Since 2007, TV Club has dissected television episode by episode. Beginning this September, The A.V. Club will also step back to take a wider view in our new TV Reviews section. With pre-air reviews of new shows, returning favorites, and noteworthy finales, TV Reviews doesn’t replace TV Club—as usual, some shows will get the weekly treatment—but it adds a look at a bigger picture.
What’s notable about the third season of Borgen is how entirely different it is from the two that precede it. The first and second seasons dealt with Birgitte Nyborg’s struggle to balance her political life with her personal life. By the end of season one, there’s a clear victor; her career has destroyed the family she so cherished. By the end of the second season, the conflict surges in the other direction, leading Nyborg to step down as prime minister for a time. The third season starts two and a half years later, and introduces a third option: What if Nyborg can have it both ways?
In some ways, the third season is less compelling because it fits into the endless “Can women have it all?” debate. Fortunately, Borgen offers a better take on that question than any think piece, offering a view into the emotional lives of the women who are trying to answer it for themselves. Season three moves the show away from the political arena—a world that it’s very comfortable with—and into the social landscape of Denmark, which is a tougher nut to crack. The show is still about government, but rather than focus on new characters in charge, it stays with old characters who have moved to the political margins. Borgen’s third season is about grassroots organizing and media more than it is about parliamentary power.
This third season is the show’s weakest, but it’s still incredibly well cast and well written. It may not measure up to Borgen’s first 10 episodes, but it’s still one of the best shows on TV. At its core is Sidse Babett Knudsen, the powerhouse behind Nyborg. Even while the story loses some of its clarity, Knudsen is consistently and thoroughly compelling, creating complexity out of even mundane scenes. In the opening episodes of this season, she drifts back toward politics after a lucrative career on the speaking circuit, and one of her first decisions is hiring Birgitte Hjort Sørensen to be her media advisor. Sørensen plays a fantastic character, but it’s jarring to see her shift into political spin after years and years in journalism, and the matter is further confused when its discovered that Knudsen’s former adviser and Sørensen’s former lover is now unattached to either of them and is instead working as a talking head on TV1. In the first two seasons, Pilou Asbæk provided a moral non-compass of sorts, a Machiavellian spin-doctor that sometimes leads both Knudsen and Sørensen astray. But in this season he is just a supporting player; still good, but far less relevant. Asbaek’s character is yet another casualty of the uncertainties of television production—he had already agreed to other commitments before the third season got a green light—and the show suffers as a result. It’s still good, but it’s not the sharp, tight drama it was.
Where Borgen continues to shine is with the life of Knudsen’s character, even though in this season a few subjects are curiously glossed over. At the end of the second season she was rebuilding her family; at the beginning of the third season she’s dating an Englishman she met in Hong Kong. Considering how earlier episodes were unafraid to tackle her romantic life, it’s odd that aside from introducing Jeremy as a handsome suitor, Borgen doesn’t delve into the mechanics of their relationship much. Like Søren Malling providing the show’s new media perspective, it never feels as interesting as anything that has evolved from earlier seasons. By contrast, friendships and political relationships are far more rewarding.
In Borgen, creator Adam Price gets his most Sorkin-esque; right from the start the show has had a distinctly West Wing vibe, but quieter, more restrained, and certainly more holistic about characters as living, breathing human beings, and not just automatons who spout numbers. But especially in the deliberately eye-catching titles of this season (“Election,” “The Fall,” and “The Right Shade Of Brown,” about finding a media representative of a minority race) and its scattershot romantic subplots, Borgen veers a little towards melodrama.
But not too far. The characters are still compelling and forceful screen presences, encouraging viewers to root for them as much as it challenges them, and in their personal lives Borgen raises more and more questions about the social issue it has always been invested in—the true life and choices of the modern woman, in a world that is purportedly equal. It continues to do that with aplomb.
Created by: Adam Price
Starring: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, and Soren Malling
Debuts: Sunday, Oct. 4, at 7 p.m. on Link TV
Full season watched for review