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

Borgen: “Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery”

Illustration for article titled Borgen: “Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery”

After last week’s detour into the politics of pigs, Borgen does another standalone “let’s pass a law!” storyline, but I found this one a fair degree more interesting, both because it featured actual human beings and because it ended up being about a bunch of people deciding their first instincts were incorrect. The latter is far more interesting to me than a story about Birgitte being right and gradually convincing everybody of her rightness would be at this point. And as a bonus, it places at the center of the episode an interesting conflict: Will the New Democrats betray their core principle of not rushing to hasty legislation to gain the good PR boost of supporting an at least somewhat popular prostitution ban? Birgitte’s initially in favor, and Katrine is super in favor, but then the episode takes some left turns, and we learn that prostitution bans might not be all they’re cut out to be. (And, as always, I enjoy learning about political issues in other countries that might as well be on the moon for all the relevance they have to U.S. politics. The year we legalize prostitution is probably the year we colonize the moons of Neptune.)

Anyway, I mostly liked the stuff about the prostitution ban, and I’ll return to it in a bit. But this episode is called “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery,” and its major thematic thrust (heh heh) seems to be whether men can keep their dicks in their pants. To be fair, that more or less dovetails with the political storyline, but it’s also yet another example of the series indulging in pointless melodrama for the sake of doing so. Take, for instance, the scene where Jeremy admits that he’s visited a prostitute. It’s simply there to put a little conflict in the midst of the Jeremy/Birgitte relationship, but I’ve never once much cared about this relationship. Do I want to see Birgitte happy? Sure. But the show hasn’t done a great job of selling Jeremy to me as the guy who can make her happy. Thus, the scenes of him meeting with her kids and hanging out with him fall flat.

They’re better, however, than the continuing relationship between Torben and Pia, which has now graduated to Torben just openly groping her in the workplace every chance he gets. I don’t know what, exactly, we’re supposed to be drawing from this either. At least we meet Torben’s wife, who’s presented as an angry harridan type, which is unusual for a show that’s usually more sensitive to its portrayals of women, right down to presenting a bunch of sympathetic sex workers in this episode. Now that Torben has turned TV1 around—sort of out of nowhere, I might add—the show is casting about for something for him to do, and that apparently involves having sex with Pia. Again, I might care more if this was something I could see as two people who are unhappy and desperate—or even just really horny—finding something in each other that they couldn’t find elsewhere. But the story is just a thing that happened last week, and it’s just a thing that happens this week. It’s not being sold by either the actors or writers.

Even Katrine gets trapped by some of this. Her hookup with Alex remains the one element of melodrama I’ve mostly been okay with this season—probably because she seems so lonely this year—but she gets tossed into the middle of a story about her mother having an affair that seems less about her building a better relationship with the woman and more about having a weighty thematic counterpoint to the sex worker storyline for her to consider. And then there’s the tortured scene where Kasper explains to her why they split up when their son was one. It involves his inability to see her both as a mother and a lover, and even knowing as much as we do about Kasper’s history, it rings false. Kasper has always been this bullheaded cuss, who throws himself into things. And he’d abandon this particular exploit straight off, after the last two seasons presented his winning of Katrine as a thing that had been a long time in coming? I get that the producers have their hands tied as to how much they can use Pilou Asbæk, but he may as well exit every scene he’s in this season by saying, “I have to go film something on another set,” then flying out the window.

Fortunately, the prostitution ban made for a much more successful political storyline than some of the others this season, and as mentioned, it provided a believable conflict for a young party. At times, this storyline steps a little too closely to containing plot reversals just for the sake of containing plot reversals, but Sidse Babett Knudsen mostly keeps it on the rails through sheer force of will. Birgitte’s journey from wanting to ban prostitution (if only slightly and mostly because it makes tactical sense) to signing up with Hesselboe in an attempt to come up with a sort of bill of rights for sex workers is a believable journey, especially since so much of it stems from conflicts within her own party, with Erik cautioning her to not jump wholesale into something that’s been prompted by the cruel kidnapping and rape of some Romanian girls, when kidnapping and rape are already illegal, and Katrine taking the other side, insisting that prostitution is systemic abuse of women.

I was going to say the episode doesn’t really take a side, but I guess it does, because even Katrine is won over by the self-determination of the sex workers. Yet it’s ultimate side is with a certain amount of cynicism with how the political system is run. Having made her journey so far that she’s willing to side with Hesselboe yet again, Birgitte finds her momentum clipped when the prime minister refuses to push for sex workers to get any more rights than they already have. He correctly surmises that in the current political climate, that would be suicide for his coalition. Yet Birgitte is intent on doing the right thing (which got her into this mess in the first place) and is dismayed when sex workers end up in the same grey area as they always were.


I also think this story works because it takes Helene, the sex worker who first talks to the New Democrats about what her life is actually like, and makes her a character with agency, intelligence, and a sense of humor about herself. This has never been a show known for its one-episode characters, who are usually just brought in to express a political point or two, but the scene at the hearing on the bill that mostly consists of people brought in to crow about how much good a ban on prostitution would do is legitimately heart-breaking because Helene sinks lower and lower in her seat as it goes on. All politics is ultimately personal, and Borgen succeeds when it’s able to do that. It managed it via Helene, because she built a visceral connection with the audience. It worked less well when it came to, say, Jeremy’s visits to a brothel, because we just don’t care outside of the theoretical.

Stray observations:

  • Laugesen returns. I presume he was another actor the show could only get for a short amount of time, and, thus, he mostly just appears as a newsman out on the street getting in digs at Birgitte Nyborg, his favorite pastime.
  • So do you think Phillip has visited a prostitute? I intend to think not, because I like to believe people are always telling the truth, but that always gets me in trouble.
  • I enjoyed Birgitte and the kids talking Danish to keep Jeremy out of the loop. She instructs Magnus to destroy Jeremy in Playstation football, and I couldn’t be happier.