Borgen is usually at its best when Birgitte Nyborg gets piiiiiissed, and in “In Denmark I Was Born,” the whole universe seems intent on making her make that little face she makes when things don’t go her way. You know which one I’m talking about. The one that has that tightly controlled grimace, behind which you know throbs this intense, migraine-like anger. Birgitte’s gotten as far as she has by keeping that anger in check, but the beauty of Sidse Babbett Knudsen’s performance is that you can tell exactly when Birgitte starts wishing she could kill everyone in the room telekinetically. There are lots of instances of that in this premiere, and that’s what keeps it from having a bad case of the “let me get you caught up to speed” syndrome.
It’s two-and-a-half years since Birgitte called for a general election designed as a referendum on the policies she and her coalition had passed while she was in power. (This would put it at five-and-a-half years since the show began—I think?—which seems a little misleading, since there’s no way Laura and Magnus have aged that much, but who cares?) It would seem that Birgitte lost that election—though, again, I’m not clear on the timeline, since someone also mentions her stepping down from power (maybe she just left her seat?)—and she’s been serving on various boards and acting as a public speaker since those events. Kasper and Katrine have a son together, but they’ve also split up. Torben thinks he has a line on a promotion. Hesselboe is the prime minister, and Jacob Kruse heads up the Moderates. The latter has worked more and more closely with the former, because even if the Moderates were opposed to Hesselboe when Birgitte was in power, Denmark’s left wing is flailing. To get anything done anywhere, everybody’s gotta make some concessions to the Freedom Party, which is just great.
The problem with a premiere like this is that it can become so intent on letting you know what’s up with everybody that it forgets to tell a story. “In Denmark I Was Born” almost forgets to do this, but it veers back toward storytelling quickly enough. The issue there, however, is that most of the characters’ motivations are explained rather perfunctorily. It makes complete sense why Kruse wants to screw over Birgitte. She appointed him to the European parliament, after all, which is apparently some sort of death sentence. But Birgitte’s desire to get back into politics seems sort of tossed off. She’s upset about human rights violations in the deal Kruse has cut with the Liberals, but that’s about all we hear about the whole thing. This is quite possibly my continued ignorance of important issues in Danish politics and particularly my ignorance of Danish immigration policy, but it all seems contrived specifically to get Birgitte back into the game.
Which is fine! We want to see Birgitte wandering around the halls of power and telling people what to do, ideally with Sanne there to hand her some coffee. But I can’t help but think that if this had an extra episode or two in which to spread out, we’d get a better sense of how much she misses being in politics. I like the way the show underlines how even her jet-setting lifestyle, which takes her to Hong Kong and on the speaking circuit, has become dull and unfulfilling to her by showing her giving, effectively, the same speech in various places, only to be questioned about how she would handle the various crises going on in Denmark at that point in time. I also like how when she decides, most everyone in her life is ready to get on board with what she’s doing. But it also felt like her decision to return to politics and then her failure to regain leadership of the Moderates should have been two separate episodes. Everything is sped up, and Borgen is a show that usually succeeds by taking its time.
This also goes for the show’s two co-leads, one who continues on in an important supporting role and another who’s had to step back a bit, because the actor playing him had other commitments. Katrine joins up with Birgitte’s cause, and the arc of the character’s career continues to feel a bit jumbled (even if she and Bent make a surprisingly good onscreen duo). Fortunately, it would seem she’ll be joining Team Birgitte going forward, and that’s probably the right call for the character, as she and Birgitte have always had a fascinating energy between them. In the case of Kasper, however, the character’s relegation to the sidelines—and why Birgitte prefers Katrine over him for the job of media advisor—is never adequately explained. I get the realities of not being able to employ an actor as often as you used to, but not having Kasper around still strikes me as something potentially problematic. I’ve always liked Torben, but I’m much less invested in the arc of his career than the other three characters’ storylines, and it will take some doing for the show to convince me otherwise.
Still, there are plenty of promising elements to this premeire as well. If you need villains, Kruse is a pretty good one. Unlike, say, Laugesen, who occasionally seemed like he should be tying various characters to the train tracks, Kruse has a legitimate beef with our heroine, and he’s got a fairly good argument for why he should remain in power: He’s been doing a pretty good job as party leader so far. Why should the party abandon him now, simply because the one woman who made it to Prime Minister under their aegis wants to push him out? Granted, Kruse might have been smarter to figure out a way to work Birgitte back into the party’s apparatus, but there’s also an argument that by defeating her soundly in an election, he reveals that he’s reshaped the Moderates in her absence. The party might not be what she wants anymore, but maybe what Birgitte wanted was never what the country wanted.
That’s the intriguing subtext here. Pretty much all of the characters have suffered some giant loss in between seasons. Katrine might have a son, but she and Kasper have split up. Kasper might have an awesome TV show (seriously, I would watch Juul And Friis), but he’s no longer close to power, where he clearly thrives. Birgitte might have a handsome new boyfriend and a high-paying, jet-setting job, but the country clearly rejected her governing philosophy, and that still has to sting. But since this is Birgitte Nyborg, we know she’s not just going to take her defeat at the hands of Kruse sitting down. She’s going to start her own damn political party, which basically means she’s going to pull a “Shut The Door, Have A Seat” on the entirety of Danish parliament. To which I say: Yes. Let’s do this, Birgitte. Let’s do this.
- The LinkTV captions have the translation of this title as “A Child Of Denmark,” but that’s way less poetic than “In Denmark I Was Born,” which other sources have it as, so I’m going with the latter.
- Sonia Saraiaya’s review of the whole season posits its major theme as “Can women have it all?” and we can already see the seeds of that being planted in the various scenes where Katrine struggles to get her son—Gustav!—to stop calling out for his grandmother, instead of her. (Confusingly for an English speaker, the Danish word for “grandma” appears to be “mama,” so that’s going to throw me.)
- Birgitte’s new boyfriend, Jeremy, seems so transparently an attempt to signal that things have changed that I don’t have much else to say about him. I do like Knudsen’s accent when she speaks English, though, so I hope Jeremy is around for even more of the season.
- Laura seems to be thriving after her mental health scare of a few years ago. Magnus is a greedy child who wants only better Sony products. Phillip is all, “Whatever. I don’t quite know why I’m on the show anymore, but do what you gotta do.”
- The opening titles have shifted a bit to reflect that Torben is now in the Borgen holy trinity and the new reality of the show’s fictional power structure. I never liked the originals all that much, but these are a slight improvement.
- Another nice little tidbit: Birgitte has to have a formal meeting set to be able to enter the halls of Parliament, and the security guard won’t just let her in. It’s like going back to your old high school for the first time after you’ve gone off to college.
- Any characters missing in action you’d like to see again? I wouldn’t mind if Birgitte dropped a few pennies into a beggar’s cup, only for the camera to pan down and reveal the face of Laugesen. Then the hornblare and the timpani and the word BORGEN across the screen in the old Lost font.