour leader.  He’s setting the political weather, winning a media war against Birgitte over a hijacked ship. Ulrik tells his TV1 viewers about ‘the Höxenhaven effect’. That’s unwelcome news for Birgitte, who doesn’t trust her fellow party leader: sure enough, by the middle of the episode he has announced his ambitions to be Statsminister.

But Höx is more vulnerable than he seems. His predecessor-as-one as Labour leader, Laugesen, is out to suggest that Höx’s concealment of his gay activities make him unfit to be in office. Katrine and Hanne investigate further and realise that Laugesen set up to smear Höx.

Troels’ private life isn’t the only one in difficulty. Kasper and Katrine are once again in flux, Kasper and Lotte are on the wane; and Birgitte, consumed by jealousy for Cecilie, tries unsuccessfully to win Philip back, consumes rather too much booze instead and then consumes her driver.

Katrine and Hanne confront Laugesen and then resign from Ekspres. But will that be enough to make Laugesen think again?

Downfall

What an episode. The major characters all grapple with dilemmas in their personal lives and, amid some tremendous acting, a reminder (as though we could forget) of the ultimate price often exacted by public office on those who exercise it. The political intrigue is almost brutally relegated to second place, even though the issues arising from a new and popular leader made for some intriguing viewing and it would have been interesting to see them explored further. 

In the UK, this episode was originally (on BBC FOUR) shown back-to-back with The Last Worker. I’m not sure that the double-bills have been a great idea – all this rich material to consume and we gulp it down – but the two episodes definitely belong together, Battle Ready resolving some of the storylines that have been previously introduced. We know from the pre-titles that these will involve Birgitte’s family, the love triangle involving Kasper, and that Höx is almost certainly already doomed.

‘Enjoy it while it lasts!’ we want to cry, as Höx does a lap of honour of the Borgen corridors. He appears to have dumped his glum henchmen: either they were from his old ministry or he doesn’t want them damaging his joie de vivre. The corridors are light and airy in a way we haven’t seen before: Höx’s election is causing the sun to act differently. He is effective and efficient, letting himself into Birgitte’s office with a flip of his finger, and staring Birgitte out until she will let him handle the issue of the hijacked ship. (Birgitte’s office, we note, isn’t the most modern but she gets a great bathroom well equipped with cotton buds and sleeping pills.) 

Does Jytte overhear Kim’s friendly delivery of the boxes? She is abrupt even for her, although Niels Erik purrs with approval as he watches her humanoid performance. If only there were more civil servants like her, he thinks, I wouldn’t be worried about territorial issues between the different departments. I bet he goes home to a talking computer that calls him ‘Dave’. His head is well framed by the lamp fittings in this scene – and then by Birgitte and Simon’s heads as Simon interviews Birgitte about the piracy problem. He stares aggressively at whoever happens to be speaking but allows himself a grin at the end because the ministerial boundaries have been reaffirmed. You smile for us all, Niels Erik.

It’s good that Kasper’s political analysis isn’t at all swayed by his rejection by Katrine, or who knows what advice he might have given Birgitte to counter ‘the Höxenhaven Effect’. (If you’re a British reader and are wondering how ludicrous this sounds, just consider 2010’s ‘Cleggmania’.) 

Katrine’s late for work which means that Hanne has to hang on for longer before presenting her patterned scarf: no wonder she’s slightly annoyed. And Laugesen turns up a few seconds later: has he been looking out of his office awaiting her arrival for his big unveil? It’s the most excited we’ve ever seen him. Katrine and Hanne want to discuss the angle. WIDE ANGLE shouts everyone at the TV (though actually it looks more like a close up). Laugesen disappoints us – but he does have a great lamp on his desk and a huge poster for his book – kudos to the props team. He has it on his door where it marks the Exit. Geddit? He isn’t letting Hanne and Katrine off the hook, and rails against Höx’s morals, as he muses over whether or not he shagged his secretary. The point is made: this isn’t about whether or not Höx is gay but about whether he held secrets. Katrine would do well to remember her conversation three minutes of screen time earlier (and certainly that morning) with Kasper to realise that people do get worked up about these things.

