Borgen episode recap and review S2 E5 Plant a Tree

Quote: Much that passes as idealism is disguised love of power – Bertrand Russell

Birgitte decides to seek the support of the Centre-right bloc for her landmark welfare reform bill. To do this, the Greens will need to make concessions – concessions they don’t feel the need to make. Birgitte decides to put some personal pressure on Amir, and Kasper leaks information damaging to the Green leader, but the press frenzy gets out of control and Amir resigns and pulls the Greens out of the government. Meanwhile, Laura’s reluctant attendance at camp has consequences for her – and big career consequences for one of Birgitte’s aides.

Wilder at heart

The bodies are piling up: Bent (twice: once through inter-party wrangling, once through backstabbing), Sanne (for incompetence but mainly for symbolic reasons), Philip (in the context of his lost role of CEO), Kruse (exiled through his own backstabbing), Marrot (gossip and intra-party wrangling), Höx (a stitch up). Birgitte has not been behind any of these (though she is partly culpable for a couple), but this episode sees her, finally, play dirty, in a difficult game which she can’t yet win. Compare with the first episode, where Kasper is actually fired over Hesselboe’s Mulberry invoice. Given that ‘Our Common Future’ is already bound to pass into reality, is a cross-party consensus really worth crossing the line into smearing? The Russell aphorism tells us where the programme’s producers sit on this one. Birgitte probably does think that she can, through the sheer reasonableness of her position, become the first politician in a competitive democracy to do more than talk about bipartisanship. But the power of such a bridge-builder would be incredible, and Russell’s quote seems doubly apt.

Picture of Cafe Wilder
Scene of the smoothie

Of course, there’s a big difference between giving the press a snippet about Amir’s vintage car – which is based in reality – and the actual falseness from episode 10, where Birgitte and Philip were lying to the public about the state of their marriage. But this time Amir’s children are caught in the crossfire, subject to racist bullying as a result of Birgitte and Kasper’s little scheme. In the past, Birgitte has been able to play the smiling assassin, but in what I think is this episode’s key scene, she presses Amir to accept the compromise. Only once he has accepted does she reflect, ashamed, on what she has done. Blink and you’ll miss it, but it neatly sets up the rest of the episode.

It had all started quite innocuously, with a scene that was rather fun, even if the symbolism (both of the government advert and of the ‘reality’ of the filming) was overwhelming: Birgitte and her allies planting a tree to symbolise their new approach to welfare. H C Thorsen seems to know his horticulture – he smugly reminds Kasper that you don’t plant trees in January – and is clearly the new Labour leader. But at the rate they’re dropping you assume there’s an even chance that he’ll be replaced by Pernille Madsen by the end of the episode.

There are times that we wonder whether there’s nothing that amoral Kasper wouldn’t do. Dumping trees, wantonly spilling coffee: he’d shoot Bambi’s mother for fun given half a chance. The scene is a little reminiscent of the vignette in Mad Men where Betty upends the picnic blanket over the field: it’s meant to shock.

Birgitte’s sudden need to envelop the mainstream right leads her to meet Lars and Yvonne but the dynamics indicate a summit with older relations. Lars’ demeanour is that of a doddery uncle while Yvonne seems likely to remind Birgitte at any moment on the evils of boys. At this point Birgitte’s grand coalition does seem a little childlike in its naivety: why would the Greens be interested in accommodating Lars’ views on the environment? But Birgitte has now been thoroughly seduced by the idea of the coalition, to the point that she forgets the skills that she might have used to actually bring that coalition about. She accepts the right’s argument that they can’t move ahead with green policies because of the global economic crisis, as though that were not the case when they were drawing up the plan in the first place. She lectures Amir, but doesn’t try to see things from his point of view or even to construct some kind of position that he could support. She takes the Green support for granted which is somewhat arrogant for the head of a minority party. And although she convinces herself that she is above ‘bloc’ politics, the TV1 graphic shows the reality – what she is really doing is redefining the bloc to her own advantage.

