Look: I don’t care how unrealistic it is that Birgitte and the New Democrats are forging out on their own, refusing to join either the governing coalition or the opposition (and all of my research indicates it’s pretty much impossible for this tactic to work when I’ve seen enough of this show to know it’s going to). The Birgitte Nyborg I like is one who doesn’t take shit from anyone, and when she was forced to constantly compromise her ideals so the opposition could use none of her ideas, only to have the few ideas she had coopted by the moderates because of a mole, I was about ready for her to start stabbing people while muttering terrible things in Danish. Birgitte is such a great character because she’s always got her eye on the prize, no matter how far off that prize might be, but in these last few episodes, as she’s been beset upon from all sides, she’s lost that long-term vision, and she’s been slightly weaker for it. Now, even if this whole effort goes down in flames, at least it’s headed up by the Birgitte both fictional Denmark and I love so much.
Let’s start with the mole subplot, because it wasn’t my favorite thing in the world—in that it was so weird to have it confined to a single episode, right?—but I found the end, wherein Nete is revealed to be the one leaking information to the Moderates, quietly devastating. Nete was the first one who was on board the whole New Democrat thing, but she seemingly joined because she was Birgitte’s number one fan, and number one fans rarely have diehard policy positions they’re willing to fight for, as is the case with Jon and Erik. Nete was never the show’s most vital character, but I liked the way she brought a bit of humor to scenes that could have been so dour, and her reluctant “strange bedfellows” relationship with Kruse was disappointing, but in a good way, in that I could absolutely see her weighing her options and deciding this was the right thing to do after being so frustrated with Birgitte compromising some of her ideals to help out Labour and the Greens. (What happened to Solidarity? Did I just forget that they’re doing their own thing?)
What made this work, I think, was that I was frustrated with Birgitte too. While Nete’s betrayal was ultimately a step too far, I could see why she felt that way and did what she did. Borgen has always been a romantic fantasy of the political world, on some level. It’s a show about how great it would be if our politicians just got over themselves and their cronyism and started doing what they really believed in, about how compromise is grand, particularly when everybody involved in a compromise is working for the betterment of the country at large. But because of that, it’s also slightly subject to a little bit of Great Woman History analysis, wherein all Birgitte has to do to make her country a better place is grit her teeth and resolve to get it done. The other characters—even the most richly drawn ones—are rarely more than obstacles between Birgitte and the better Danish society she carries in her heart.
This means that when Birgitte steps back and plays the good minor party leader, as she has these last few episodes, it can be a little frustrating to watch her subverting her gifts in service of someone like Hans Christian Thorsen (a toadyish name if ever I’ve heard one). We know what show we’re watching. We know that Birgitte is eventually going to kick the ass of Hesselboe, Thorsen, and precancerous tissue in her breast, and she’s going to do it without breaking a sweat. In its first two seasons, when Borgen would send Birgitte into a holding pattern, it was always from a position of power. She sat in the prime minister’s seat, and she ultimately would get her way after the forces around her either self-immolated or came to see the wisdom of her thinking. But in this season, because she’s been pushed to the sidelines, she’s been neutered in a lot of ways, and that has made for some intriguing character study moments but has mostly been irritating in terms of plotting.
Here’s the thing: Borgen hasn’t really altered its storytelling structure to reflect the fact that Birgitte is out of power. It still carries the assumption in its head that she will eventually triumph over all her opposition, and even when those triumphs are muted by being compromised or half-victories, the show still operates as if she were the prime minister and not the head of a tiny party that could just as easily be swept away after one bad election. (This, for my American friends, would make her sort of like when Teddy Roosevelt started up the Progressive Party, or the Bull Moose Party, which really should have taken off, because who wouldn’t want to be a Bull Moose? But I digress.) This creates a weird dichotomy where the show has to keep piling shit on top of her head to keep her down, when, really, the very situation she’s in should be doing that. It hasn’t really worked until these last couple of episodes, but I have to admit that her stunning collapse last week and her semi-comeback after kowtowing to other politicians this week have me more invested in the New Democrat story than I’ve been all season.
Would that I could say the same about Torben Friis and his adventures at TV1! Though “Thank you, Torben” was my favorite line of the episode (because Torben sounded so out of it when he said it), this whole thing about his affair with Pia—and now Ulrik sleeping with the prospective future head of the Freedom party—has just felt like the show having absolutely no idea what to do with the journalism setting without Katrine in it. (I think I said this in a previous review, but if the series had left Katrine at TV1, then elevated Bent to the male lead, all of this might have gone down a bit more smoothly, especially since Bent coming around to the New Democrats was awfully sudden and could have made for a better arc.) Torben breaking down and crying on Ulrik’s shoulder after the taping was, I think, supposed to make us feel the weight of all he’s been carrying around this season, but it just felt kinda dumb. When I started this season, I was warned by all of my Danish friends who watched the show that it took a turn toward the melodramatic this season that was less true of the first two. And while I don’t really think that’s true in the political half of the show—the problems there stem more from the show’s weird storytelling format—it’s definitely been true in this half. There are two episodes left, but if the show pulls this Torben thing around and makes me care, I’ll eat my hat.
- Jeremy shows up to help Birgitte out because he’s concerned about her medical emergency, but, really, he’s just there so we can listen to Sidse Babett Knudsen speak English. Which, don’t get me wrong, is wonderful, but isn’t completely necessary.
- Torben’s wife hasn’t been my favorite character, but her telling him that he never much cared about the kids when they were married, so why should he start now, was a pretty sick burn.
- The plot to oust the mole was pretty standard skullduggery, but I enjoyed seeing the characters work in such a manner. When Birgitte insisted that Bent would never betray her like that, I was sort of convinced that would turn out to be the case, but the show went another way, for which I’m grateful. (I couldn’t have handled Bent and Birgitte at odds again.)
- Kruse says that he’ll do whatever his voters want, then immediately coopts all of the ideas of a smaller party with less support in the polls. Residents of parliamentary democracies: Is this common for larger parties to do to snuff out smaller ones?
- Svend Age joins the The A.V. Club meme: