TV: Borgen – Season 3 (2013)

December 20, 2013 | By

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

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Film: Good/ DVD Transfer:  n/a / DVD Extras: n/a

Label: n/a/ Region: n/a / Released: n/a

Genre: TV / Political Drama

Synopsis: Two years after being defeated in the elections, Birgitte Nyborg returns to politics, virtually starting from scratch, and using her remaining political capital to launch a new party.

Special Features: n/a

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Review:

Reset roughly two years after Season 2’s finale, the creators of Borgen clearly struggled to find a way to launch a new season without duplicating material in the prior years in which we watched Moderate leader Birgitte Nyborg rise from opposition party leader to Prime Minister, and struggle through her first year as alliances within and outside of her party were in a perpetual state of flux.

The sense is, Season 3 came after an unwanted, prolonged period of uncertainly in which some cast members and key creative personnel moved onto other projects, perhaps hampering the showrunners’ ability to pick up exactly where Season 2 ended: Nyborg proclaims an election date, and with her typical optimism, looks towards a victory.

By jumping ahead two years, there’s a sense the new season would have flashbacks detailing her failure to hold onto power and departure as party leader; moving into the private sector as a consultant for international green-friendly works projects. The writers allowed a few references in some dialogue exchanges, but the focus in Season 3 is on showing Nyborg’s present day decision to re-enter politics when her displeasure with the Moderates’ new conservative stance and pliant leader proves too offensive – especially a radical immigration policy which penalizes newcomers for minor infractions.

Nyborg’s children are older, she’s on better terms with ex-husband Mikael, and is enjoying a liaison with British architect Jeremy Welsh (Monarch of the Glen’s Alastair Mackenzie), who periodically drops by when he’s in and around Scandinavia. TV journalist Katrine Fonsmark is now a single mom, estranged from difficult lover Kasper Juul (Pilou Asbaek) who’s now working as a political commentator with TV1’s boss Torben Friis (Soren Malling) on a new politics show.

In deciding to re-enter politics, Nyborg’s life mandates some changes, and by assembling a new team for her fledgling New Democrats party, she lures several Moderate members into her fold, plus Fonsmark as her new spin doctor – a post formerly held by Juul.

Season 3’s first three episodes cover these events in an almost banal, by the book fashion, and fans will quickly remark a distinct lack of sparking dialogue and genuine conflict, largely because the series best dramatic moments stemmed from contemporary controversies and hot-button news items, and Denmark’s efforts to exert itself on the international stage. Momentum and drama only shift into third gear in the fourth episode in which a food poisoning incident involving Jeremy gives the New Democrats an opportunity to investigate a serious issue that’s been ignored by several prior governments, but there’s still a sense something’s lacking – and that special element is the sharp dialogue which rose from debates between Nyborg and commentators / rivals.

Conflict, desperation, and a need to save face using clever verbal defensive tactics are what made the show shine and Nyborg such a remarkable character – a sharp, savvy, socially conscious, flawed, and driven woman who attracted a mix of dynamic colleagues and associates – each of whom possessed specific personal flaws which, in prior seasons, were addressed at key junctures, and added to each episode’s tension. Minor and supporting characters enjoyed either their own moment or new chapter in their personal struggle, and the material was consistent to a character’s nature, but the departure / minimal use of some of these characters in Season 3 either reduced them to mere cameos, or radically altered their DNA to the point where they’re virtually redundant.

The biggest changes happen to Juul: no longer Nyborg’s spin doctor, TV1’s new commentator is also a loving father, and it seems the highly challenging personal issues which affected his DNA are wholly ignored in Season 3. One episode addresses them in a badly needed exchange, but it happens far too late in the season’s 10-episode run. Moreover, the radical changes in his appearance – big hair & clean-shaven; then bald; and back to his old close-clipped hairstyle towards the finale – infers not the passage of time, but specific parts actor Asbaek may have taken during Season 3’s filming.