As a result, she backs herself into a corner, whereby she can’t withdraw her offer to Hesselboe – he would call her weak and indeed she is. She comes up with a hare-brained idea by which she can ‘rescue’ Amir without considering carefully her previous success rates with rescue missions. And her obsession with this plan means that she doesn’t really deal with Laura and the Camp of Doom.

Kasper unleashes the dogs of war and can’t control what he’s started, much to the delight of the three Borgenbogeymen: he sees Svend Age laughing evilly, Laugesen pontificating and finally Niels Erik grins and pats Kasper in congratulation. Brrr.

By now we’ve seen Birgitte tie herself up in knots trying to make a deal with Hesselboe. Meanwhile, Katrine, better-unemployed-than-unidealistic-Katrine, has to decide herself whether to do her own deal with the Liberal leader. Lars thinks that she ticks all the boxes for a Liberal relaunch, and isn’t concerned that she won’t vote for him as long as she gets others to (which is quite an absurd position – it’s one thing to reach out to and work with opponents, quite another to actively work to promote something you don’t agree with). At this point, Katrine’s alternative is a screen test to front a light entertainment show.

Now comes the key scene – as Birgitte forces a broken Amir to accept the Common Future deal. ‘I know you’re a man of principle,’ she purrs, before unconvincingly but successfully arguing that selling out his green principles (exactly what he’s being slammed for by the press) will get him positive coverage. He agrees, but it is not the moment of triumph that Birgitte has expected.

For both Birgitte and Katrine, flirting with the Liberals is one thing, romance with the Freedom Party quite another. Birgitte simply excludes them from her grand coalition, but Katrine knows that Hesselboe relies on them as allies on the right. She argues that Hesselboe must distance himself from Saltum, and he agrees. But when Katrine meets Hanne Holm for lunch, the veteran journo is wearing black (including her scarf).

Birgitte’s looking very rested for a woman who supposedly had to call Kasper in the middle of the night. Amir is waiting for her arrival but starts the meeting by putting his coat on. Perhaps the central heating – that Kasper claimed was broken – is still not fixed? The Greens resign from the  government, bringing to an end Birgitte’s folly of a grand coalition. She calls in Kasper and Niels Erik. There’s some great choreography between them, which seems to unnerve the Statsminister.

Jytte’s ‘very sour coffee’ is what is needed to, er, oil the wheels of the deal. Pernille Madsen is all out for retribution, revenge and compensation, and has to be shut up by HC – who is more measured and, on this occasion, not smug. Meanwhile, the vending machine symbolises the state of the two coalitions, and the two doctors of spin: Kasper can’t get it to work and Katrine can. The two stories intertwine nicely: Jytte stops Laura from getting through to Birgitte, while Katrine’s impressive start is undermined when it’s clear that Lars still wants Svend Age’s support (despite some nice eye-rolling by Yvonne), and the Freedom Party leader clashes with Lars’ new spin doctor on immigration. Lars seems shaken when Katrine tells him she doesn’t believe he should be PM and hands back her business cards. Birgitte spends the night in vigil at the foot of Laura’s bed – but when Laura wakes up she has information.

Cut to a brilliant sunrise. It is what Ronald Reagan would have called ‘Morning in Denmark’. Birgitte sacks Jytte. HOORAY! Much to Niels Erik’s dismay. HOORAY! And Katrine is going to be on TV1’s Thicker than Water – what she calls an ‘emotional porn show’. HOO – oh, hang on. Laugesen has managed to blackmail Katrine and Hanne. Thicker than Water is an awful show. But Torben comes to the rescue. HOORAY! And Katrine does some negotiation of her own! HOORAY! And Sanne, of all people, is on her way back too! So, half-way through series 2, Birgitte is reconciled with Bent, Katrine and Hanne (with their sensational scarves) are back at TV1 and Sanne is back in the PM’s office. All have been true to their principles, and this must surely make up for the minor characters who have been discarded left, right and centre. Any other reconciliations we’re after, bearing in mind Philip is in Boston?