Birgitte has flashes of brilliance as PM but by now she should have realised that it isn’t sufficient just to have thought of the bigger picture – in this case, who is responsible for Danish shipping – but to get the message out. Höx has no answer to her reasonable point on this (didn’t his rubbish civil servants warn him of that?) but she forgets that you have to give a decent narrative. No wonder Laura thinks Höx is a ‘cool dude’. Did Birgitte really think, after what had happened previously, that Höx would shut up once she had had her interview with TV1? Gone is the Höx of little ticks and nervous gestures. Now he’s prepared to point out that if it hadn’t been for Laugesen’s idiocy the Moderates wouldn’t even be leading the government. Which may or may not be true – but the clear message is that Birgitte needs Höx more than Höx needs her.

In fairness to Birgitte, she understands that her fury with Kasper and Bent for talking her out of firing Höx after the bugging affair is at least partly based on the new revelation that Cecilie makes great Mexican food. Kasper’s advice, that it’s unusual for Birgitte to give up without a fight, is applied to both the political and personal environments.

We’ve seen Hanne Holm and Katrine begin to act as a team but this episode takes it still further. Hanne isn’t sympathetic to Katrine’s plight but what the ‘special privileges’ are we don’t find out. Maybe she’s the one who doesn’t have to sleep with Laugesen. But Katrine smells a rat – why have Ekspres got these pictures and not others? She comes up with a hare-brained idea to get onto Laugesen’s computer. Why would Hanne know Laugesen’s password? 

In a scene of actual tension – will she leave her phone behind? Will he come back? Why is his desktop screen so messy? – Katrine downloads the pictures, and her discussion with Hanne in the corridor of pipes only heightens the drama. Then Hanne handles the legendary Fonsmark espresso machine as they prepare for the visit of Daniel – they make a terrific good cop/bad cop combination: ‘We never made any deals,’ says Katrine menacingly. They do trashed well together too, later.

The following morning, we see three men acting just too cockily. Kasper examines Kim’s tie as though it’s a national treasure. He will drive Birgitte to work if she promises to keep her hands off. But later, when Kasper is ‘taking care’ of Kim, the man-to-man bonhomie works only to a point and the mix of blokiness and bossiness quickly grates. When Kim offers a reassuring message to Birgitte, Kasper hands him his tie and says he must remain presentable. Ouch. Kasper changes the mood from matiness to making the conversation about Birgitte handing the tie (as Kim would see it) to Kasper as though it’s government property.

Cocky man number 2, Mikkel Laugesen has too angry blondes in his office and a smutty-minded phone conversant. Hanne and Katrine are good cop/bad cop again. His genuine shock as they dismiss his argument for smearing a minister to stop him getting blackmailed sees him hit out angrily but pathetically: Katrine will get a new job but Hanne is damaged goods: ‘Have fun on welfare,’ is his parting shot.

In another amazingly lit scene, Niels Erik has called together the security council. (Watch him pump his fists as he gives Birgitte the news.) HC, as defence minister, wants to send in the navy, to out-smug the tipsy pirates. Cocky man number 3, Höx, lit like a messiah, is ready to go. He and Birgitte rile each other up and he makes mocking gestures just like he did with Marrot.

But in a fantastically acted scene, it takes about 90 seconds for Troels Höxenhaven’s life to fall apart. He is rude and dismissive to his predecessor as party leader on the bridge, even admitting his hand behind Laugesen’s exit from politics. He has 48 hours to tell his family before Ekspres publish.

And when Höx goes to resign, Birgitte is more interested in his coming clean to the country than in his family situation. But then this is a woman whose marriage floundered when she offered her husband licence to have an affair he didn’t want just so long as she got a positive headline out of it. Höx is in the position of devastating his family with an even more dramatic revelation. Now we know why we had the shots of the bathroom earlier in the episode. But fortunately for Birgitte, the police will forget to mention the owner of the pills with which Höx takes his life.

Katrine gives Kasper the envelope of material on Höx’s blackmailing. She reveals she doesn’t work for Ekspres any more. She’s quite shy around Kasper and leaves quickly in a nicely portrayed scene.

