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Borgen: “Sense And Sensibility”

Illustration for article titled iBorgen/i: “Sense And Sensibility”
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The plot I hate most in political dramas is “the hero has some dirt on her chief rival for election, but she refuses to use it because that’s just not the kind of politician she is.” Usually, the hero is rewarded for being such a smart, sensible candidate who understands that mud-slinging is rarely the best idea. The problem here is that her reward is almost entirely for the benefit of the audience. The electorate in her universe doesn’t know about the mud she withheld from slinging, because it wasn’t public knowledge. So we’re watching her get rewarded just because the electorate has some vague sense that she’s a good person, even though the reason a politician starts slinging mud is either because they’re down by a significant margin or they want to keep their opponent down for the count. It just doesn’t track with reality, and even as a romanticized plot device, it doesn’t make a ton of sense.

“Sense And Sensibility” trucks out this old plot device, but it does a better job of handling it than a lot of programs. Yes, the episode features a major plot where Katrine finds out from Kasper that Kruse once was in a drunk driving accident that seriously injured a young woman who wasn’t his wife, and then she and Birgitte have to figure out whether to leak it. And, yes, they consider doing so because their place in the polls is imperiled by the fact that the Ekspres is once again getting all up in Birgitte’s grill about how she jumped the queue for her cancer treatment. But there are a few key differences here and there. For one thing, it’s Birgitte who ultimately wants to leak the news, so incensed is she by journalists trying to buttonhole her kids, and it’s Katrine who ultimately decides not to leak the shows. And for another, the day is saved for the New Democrats because Birgitte puts on a stellar performance at the final debate. So if they do well in next episode’s election, it’s entirely plausible that they did so simply because of how good Birgitte is at what she does.


On the other hand, there was a lot of Torben’s adventures at TV1 in this episode. And I mean a lot of it. The network is blindsided by the fact that TV2’s ratings went through the roof for some sort of political game show that was meant to stand in the place of a debate on economic policy. The show looks like a weird combination of American Gladiators, Nickelodeon’s GUTS, and a late-night talk show. It also appears to be hosted by Jane Lynch in character as Sue Sylvester from Glee. Nobody who watched the show really liked it, but the ratings were huge. Thus, Torben is pressured into going along with Alex’s version of the same concept, something called The Power Game and co-hosted by Hanne and Ulrik as something very akin to Denmark’s Got Political Talent.

Now, I’m sure that one of you is going to tell me that this sort of format was all the rage in presenting political debates in Europe before the last election, and I need to get over my too-American perspective. But if that’s really the case: Really? Because both versions of this show are so ridiculous that I have trouble investing in them as a meaningful extension of Torben’s central conflict for the season. I get that the series is trying to come up with a situation where the guy finally has had enough and tells Alex that he’s going to be calling the shots in his own news division, not this hotshot upstart, which will inevitably result in Torben being fired (something even Torben himself knows, what with the overture to Laugesen a few episodes ago). But to get Torben to that place required such increasingly bizarre maneuvers and unbelievable demands from Alex, and it ultimately fell flat. It was as if the show was trying to mix a broad media satire into the middle of a program that’s generally presented realistically, skewing toward the romantic. That mixture doesn’t work, and the version of the show Alex cooks up is just too silly for me to find it at all believable as the straw that breaks Torben’s back. The only good thing about it was hearing Ulrik and Hanne say, “The Power Game!” together.

There are plenty of other problems with TV1 as well. Now that his marriage has fallen apart, Torben also has no interest in Pia, choosing instead to silently pine for what once was his by taking a far more active interest in his two sons. (That said, the scene where he walks along with his kids was one of the better and more subdued ones in the episode.) Yet Pia is still nuts about him for some reason, so he has to deal with the fact that he’s somehow managed to hurt both his wife and his mistress fairly gravely. There hasn’t been a thing in this storyline that has been unpredictable or has given us deeper insight into the characters. It’s just been one thing after another, and it’s all played into the basic playbook of stories about the media. While I was grateful to see the story reach a climax, it was exactly the climax I always expected. That doesn’t have to be a problem if I’m really engaged with the characters or the storytelling, but it should be obvious by now that neither was happening when it came to TV1.

The New Democrats have a bit more going on, even if I seem completely impervious to whatever charm Jeremy is supposed to have. (He seems to be little more than The Perfect Boyfriend: The Character, and that’s boring.) The buildup to the election is a fun story to tell, and I appreciated some of the ways that the series mirrored its very first episode, right down to Birgitte’s big speech at the debate being the thing that ultimately saves her bacon. (Kruse also has a hugely petty tantrum live on stage, which gives Birgitte the perfect opening.) And the episode had more going on than just Birgitte and Katrine trying to decide whether to betray their principles and leak the news that would bring Kruse down, including some flirtations between Søren and Katrine and a fair amount of Birgitte talking to her kids or worrying about her health. At the end of the episode, it looks like she might have another tumor, but I’m not putting too much stock in that because the season (series?) finale is next week.


“Sense And Sensibility” is a solid way to build toward season’s end, and that sort of underlines the problem with the season as a whole. There’s nothing wrong with solid, but in the previous two seasons, Borgen was able to find another gear. And while there’s been a little of that in the political storyline—particularly as Birgitte fell apart on live television, then planned her strategy to return to the top of the game—the media storyline has been much less satisfying in that regard. I don’t need the show to be a constant barrage of unexpected twists; I do need it to give me something more to latch onto, and TV1 hasn’t done that.

Stray observations:

  • If I’m not mistaken, the Danish word for “Googling” is “Googlar” or something very similar. I’m going to start using this word.
  • Much of the early part of the episode is taken up with Birgitte deciding to turn her sights right on Kruse and scoring a bunch of points by going on TV and being awesome, ripping pages out of the Moderates’ charter to say how he’s gone back on those promises. All in all, it’s a really excellent episode for Birgitte.
  • I don’t really know what the point of the bit where Torben’s son points out the boat excitedly is supposed to be. I kept waiting for that damn boat to come back into the storyline in some way, but it never did. I may like boats too much.

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