From the start, Kasper Juul has been an unusually quiet figure for being one of the three leads in a major drama series. Yeah, he gets shit done, and yeah, he’s had a couple of intriguing storylines. But for the most part, Borgen has focused on his boss and his former lover, the two of whom it’s had more interest in and more to say about. We’ve gotten little hints here and there that Kasper has a shadowed past, or that the Kasper who stole those receipts back in the first episode is closer to the real deal than the Kasper we’ve gotten since then. But for the most part, this has been Birgitte and Katrine’s series (in that order), and he’s been happy to play back-up to both.
The student of the drama series, then, would reasonably suspect that we’d get a big “here’s what Kasper’s all about” type of episode somewhere along the way, and it also made sense that it would be somewhere in the last third of the season, the better to maximize the time spent on making Kasper all the more mysterious. And if I have a complaint about “The Silly Season”—which generally fires on all cylinders—it’s that I’m not sure all of the effort to get here, to an episode where Kasper is pretty much the main character, was worth it. I’m much more interested in Kasper now that I know about his troubled past and have seen him face down his demons than I ever was when he was simply a cool mystery near the show’s center. It almost feels like the show is trying to pull a Don Draper, to spend the first season revealing the many layers and hidden past of this guy, but it seems to have forgotten that Don was unquestionably the lead of Mad Men and that he was compelling to watch even when we had no idea he had once been Dick Whitman. Kasper’s not quite at that level, so that makes the build-up to this moment seem less needed.
That said, “The Silly Season” is one hell of an episode, and that’s largely thanks to the performance of Pilou Asbæk, who makes a flashback structure that could seem forced and silly seem vital and powerful instead. Kasper, see, was molested as a young boy by his father, which is why he left home at the age of 12 and never went back, but now that his father has died (conveniently right at the same time as he’s facing a crisis in his professional life), his mother—who, to my mind, seems to at least know a bit about what her husband did to her son—needs Kasper’s help with the funeral arrangements. At first, he’s not going to do it, but eventually, he realizes that this will finally be the chance to exact some sort of punishment on the man who’s created such dark scars on his life. Would Kasper like his father to be buried or cremated? “Burn him,” he spits. How about a headstone? Do they still do unmarked graves? he asks. This raw anger prepares us well for the revelation of his father’s heinous actions.
Sexual assault on children is something that television has shied away from as a motivation for regular characters, for good reason. It’s far too easy to make it seem as if something like this is being trivialized by making it part of the back-story of a regular character, no matter how dark the show is supposed to be, and very few networks would go in for someone who was as haunted by that trauma as many are in real life. (Coincidentally enough, Mad Men revealed that Don Draper, too, was sexually abused as a child in one of this season’s episodes.) Borgen has split the difference. Kasper pretends he’s put what happened to him behind him, but it’s obvious how much he hasn’t. He has trouble building connections, his relationship life is a mess, and he can seem too much the cipher. But the way that he presents himself as somebody who’s got all his shit together paradoxically makes him the kind of character who, well, has his shit together. It’s only when he stops to think that the wounds feel fresh again.
It’s fascinating to watch how this private trauma bleeds into Kasper’s professional life, however. The normally cool and collected man is suddenly freaking out over the reveal of his role in Hesselboe’s ouster, as Laugesen’s new book, Exit, names Kasper as the one who gave him the receipts that caused such a scandal and accidentally swept Birgitte to power. The normally unflappable Kasper doesn’t have a plan to deal with the fallout from his reveal in the scandal, and he blows up at Ulrik when the journalist won’t give him the copy of the book he received as a special preview. His father’s death has invaded his thoughts, and it’s all he can think about. When he finally meets with the press about the receipts, cool, collected Kasper is back, but he’s had to will that version of himself back. Everywhere he looks, the ghosts of a past he’d tried to run from lurch out to grab him, right down to a woman who still calls him Kenneth.
This may be why my two favorite scenes in the episode had to do with Katrine, the woman who likely has the best sense of who the “real” Kasper is, thanks to all those years the two spent as a couple. The first, in which Katrine figures out that he found the receipts that night at her place when he came to help her cover up that she was at Ole Dahl’s side when he died. It’s a good, bitter scene, she finally seeing his role in all of this and pushing him right at a moment when he doesn’t want to be pushed. But even that pales when compared to the final scene, where she’s the only one at his side at his father’s funeral. His mother won’t attend, and when Katrine shows up (having apparently used her journalism powers to find the funeral), it’s surprisingly heartening. The episode ends with the two of them watching his father’s body burn, and it’s another link between the two of them that won’t be so easily thrown away.
The Kasper stuff is so good that it feels vaguely disappointing every time we head over to Birgitte on “holiday” with her family, a holiday that keeps getting interrupted by work. While this has rarely been my favorite storyline, it’s possible that the proximity to Kasper made me more charitable to it, or maybe just focusing almost exclusively on Birgitte’s family issues made me key in to that storyline more than I normally would. Regardless, I finally felt some of Phillip’s frustrations with his wife, and when he took the job without consulting her, I almost found myself siding with him (and probably would have if Birgitte had any job other than, you know, prime minister). Seeing the family at the Prime Minister’s country house finally underlined some of these issues in a better way than, say, Magnus’ bed wetting or Phillip telling his wife about how her children miss her did.
Still, this is easily the best episode of Borgen so far, and so much of that comes from how the show zeroed in on one of its characters and showed us what made him how he is. Those final shots of Kasper watching his father’s body succumb to the flames indicate everything: For as much as he thinks he can put all of these horrors behind him, Kasper never will be able to, even now that his father is in the ground. Kasper might be able to function on the surface, but all that scar tissue beneath will dominate if he ever thinks about it too much. So he tries not to think about it as best he can, knowing that, inevitably, at some point or another, he will fail.
- Cold buttermilk soup?! What the fuck, Denmark?!
- Okay, it’s a little weird that Kasper’s childhood home would have all of these items that would trigger his memories of what his father did to him. I get that the triggers can come from just about anything when the trauma runs that deep, but it sure seemed like his parents had been using the same sofa pillows for 20-plus years.
- Phillip takes the job, and he’s finally able to get “in the mood” to have sex with his wife. He took it because he wanted it, he says. Mmmmkay.