Borgen unexpectedly found its mojo again this week, with two compelling stories that managed to pick up some on the very points I’ve been urging them to address of late.
“See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil” had a high stakes threat to the government – the explicit comparisons to Watergate made it all too clear that the discovery of a Special Branch bug in the offices of the Solidarity Party could be fatal to Birgitte Nyborg’s government. It’s an episode where Birgitte (Sidse Babett Knudsen) finally has to accept the painful cost of the political reality of the situation, which requires her to publicly support and defend the deceitful and inept Justice Minister Troels Höxenhaven (Lars Brygmann) even though it means shattering the support and friendship of Anne Sophie Lindenkrone (Signe Egholm Olsen) whom she sees as something of a political protégé. Personally I thought Lindenkrone had it coming: her high-handed pious attempt to being down the government meant that it was she that had set fire to all her own bridges, so she can hardly be surprised when skeletons from her closet subsequently leave her hoist by her own petard dangling above the very flames she lit.
“The Silly Season” broke the usual format by having almost no political storyline and instead focussing on the emotional lives of our main characters. The one minor political strand (about the former Labour leader’s kiss-and-tell memoirs) was really just there to add to the turmoil that spin doctor Kasper Juul (Johan Philip Asbæk) is going through as his past erupts around him in ways that even he can no longer evade. It pays off on the seeds sown in episode 3 and explains why Kasper is a chronic liar, and by the final scenes in the crematorium your understanding of and sympathy for him will have been profoundly heightened. It’s a really strong, powerful episode.
And for once, the two episodes worked well in BBC4’s double header broadcast schedule, thanks to the overarching story of the accelerating implosion of Birgitte and Philip’s (Forbrydelsen II’s Mikael Birkkjær) marriage that ran through both episodes. More than the marital problems, what it shows is just how much Birgitte has changed in the year during which she’s been Prime Minister, and how corrosive the effects of that power are becoming. Now, every scene of her walking through the government buildings has her flanked by advisors who sweep away all mere mortals from her path; outside on the streets, Birgitte is permanently accompanied by two faceless security guards. When she visits the school psychiatrist to discuss son Magnus’ bed wetting, the poor man is subjected to a full body search before the meeting can begin – and Birgitte blithely semi-apologises as though it’s nothing more troublesome than shaking hands.
When Birgitte tries to reach out to Philip, she does it with all the emotion of a forensic committee enquiry into the problem: you can see her political negotiation wheels whirring. She’s so used to being let down by colleagues that she can’t shake the idea that Philip will do the same, with an affair. And finally the domestic and state sides of Birgitte’s world collide head on when the family attempt a disastrous holiday together at the Prime Minister’s official country mansion residence, delivering a coup de gras to the situation. Not that Philip is by any means blameless in this slow motion car wreck: he’s sunk so deep into cuckolded depression that he’s reverted to acting like a sulky teenager, unable to respond to any of Birgitte’s peace offerings except by lashing out in the most damaging ways. It’s a horribly realistic examination of the collapse of a modern marriage between two highly stressed professionals
It seems that the end of the Christensen marriage, much like the end of season one of Borgen itself, is fast approaching.
The first season of Borgen is available on DVD from February 6.