I’m a huge fan of political drama. Loved the original Very British Coup and Robert Altman’s Tanner. Went down to London specially to see Angels in America, Democracy, and David Edgar’s paired plays about a US primary. So why aren’t I getting more of a kick out of Borgen Series 2?
The problem is that character and theme are subservient to plot. Within the fixed hour, we must have lots of switches and suspense, and then a resolution. So, Birgitte has long wanted to pull the troops out of Afghanistan, and Danish soldiers keep getting killed. Now, is that a further argument for pulling out, or for deepening the commitment? There’s pressure from the military, and the Americans, and the press – how will it be resolved?
She insists, against advice, on hearing from the NGO delegation – which actually amounts to a clever speech from an Afghan woman, who uses Birgotte’s wallet to demonstrate the difference between them. But is she real? It’s painfully close to the lobbying fraud by the Kuwaitis which was used to draw the West into the first Gulf War, and Kasper explicitly raises this possibility, but neither Birgitte nor the programme have time to test that possibility.
So, what’s the answer? Apparently, it’s the ‘fact’ that 89,000 children are alive who wouldn’t have been if the Taliban had stayed in charge. This is what convinced the soldier who was killed, and he put it in his letter, and that convinces his dad, and Birgitte, and gives a very flaky Katrine the killer story which finally wins her editor’s approval.
But is this fact a fact? If you talked to Afghans would they say that it outweighed the civilian casualties from Allied air strikes? Can anyone provide an answer to Bent’s question – “When in the last 200 years has Afghanistan been stable?”
There’s a lot of questions bouncing around, but they’re not faced. Instead, we get a very dodgy general rule – “sometimes you have to do what you don’t want to do.” Birgitte has to sign the divorce papers, and she has to commit more fully to the war in Afghanistan. But are those the same kind of question, and does the answer equally apply?
Who’s going to Brussels? Could be Bent, could be Kruse. Birgitte hovers, doesn’t fancy any of the possibilities, ends up thinking, OK then, Bent. He turns it down. She then tries Kruse, he turns it down. OK, settle for Pernille. Bent changes his mind (why, exactly?). Birgitte lets him, reverses everything she’s done so far (at substantial cost and embarrassment which we don’t get to see), and Bent’s all set to go. Then he collapses. The paper says Birgitte knew Bent had been ill, and his wife is furious, but Birgitte insists she didn’t know. Wife tells her Kruse knew about the previous attack, and said he had told Birgitte. Birgitte makes Kruse go to Brussels against his will, as a punishment for lying to her and leaking it to the press. So, she’s a hard woman and definitely in charge.
But she’s also gullible and impulsive. We didn’t know anything about Kruse before this episode. She thought he was young and promising, was pleased to offer him the post, impressed by his reasons for turning it down, and was then glad see him get promotion as a result of Bent’s illness. He lies to her very crudely, in a way that can easily be exposed. All she has to do is ask Bent’s wife, who tells her “Kruse said he told you.” He hadn’t. Thus is the villain brilliantly unmasked.
That gives us an exciting story with many twists and turns – and a premier who’s a total idiot. If this guy was capable of this kind of deception, would nobody have seen that coming? (Again, Kaspar warns her of the possibility, but she’s not listening. She is confident of her own judgement, and yet again she’s wrong.)
Final resolution. Birgitte is by Bent’s bedside, holding his hand, wanting to be friends. How exactly is she going to manage that? Originally, she sacked him as Finance minister, and then didn’t speak to him at all. We’re not told why she made that particular decision. But now, apparently, she is going to make the time and take the risk of regular contact and consultation, just because he’s collapsed. Anyone with a scrap of intelligence, at the point of Bent’s sacking, would have confronted the question “what will my relationship with B be like, from now on?” If the right answer is “No contact at all”, then politically nothing has changed. Once more the switchback plotline makes her look like a fool.