Birgitte’s dream of a grand coalition is in tatters. Hesselboe has made new demands and the dream of dalliance with the right is now over for both Katrine and Birgitte. Birgitte comments to Kasper that her compass is off and the implication is that it’s time once again for idealism over power. But in keeping with the themes of this episode, she goes to absolve herself from recent moves by talking to Amir – who is resigning from politics altogether. Her confession – that she acted the way she did to get him to be a team player (albeit in a team she had arbitrarily extended membership of) – just confirms his resolve. ‘We’re not the same people [as when we started],’ he says, with what looks suspiciously like a poster concerning a classic car on his wall. And Svend Age says of Birgitte that the new coalition shows that there’s only room in the cabinet for her. But Birgitte’s foray into dirty politics is over. (For now. Probably.) She tells Sanne that she wants things to be as they were when she became PM. Sanne’s mini-curtsey returns us to the days of innocence.

The first family

An episode with a rather Old Testament theme. So far the bodies of Borgen have been (with the exception of Bent) not close to Birgitte herself (and with a couple of exceptions we haven’t been too bothered). Her marriage has failed, but the people have remained untouched, until now. Now the sins of the mother are being wreaked on her first born. Or at least that’s one partial interpretation, for this programme is above clichés about working mothers: Birgitte balances home and work far more adeptly than in the first series. More problematic is that she misdiagnoses the source of Laura’s unhappiness, putting it down to teenage trauma rather than something deeper. 

It’s true that the attention she gives Laura is half-hearted and absent-minded – and that she tries to ‘manage’ Laura as she would a problem at work. The scene where Laura can’t sleep but is dismissed when Kasper rings up will have exacerbated  Laura’s feelings of abandonment, and Birgitte is certainly more distracted by her grand coalition than she should be, but it’s also hardly a coincidence that the specified profession of her rival for the heart of the husband of her children is that of paediatrician. Which rather neatly allows Birgitte to be wrong about Laura without necessarily being a bad parent, and makes our heroine even more uncomfortable at the same time. Thus, when Philip awkwardly puts forward’s Cecilie’s analysis, Birgitte is naturally defensive and less likely to accept it.

So Birgitte says Laura doesn’t have to attend camp, and then says she doesn’t mean it and that Laura knows that (and Laura does seem to know it); but rather than spend time talking about it, Birgitte decides to spend time packing to force the issue. Laura weeps, gets a bit of attention but accepts defeat, while Magnus steals the entire scene. Later, Laura calls Birgitte for a chat but the news is on and Amir is facing another grilling. Birgitte chooses Laura but is clearly torn – does Laura pick up on it?

And of course, it is Cecilie who in the end is the one to rescue Laura. Somehow this issue isn’t going to be resolved quickly.

Kasper, Katrine and Lotte

We’re at the stage where it’s surprising to see Lotte with Kasper. Is that still going? Apparently so. They have gone for a romantic smoothie, at the famous Café Wilder, overseen by a portrait of a naked blonde. If the painting is meant to symbolise Katrine looming over the relationship, imagine our surprise when Denmark’s most investigative (unemployed) journalist walks in. There’s an awkward introduction between the two women, and then Kasper hits on Katrine (even moving in to kiss her) with Lotte more-or-less watching as Katrine flees the bar without her latte.

Later, Kasper arrives home, wanting a shower and not kissing Lotte on the lips. Whatever can these clues signify? She’s more upset that he has forgotten her dinner party, and weeps while Kasper does a wholly fake, ‘What have I done?’ routine. He knows he should be reassuring her but just can’t bring himself to do it. This episode possibly unnerves Lotte so much that she forgets to take her clothes off before Kasper half-heartedly has his way with her on the sofa. It isn’t clear whether his protest of not getting anything right refers to the wine or his technique, or perhaps his pre-shower exertions have already drained his powers? She’s not happy, but when we think she’s going to accuse him of over-drinking or over-working or over-there activity, she comes up with rubbish that shows she doesn’t get that he JUST DOESN’T CARE. Obviously he laps it up. We don’t see his phone screen so we don’t know whether it’s actually Birgitte who has called him (events of the following morning suggest it’s unlikely).

When Birgitte made Bartlet

Goading a reluctant ally into jumping ship is exactly what Josh does in Constituency of One – though in Josh’s case a Democrat actually joins the Republicans, rather than supporting the government on a case-by-case basis, which the Greens will now do.

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

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