Initially appearing with TV1’s chief commentator and manager Friis, Juul is rarely seen again in later episodes, which is a major problem since most of the prior seasons relied on cross-cutting between media and political figures using a consistent bank of characters; the drama often emerged from exchanges and challenges between investigative reporters, anchormen & anchorwomen, and politicians hoping to use and abuse the media for career security. The writers have Juul pop up in the station’s hallways a few times, inferring he’s working, but he then disappears for long stretches which make Juul virtually redundant. Fonsmark’s mounting jealously with his new bachelor life is terribly contrived, and the odd call for spin doctoring advice feels like feeble efforts for the writers to needle-drop Juul back into the odd episode and assure viewers he’s hasn’t been dropped from the show’s universe.

Juul’s also more emotionally stable, which effectively neuters the character’s drive and charisma; he’s traditionally a man who feeds off creating and fixing controversies, and has them spill over into his private life. To fill that vacuum, the writers chose to focus on the troubled marriage of TV1’s Friis and his disintegrating working relationship with new station box Alex Hjort (Christian Tafdrup) – a sometimes amusing but ultimately banal storyline which brings in clichéd scenes of discord, a dalliance with an assistant, and later being in the doghouse with the wife & kids when his affair is exposed.

Soren Malling handles the flat material well, but like several characters, he’s not given better scenes to show the reasons or effects of his troubles; most of what transpires is clichéd, so naturally the resolution is predictable and neat.

Perhaps the most clichéd moment in the season belongs to Nyborg: in the season finale, she lets loose in a taxi cab ride, and although it’s designed to be an emotionally cathartic event for the controlling character, it’s badly written and acted, and feels like a reworded extrapolation of Al Pacino’s “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in!” speech from The Godfather Part III. It’s that obvious.

If there are two main flaws that dominate Season 3, it’s the qualitative drop in writing (the debates – especially the compact battle between Nyrbog and Kruse in a school auditorium – are terrible), and the lack of hot-button topics to propel the series from one engrossing episode to the next.

The finale doesn’t bring things full circle, which allows Nyborg’s struggle in politics to continue, should the show return for a fourth season. That lack of closure makes sense, as does a great scene between Juul and former rival party leader Svend Age Saltrum (scene-stealer Ole Thestrup) which sets up through clever inference the former’s possible shift to an unlikely career; if they follow through with that angle, retaining Juul’s inherent flaws and inner demons, Season 4 could be a winner.

Storylines which do work include a relationship between older man / economics professor Soren Ravn (Lars Mikkelsen); and New Democrat Nete Buch (Julie Agnete Vang) who sort of gets her own major arc but was ultimately left underdeveloped. (Her big scene is written and edited too fast, with shots favouring Nyborg, and robbing Vang of her most important moment, but as happened in prior seasons, former rivals always come back, and sometimes alliances are brokered out of need. Hopefully the writers will develop a more potent storyline for Buch if Season 4 happens.)

Other undercooked roles include Muslim immigration consultant Nadia Barazani (Laura Allen), who essentially melts into the background after one episode; Hanne Holm (Benedikte Hansen), a more moderate member of Saltrum’s nationalistic party; and Jon Berthelsen (Ornen’s Jens Albinus), initially written as a benevolent Nyborg supporter with a possibly hunger for a power overthrow, but eventually reduced to ‘upper’ background player. Nyborg’s political mentor and best friend Bent Sejro (Lars Knutzon) is also weirdly treated, moving from friend to disgusted former friend before joining her new party and slowly drifting to the background like the rest.

Fans of The Killing, Denmark’s biggest TV success, will be amused by some of the casting choices, especially Christensen and Hansen who played lovers in that show’s first season. Also from The Killing (assorted seasons) are Laura Allen, Tafdrup, and Preben Kristensen who plays Nyborg’s doctor. Alastair Mackenzie’s casting was clearly an effort to bring some English language exchanges into the show and broaden Season 3’s sales appeal to British and North American audiences.

Season 3 isn’t a dud but a letdown, if not a paler version of its former self after Pilou Asbaek moved on to The Borgias, and also appeared with Mallen and Season 2 co-star Dar Salim in A Hijacking / Kapringen (2012), written and directed by Season 1 and 2 writer Tobias Lindholm. The loss of Lindholm may also have cost Season 3 some of its sharper dialogue, but the home video release of Seasons 1 and 2 in North America will only broaden the show’s appeal, and perhaps mandate a Season 4 in what is Denmark’s second-biggest TV export.

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© 2013 Mark R. Hasan

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External References:

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