Birgitte’s successes seem to come when she uses guile and charm. Bossiness and temper rarely bring her a breakthrough. Her lecture to Laugesen and attempt to blackmail him over his complicity in Höx’s death is therefore going to be flawed, and sure enough Laugesen has an ace card – Kim. It’s useful to note that Ekspres will treat Höx fairly now that he’s dead, while Birgitte’s eulogising Höx’s role in rescuing the seamen and the heavy burdens of office. Kasper’s picked up by Lotte and sees Katrine, who walks away. Why is Katrine still at Borgen at this point, and wouldn’t Lotte also have seen Katrine as she drove away? Her love rival used to be on TV1, and Lotte works in comms. Poor Lotte lives to be deluded another day. We meantime can admire two brilliant performances in this episode – from the pantomime bad guy and the guy whose life suddenly falls apart.

The first family

Of course, after all the candle-lighting and tea-buying, it’s when Birgitte has a blocked sink that Cecilie comes to visit. Cue much enforced and false jollity: what we really want are Annie Hall-style subtitles:

Birgitte: So you’re the bitch that’s stolen my husband and made my children like you with your sinister paediatrician special powers

Cecile: Well, if you will be so useless. No, you can’t have him back

Philip: I’ve had both these two (smiles to himself)…oh God they’re talking to each other. Maybe they’ll critique my technique…

Subsequently, when Magnus plays the two women against each other, Birgitte doesn’t know whom to attack – the woman who is in her personal space or her son who brought her here and who unknowingly betrayed his mother (as she would feel it) by bringing the new girlfriend to see his room.

It’s Kasper’s ‘don’t give up’ advice that leads Birgitte to make one last, calamitous attempt to save her former marriage. The wine, candles and jazz are perhaps a start but the pitch is made and rejected in a couple of minutes. ‘We can grow old together,’ Birgitte purrs. But Philip has moved on – they have been apart for a year. Curiously, she seems to take this in quite a matter-of-fact way. But by the time Kim brings round the evening boxes, jazz has become opera, the wine has become something stronger, and the plumbing situation has become all a bit 1970s and bom-chicka-wah-wah.

Kasper, Katrine and Lotte

Kasper and Katrine are ‘confused’, which seems to involve shouting and sex, often at the same time. Perhaps a better time for this confusion would have been immediately (or soon after) Kasper’s father’s funeral, when they might have discussed Kasper’s back story. But then maybe it wouldn’t be called ‘confusion’. Actually, there doesn’t appear to be too much confusion. Kasper wants to get back together, Katrine doesn’t and Kasper feels rejected.

As does Lotte, who seems to have access to Borgen. Is she checking up on Kasper? She doesn’t have that much guile, besides she is presented as a victim. In one electrifying scene we think he is going to spill the beans. When he says he has been seeing someone else his face is full of sadness and we wonder whether what he has with Katrine can be described in those terms, or whether he is deluded. We are actually shocked by the possibility he may be honest. But: his secret lover is Birgitte Nyborg and he has to be good at his job. Lotte weeps, presumably still at the shock of his half-made proclamation, and the realisation that it may be more true than he is admitting.

Kasper applies his ‘don’t give up’ philosophy to his relationship with Lotte, or that’s what he tells Katrine. She thinks he’s just punishing her, and she may be right.

When Birgitte met Bartlet

TV is not real. (I hope this is not news to you at this point.) But sometimes the storytelling shortcuts slightly jar. In Borgen, it often feels as though there is no systematic news monitoring – we see half-viewed snippets of TV interviews randomly stumbled upon by the main protagonists and with the TV turned off again while Ulrik or Torben are still spouting off when in real life this would never happen. The West Wing plots were equally driven by the news cycle, but the show got its characters to watch TV slightly more realistically. 

Kasper’s speech to Lotte has overtones of Leo’s discussion his about-to-be-ex wife in Five Votes Down. And it’s a bit tenuous, but the corridor of pipes in which Hanne and Katrine plot is mildly reminiscent of Ainsley Hayes’ office, the steam pipe trunk distribution venue.

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

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