BR: Borgen – Season 2 (2011)

April 25, 2013 | By

Return to: Home Blu-ray, DVD, Film Reviews / B

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Film: Excellent/ BR Transfer: Excellent/ BR Extras: n/a

Label: Spirit Entertainment / Arrow Films (U.K.) / Region: B/ Released: February 4, 2013

Genre: TV / Political Drama

Synopsis: Prime Minster Nyborg must balance personal and professional conflicts as her first year in offiice comes to an unexpected close.

Special Features: n/a

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Review:

Whereas Season 1 [M] of Denmark’s stellar political drama dealt with establishing and setting up key characters and then slamming them with assorted threats (primarily directed towards Prime Minister Nyborg’s fledgling coalition government), Season 2 is more about resolving issues; offering some closure (if not acknowledging buried, inner conflicts of a few main figures), and showing how Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen) has evolved professionally & personally.

Nyborg hasn’t become colder per se, but her innate gift for making fast, sharp decisions are more refined, if not a little merciless, and she must also re-approach former villains with feigned humility in order to maintain a façade of stability while awaiting the right moment to outsmart, and in some cases, oust insurgents and selfish traitors within her governing team.

Just like Season 1, the writers and directors have invested the same care and preparation towards crafting a new 10-episode arc, but there’s two storylines that have been grafted from the Standard Soap Opera Procedure Manual.

1) Inserting a rival flame – pharmacist Cecile (Mille Dinesen) – between Nyrborg and ex-husband Philip (Mikael Birkkjaer) to create a back-and-forth tension, pushing everyone to extremes before an inevitable reconciliation that runs in tandem with a family crisis.

2) The on again / off again relationship of spin doctor Kasper (Johan Philip Asbaek) and TV1’s hungry investigative reporter Katrine (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen). Kasper is still a bastard, but his dark past almost ruins his career.

There’s also the contrived fall from grace where TV anchorwoman Katrine bounces between jobs after an indignant resignation from TV1, only to return and eat a little humble pie to reassert herself with the station’s no nonsense manager Torben Friis (Soren Malling). Her friendship with co-worker / former rival Hanne also deepens, which gives scene-stealing actress Benedirkte Hansen more meaty material where she reveals her character’s alcohol addiction.

The other significant change within Season 2 is the structuring of the dramas, which owes a little (a little) to the Grey’s Anatomy template in which two storylines sharing similar quandaries are resolved as each main character or set of characters offers solutions to the other.

In Episode 6, for example, right winger Svend Age (Ole Thestrup) proposes a bill that would lower the age of criminal responsibility in teens from 14 to 12 – a move that would unfairly penalize kids and deny them counseling and support and just toss them in jail, where they would learn worse behaviour. The bill unleashes Kasper’s own inner demons, forcing an acknowledgement of his past to a confidante, and it mandates Nyborg to carefully strategize her position to save face amid his brief meltdown, and the sudden decline of her daughter’s mental health.

Running through the episode are parallel events, as well as the parallel anguish as Kasper recalls ugly details of sexual abuse, and Nyborg deals with being separated from her children who begin to share affection for their father’s new flame, Cecile. The episode’s finale involves the series’ familiar cocktail of compromising and savvy decisions, but as the Nyborg-Age-Kasper stories knock into each other several times, they ultimately spawn solutions and appear to provide some closure for the characters.

Some episode resolutions are a little too neat – the African conflict story paralleling the fracturing events in the two halves of Sudan is very generic (and American) in structure, especially the rapid agreement between the warring presidents – but the writing is still superb, as are the performances in scenes that often don’t often require much dialogue. The series’ directors frequently rely on reactions and small side-glimpses of vulnerability and self-doubt, and the show’s cynical humour ensures episodes don’t swerve close to bathos.

A two-parter near the end regarding the mental illness affecting Nyborg’s daughter is beautifully crafted, and the drama allows a broad discussion on more than just the government’s responsibility in maintaining proper funding for the healthcare system.

Several times in her orations to Parliament, Nyborg refers to Denmark’s “the welfare state,” which is regarded by her (and the show’s liberal writers) as a virtue. Her ideology isn’t alien to other governments – Canada’s Liberals and NDP both support varying levels of social welfare and public healthcare – but the term “welfare state” is a hard negative in North American politics. The nomenclature has opposite meanings in each culture, but perhaps the irony is that while the Danes, as filtered through the lens of Borgen’s writers, regard government welfare as integral to the country’s political and social fabric, for North Americans it’s a term that starkly defines a waste of government funds on the lazy, the corrupt, and the greedy-needy. To use that term in such stark clarity, and as a party mandate in the current angry climate on this side of the pond, would be political suicide.

The finale sets up new conflicts for Season 3, and within the show’s current three-year run (with hopefully a fourth in the works) viewers get specific snapshots of a new government as it grapples with unexpected power; as it shores up power amid waves of corruptions, embarrassments, and a vicious tabloid assault ld by former politician-turned rag peddler Michael Laugesen (Peter Mygind, who’s a dead-ringer for Eric Stolz); and the need to acquire greater stability by convincing voters that a coalition may not be in their best interest.

There are numerous similarities between the dramatized conflicts of Denmark’s political parties and our own, so until there’s a Canadian equivalent – especially one with a healthy dose of cynicism – we’ll have to settle for Borgen (which ain’t bad at all).

An English subtitled airing of Season 3 on the BBC is expected in January of 2014. Season 2 is currently available on video in Europe.

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© 2013 Mark R. Hasan

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External References:

IMDB — Composer Filmography

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Amazon Search Links:

Amazon.ca Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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