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Borgen: “The Drop”

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Is it fair to grade this episode entirely based on one scene? Because while this was by far the most intriguing and dramatic episode of the season, it’s elevated to another level by the scene at the debate, where an unprepared Birgitte runs directly into the news media bus that’s headed toward her at full speed. There are plenty of things to quibble with in this episode, but those moments when Ulrik is grilling Birgitte about how she can possibly make the numbers in her economic plan—the economic plan the whole opposition is counting on—are Borgen at the height of its powers. Sidse Babett Knudsen is filmed so that she looks impossibly small and uncertain, and Ulrik is made to look large and domineering. It’s a scarily plausible meltdown, particularly for a woman who’s trying to keep her radiation treatments a secret from anyone who probably should know about them (including the voters), and I think it only really works because we’ve had 27 episodes to get to know Birgitte before she has this gigantic failure, live and onstage before a presumably massive audience. (After all, Masterquiz wasn’t on that night. What else was Denmark going to watch?)

Now, you can probably poke at this a little bit. Because Birgitte’s meant to be our unquestioned heroine, the show is making her decision to not tell anyone about her treatments feel braver than it probably should. Yes, it obviously believes she should share this information with her children, but I think it’s sort of nuts that she hasn’t told her party members, who are probably wondering why this normally steadfast woman is turning into a basketcase before their very eyes. At the very least, I would think she would tell Katrine, so that her opposition to being followed around on GPS all of the time (seriously Denmark?) would make more sense to her press secretary. But ultimately, I wonder if this isn’t the sort of thing the voters would deserve to know about. Here in the States, we certainly make a huge deal any time someone really old runs for president or Congress, and a health crisis actually propelled Tim Johnson, my former senator, to another term he probably wouldn’t have gotten so easily if his opponents hadn’t been reluctant to launch a campaign against someone who had so recently suffered from a serious disease.


The point of all of this is that, to my mind, Birgitte probably should disclose this information to at least her party members, so they can come up with a Plan B for if her health gets even worse, and I think you could make an argument the voters deserve to know, too. Similarly, I suspect this is a cultural difference, but I didn’t get why everybody at TV1 that wasn’t Torben or Ulrik was so upset about his intense grilling of Birgitte. If a politician doesn’t know their shit, then a journalist’s obligation is to expose that on live TV, even if said journalist is sympathetic to that politician’s positions. Hanne’s anger at hitting below the belt just struck me as odd, because the only reason I felt like TV1 was bullying Birgitte was because I was predisposed to like her. Take that away, and I’d want them to grill her as much as possible. I suspect a lot of this has to do with cultural differences between the media I’m familiar with and the Danish broadcasters, but it still struck me as very odd that these journalists were getting mad at someone for, basically, doing his job.

But other than that, “The Drop” might as well be subtitled “The Passion Of The Birgitte” for how masterfully it tears her down and makes her seem hopelessly in over her head, trying to juggle too many things and losing touch with what makes her such an effective politician. Lars Hesselboe announces a new election a year before he’s expected to, because, for the time being, he boasts a slim lead in the polls of the Danish population, and the opposition parties simply aren’t ready to run an aggressive general election campaign. Hesselboe has no way of knowing that this election is launching on the day that Birgitte gets home from her treatment and simply sacks out on the couch, leaving her party unable to find her, but it’s a decided bonus for him. Pretty much everything that could go wrong for Birgitte does in this episode, and the one bit of “victory” she gets is a victory over herself, in which she finally decides to let someone else in on the struggles she’s having with her health.

I didn’t realize it until this week, but one of the things that season three hasn’t done as well as seasons one and two was paint a vision of Birgitte sustaining significant losses. In general, she’s gotten pretty much whatever she wanted this season, and though she’s struggled and lost some things—like how the pig bill and the prostitution bills didn’t go the way she wanted—those seemed more like symbolic losses than anything else, because they didn’t hit her directly where she lived. The New Democrat storyline has been interesting conceptually, but it has yet to really elevate beyond that and go for the jugular in the way the show’s best storylines often do. In the first couple of seasons, Birgitte could win a giant victory at her job, then find herself besieged on all sides in her personal life, and vice versa. This season, everything has been a little too abstract.

I mocked the choice to give her health problems as way too much last week, but I take that back, because without a weakened Birgitte, this episode probably doesn’t happen. She probably learns Søren’s plan inside and out, and she probably goes on TV1 and roasts everybody else in the debate. She’s good at what she does, and even a Birgitte who’s weakened by her treatments is a formidable opponent for anyone up on that stage. What she’s not counting on, though, is that once again, everything has shifted. TV1 is running scared of its ratings losses to TV2 and is all too happy to capitalize on her flailing if it’s going to mean higher ratings, and she doesn’t realize how big of a target she has on her right now. She’s counting on everything being like it was way back in the first episode, when she had that great moment at the debate that sealed her electoral victory. But it can no longer be like that, and she can’t stand alone against everything that’s flooding in to wash her away. Birgitte doesn’t just choose to tell her children about her medical condition at the end of this episode; she chooses to fight back. And that’s the Birgitte I’ve been missing for too much of this season.


Stray observations:

  • This is something I genuinely don’t understand. So Birgitte is the party leader of the New Democrats, who currently control just three seats in Parliament (Nete, Erik, and Jon—though where does Bent fit into all of this?), but people keep calling her into meetings to agree on policy and stuff. As someone who’s unelected by the people, why is she the one everybody’s asking these questions? I know the answer is “parliamentary democracy,” but is the amount of power Birgitte wields within such a system unrealistic or just about right?
  • Torben and Pia, blah, blah, blah. He’s going to counseling with his wife, and she’s making him spend the night at home, even if he’s only there for a few minutes each day. Pia gets upset with how the debate goes and how deferential Torben is to Alex, so she quits. Then they kiss again. Ugh.
  • Meanwhile, Kasper shows up just to say that Birgitte is the best politician in the race and to give Katrine some words of advice. I keep waiting for the show to acknowledge that he must be biting his tongue about things he wants to say to her, realizing it would be inappropriate to do so, but it seems to have attempted to completely forget that he was once Birgitte’s right-hand man.
  • Everybody seems super happy about just putting GPS trackers on major party leaders, so the citizenry can know where they are at all times. Birgitte bristles because of her undisclosed condition, but she should really bristle because, again, what the fuck, Denmark?
  • Søren Ravn made such an impression on me, apparently, that I was pleased to hear he will be helping the New Democrats craft an economic policy after Birgitte totally bombed. Also, I am not opposed to the inevitable hookup he will have with Katrine.

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