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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Borgen: “The Right Shade Of Brown”

Illustration for article titled iBorgen/i: “The Right Shade Of Brown”
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As someone who’s lived his entire life in a political system with only two parties, where both attempt to adopt a “one size fits all” approach to the political sphere, by building coalitions of interest groups whose goals occasionally have absolutely nothing to do with each other, the core appeal of the parliamentary democracy has always been that the parties come to you. If you’re a one-issue voter, like so many people I know from my old hometown when it comes to overturning abortion rights, then you can find a party that represents that one issue pretty well, provided it’s a big enough deal within your country to have a party based solely around it. (Opposition to abortion rights is in the United States, and it’s not hard to imagine a sort of Freedom Party-esque coalition forming with that as its central issue instead of opposition to immigration. Though who can tell nowadays what will get our far right wing folks riled up?) One of the big frustrations of the just-concluded government shutdown was that there were moderate Republicans who would have voted to reopen the government but felt they couldn’t because the far-right-wing Tea Party held too many chips within the party’s coalition, and the party’s core voters would view compromise by the more moderate members with Democrats as tantamount to a betrayal and a sure reason to primary said moderate members.

All of which is to say that I’m much happier viewing Borgen both as an actual political fantasy—because, c’mon, if you think a politician who’s just started a fledgling political party is going to turn down over a million in starter cash over a corporate tax rate (though more about this in a bit)—and as a fantasy of a kind of system we’ll probably never have in the States. Watching the New Democrats define themselves is exciting, because it’s unlike anything that could ever happen here, and it’s an interesting window into this process, despite it being relatively uncommon in parliamentary systems. The closest thing we have here is probably when there’s a particularly exciting presidential candidate that attracts all sorts of people under his tent, hoping that he stands for what they most care about, because it’s really easy to project your own hopes and dreams onto some other movement, then grow bitter when you realize you didn’t somehow manifest your subconscious as a political movement.


All of which is to say that the scenes where Birgitte picked her way through the New Democrats office and was confronted by all of the people who’d glommed onto the party in hopes that it would push their own dreams—be that animal welfare or state-run corporations or a restriction on abortion rights—just because they desperately needed a party to represent them. In the midst of that vacuum, the New Democrats become that party in a lot of minds, and Birgitte finds herself dealing with a woman who wants to buy a bunch of billboards (that the subtitles didn’t translate, for shame) about animal welfare, or another who wishes young folk weren’t so lasseiz faire about their sexual appetites. The New Democrats announced themselves before they had a platform, and while standard procedure, they have to do the necessary work of writing that platform before they start taking money—whether membership fees or political contributions—from anybody. The selling out of the Moderate platform was what brought Birgitte to this point, so damned if she’s going to let it happen again.

My main complaint with this season—that the antagonistic figures are all a little too gleefully villainous to be believed—continues into this episode, particularly with Alex, whose scenes with Torben have reached a point where I’m all but ready to tune them out. Torben’s willingness to cave makes him an interesting study in contrast to Birgitte’s usual spine (and Katrine’s journalistic idealism from earlier seasons), but it also doesn’t make him the most exciting character to follow around in this environment. Alex wants stories about successful people, feel-good things that will keep the audience from bolting to the more optimistic TV2. But Torben’s staff isn’t built for that. It’s built to tell people that Europe is going through intense economic hardship, and anybody who knows what’s what will start learning Mandarin. There’s probably a way for Torben to blend both these approaches, to serve both masters with a sort of “what can you do now?” story that offers hope for the future. But, instead, he just caves to Alex’s demands to fire Nadia, then makes matters worse by repeating Alex’s mention of her being a Pakistani prophet of doom, thus making it seem like her race is why she’s being fired.

Of course, Alex balks when Torben tries to turn this back on him, because of course he does. He’s a slimy little weasel. But that’s really all he is—and, okay, a parody of youth-focused, Millennial-chasing TV programmers as well (I wonder if he’s based on someone real within the Danish TV system). Yeah, it’s funny when Torben tries to sit in that beanbag chair thing and keeps fidgeting, but I keep waiting for this to turn into something more than a lecture about how television needs to be more than just comfort food, and it has yet to arrive. The near mutiny of Torben’s staff at the end wasn’t bad in this regard. I just want to see more along these lines and less of Alex.

The other storyline that didn’t quite work for me this week involved Katrine missing several obvious warning signs about Nadia being not the best spokesperson when it comes to the New Democrats’ views on integration. (Indeed, she seems diametrically opposed to them in this regard, outside of the fact that she wishes the Freedom Party wouldn’t use such awful rhetoric.) This storyline was slightly too predictable to really work, because it relied on Nadia talking about integration in such a way that it would be obvious she didn’t square completely with the group, even as Katrine missed it because she was fretting over Gustav’s earache and her relationship with Kasper. (I liked how this built out of the interview with the Muslim former gang member, who had the quote from Rumi tattooed on his skin.) Fortunately, Nete is able to go on TV and convincingly support the party’s viewpoints, but this still felt like a not wholly satisfying episodic plot.


That said, the business back at New Democrat headquarters is mostly working for me. I like the way that the central fivesome that started the party is beginning to feel like a weird little ensemble cast, even if I wish there were more Bent. And the show’s political fantasy nature comes back in the best possible way when Birgitte refuses the big money from the banker. It’s not terribly realistic, in that I doubt any real-world politician that in need of cash would refuse that money over something so minor, but it keeps Birgitte pure in our eyes, and that’s what’s important. Plus, it sets up a conflict between her and Jon that’s about more than just him trying to constantly get in her way. This is looking like a conflict and relationship to keep an eye on, especially with the way Phillip keeps getting roped in in intriguing ways.

Stray observations:

  • Kasper shaves his head because Gustav gave him an impromptu trim while he was taking a nap and, presumably, because the actor needed to shave his head for another part.
  • Jon, as it turns out, is gay. I enjoyed watching the scene where he banters with Katrine and Nete, and I would watch a show about the three of them joking around. That said, he doesn’t need to be a dick to Nete on the occasion of her big TV interview. (Granted, she’ll never hear him, but c’mon, dude.)
  • Magnus is sad that he has to live in a smaller apartment. Laura calls him on it. She really does seem much better.
  • I hope those animal welfare billboards were just Danish LOLCats.
  • Alex likes the opening jingle. It makes him feel welcome. It speaks to his segment.

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