Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Borgen: “One Man's Loss”

Illustration for article titled Borgen: “One Man's Loss”

“One Man’s Loss” is an important episode to this season’s story arc, in that it depicts the New Democrats finding a political issue on which they can take the lead and make a positive difference in society. But it’s also kind of a pointless episode for those of us who aren’t really into the politics of Danish pig breeding. Don’t get me wrong: I sympathize with what the party is trying to do by banning the docking of piglets’ tails. The stated reason for doing so—so the piglets don’t bite each other’s tails off—quickly gets lost in the shuffle because cutting off the tails of such cute little critters is inherently horrifying and looks even more so on TV. (Full disclosure: I grew up on a pig farm, where my parents regularly docked tails, cut teeth, and castrated baby males, all things that seemed perfectly normal to me at the time, but now register as much more horrifying. Suffice to say, this is probably the only issue on the show where I can find some common ground with Svend Age, if only a little bit.) But it also misses the humanizing touch Borgen often offers. No matter how cute those pigs are, they’re never going to contribute to a storyline or offer up some winning dialogue. Birgitte can go to the pigs; they cannot come to her.

It all leads to probably the weakest episode of Borgen yet, one where essentially everything is telegraphed and the season’s “let’s have everybody sleep with someone different than they normally do!” storytelling style officially flies past the mildly irritating and into the ridiculous when Torben and Pia kiss because, well, why not? I guess if you, too, were raised on a pig farm, you might find the discussion of the intersection of providing farm animals with a happy, healthy lifestyle on their way to the slaughter, while still allowing farmers to make substantial enough profits to live off of, interesting. I sort of did. But the whole thing felt very heavy-handed and one note, as if Adam Price and company needed to come up with the perfect issue for the New Democrats to lead on, then wondered how cute it would be if Birgitte was toting around a piggy.

To try to put a human face on all of this, the show trots in Katrine’s brother, a character we’re at least tangentially familiar with from earlier in the show’s run. But he is literally just there to reveal that he doesn’t eat the pigs he raises in his factory farm setting, preferring to eat the pork from the pigs he keeps back in a good old-fashioned sty. (As someone who grew up on sty-raised pork and now has to make do with supermarket chops, I heartily concur with his preference. Pigs who can happily muck about and throw themselves around in mud piles make for much better bacon.) He also insists that he not be quoted on any of this, lest all the other farmers turn on him en masse. (Denmark apparently has, like, six farmers, and they all know each other and will leave dead-pig-a-grams if they’re unhappy with you.) The second he says this but keeps feeding his sister information, you know exactly what’s going to happen: He’s going to come up somehow in a public setting, and it’s going to put a wedge between him and his sister.

Now, that’s theoretically interesting, but in actual practice, it doesn’t work out so well. Simply put, we don’t really know the brother. The show tries to hang a lantern on this by having that first scene where he and Katrine talk through their relationship and how she and her mom are getting along, but that’s not as effective as something that’s built steadily throughout the run of the show. Hell, I’m more attached to Jeremy than I am anybody else, and I thought giving him a stomachache because he ate pork laced with antibiotics (to which he is allergic) was a stupid way to introduce this issue. Katrine’s relationship with her brother needs to be as important to us as it is to them for this episode to work, and it just never is. When he tells her not to come around any more at the end of the episode, then points to the pig carcass in his driveway, it doesn’t feel sad or anything remotely similar. It feels sort of silly.

And, yes, this whole plot gets kicked off because Jeremy gets a tummyache. At first, I thought the show was playing at some Scandal-level shit or something. Had someone dosed Jeremy’s pork with a mild poison to draw his relationship with Birgitte out into the tabloid press? As it turns out, no. He’s just allergic to those antibiotics. It seems like this story might do something interesting with the idea of a real political issue—the care and treatment of farm animals—getting shunted aside in favor of press gossip—Birgitte’s relationship or even the treatment of pigs on Svend Age’s farm—but it never really presses this issue beyond bringing it up a couple of times. Because the New Democrats need the care and treatment of piglets to be important to continue their growth into a real party, suddenly, everybody in Denmark cares more about pigs than they do dumb gossip, which is directly opposed to everything the show has been teaching us all this time. (On Borgen, as in real life, constituents have never met a bit of dumb gossip they couldn’t turn into their new favorite thing ever.)

Anyway, it all builds to a moment where Svend Age, sufficiently goaded, says on live television that Danish farmers produce garbage, and the Freedom Party suddenly becomes a party in favor of increased welfare for farm animals and increased restrictions on the rights of immigrants. I said last week that I liked the idea of political parties with multiple viewpoints, allowing for people to find parties that fit their very specific views. I would very much like to meet the constituency for this new Freedom Party, as the interparty battles over Svend Age’s comments strike me less as something that would actually happen and more as the show trying to back the character into a corner so Birgitte can have a largely meaningless victory. There are some fun things in “One Man’s Loss,” like all of the pigs, which made me homesick, but the vast majority of the episode is either trying so hard that I didn’t buy any of it or telegraphing what it’s going to do so blatantly that by the time it happens, I’ve moved on. And Torben and Pia kissed? What kind of show is this, anyway? Shape it up, Borgen!


Stray observations:

  • I just wanted all of you to know that I wrote this from a Swedish themed coffeehouse. I also wanted you to know that I know Denmark and Sweden are separate countries. (But not really. That’s just the map industrial complex lying to all of us so we’ll buy more maps.)
  • “We're making Juul & Friis, not Yuletide Fun At Christiansborg,” says Torben, like we wouldn’t all watch Yuletide Fun At Christiansborg.
  • Also in needless melodrama news: Katrine is very upset that Kasper is sleeping with other women and leaving Gustav in the care of a babysitter when he does. Birgitte shuts that right down by telling her that so long as Gustav is happy and healthy, Kasper can do whatever he wants. Now I really want an episode to end with Gustav snuggling content in his bed, a babysitter watching quietly over him, before cutting to Kasper hanging naked from the edge of a party bus as he drunkenly bleats an out-of-tune version of the Vengaboys “We Like To Party.”
  • Speaking of Kasper: Was that the first scene he and Birgitte shared this season? I wanted more!
  • Ulrik asks Katrine out and gets quickly rebuffed. Poor Ulrik. It will never be your moment, will it?