TV Review: Borgen, Them and Us

Tom Leece is Film and TV editor at Fourth & Main

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It starts with the most disturbing of beginnings, as spin doctor Kasper Juul (Pilou Asbæk) revisits the childhood home where he was abused by his own father, and moves towards an explosively emotional ending.

It’s perhaps the best episode of the series to date, an hour of interwoven narratives, long awaited pay offs and stand-out acting. You could tug on the threads here and there and question just how neatly everything slots into place, but that would be sinful when it comes to drama this sincere.

When Svend Åge Saltum (Ole Thestrup), a shrewd far right operator with a knack for striking populist gold, demands that the age of criminal responsibility be slashed by two years to forestall the rise in juvenile crime, he hurls Birgitte Nyborg’s (Sidse Babett Knudsen) minority coalition into its newest crisis. More than that, though, the Freedom Party leader’s calls for a quick fix solution summon up Kasper’s own demons and chime discordantly with Birgitte’s home life.

Children are complicated, as Birgitte has recently been reminded. Listening to her ex-husband and his girlfriend’s proposal that daughter Laura (Freja Riemann) should be put on antidepressants, it feels like the Svend Åge sledgehammer approach all over again.

Birgitte wants Laura to talk through her problems. Rival Cecilie (Mille Dinesen), the pesky paediatrician, claims that something as cold and empirical as a pill is the answer. Just about able to bottle up her own frustrations – leading to one of the loneliest breakdowns yet – Birgitte is dismayed to find Kasper lashing out at Svend Åge for no apparent reason.

Obsessive, manipulative, destructive, tragic, flawed and insecure, Kasper is Borgen’s most polarising creation. It’s down to individual judgment whether last season’s revelation of abuse excuses or only partially explains his behaviour, but the writers are clear tonight that being forced to return to his parents’ home pitches Kasper headfirst into a perfect storm. With Svend Åge proclaiming the tonic for childhood ills and Kasper’s own alcohol abuse rapidly worsening, the spin doctor’s decline is a violent, spectacular affair.

His complete disregard for Lotte (Rikke Lylloff) was going to have to reach its climax at some point but the real sign of Kasper’s deterioration was in his clash with Birgitte. The two mostly understand one another when it comes to politics, after having their differences in season one, and their rapport is one of Borgen’s lighter notes.

The practice question and answer session prior to Birgitte’s appearance in parliament exposed Kasper’s frustration that her cynicism and worldly experience will never match his own. It also hinted at the complexities of his shame and grief, not only for what was done to him but also for what he had done.

With such a ceaseless torrent of Kasper drama there was smaller share tonight for Katrine, although Birgitte Hjort Sørensen packed enough into the ending that her performances could be bloodless duds for the rest of the season and she’d still scoop some major award or other. After such lofty heights Borgen may well dial down its intensity next weekend.

Other than part-buffoon, part-political craftsman Svend Åge earning apologies from all three lead characters, tonight’s episode was understandably light on humour. Its message, at least, was simple and uplifting. Look after the children.

Best scene:

Never the most likely of pairings, aggressive oral hygiene and deep self-loathing led to Birgitte’s most disquieting moment. 

Best line:

Listen, you might ask the questions we all want answers to but it’s rubbish journalism!” TV1 news editor Torben Friis (Søren Malling) is back on form as the man least suited to upholding the standards of his profession.

Handy Danish vocab:

Maybe Torben simply missed his calling as a language teacher; after listening to him repeat it five times no one could fail to learn that “undskyld” is the Danish for “sorry.”

Magnus Watch:

No sign of the little guy. As it’s a two-part episode next weekend he’ll hopefully be up to his freshly syringed ears in Nyborg family narrative.

Tom Leece is Film and TV editor at Fourth & Main