With season 4 of Borgen (Borgen: Power and Glory) finally coming to our screen this June we took the time to ask some die hard fans of the series to select some of their favourite episodes so far – suffice to say that if you haven’t seen the first three season of Borgen then please be aware of major spoilers!
The Borgen Podcast
Amy and Chantal are the creators and hosts of The Borgen Podcast which launched in January 2022. They finished watching season 1-3 of the show during early lockdown and following each episode discussed the show in detail. They found themselves immersed in the rich and complex professional and personal lives of these characters, the fast paced plots, and the evolving political events in every episode. Amy and Chantal felt that the show was told from a unique perspective and voice through the lens of a prime minister who happens to be female. The character of Birgitte Nyborg is played by Sidse Babett Knudsen and season 1-3 also features two other strong female characters, Katrine Fønsmark (played by Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), and Hanne Holm (played by Benedikte Hansen).
When this show first aired in 2010, it was and still is rare to have this ensemble cast that features three strong women who were as fierce in personality as they were in their skill and in each of their respective professions. This kind of representation is still rare in tv and film, especially outside of European productions, and this is one of the things that made season 1-3 of Borgen so cutting edge.
After finishing the series, Amy and Chantal searched the internet to see what other viewers had to say about the show because they did not want their discussions to end. They came across Richard Fernandez’s Cafethinking website (and are excited to be contributing to this project for the Nordic Watchlist with him!), but they found no podcast about Borgen so they decided to create The Borgen Podcast to share their summaries, thoughts, and discussions with fellow fans of the show.
Amy and Chantal are both Canadian nationals who met in Toronto, Canada in 2010. Amy records from Istanbul, Turkey (where she has been living for the past 10 years) and Chantal records from Toronto, Canada. They are both thrilled that season 4 was made and they will soon be able to see it and eventually record podcast episodes about it.
You can listen to their podcast by following the link here: www.theborgenpodcast.com
Here are Amy and Chantal’s picks as their favourite episodes of the series so far:
BORGEN S1, E4 – “100 Days” – Birgitte’s first 100 days as prime minister is met with strong accusations involving the United States of America and Greenland
A source inside the military who works for the Defense Intelligence Service, out of duty and honour, comes forward to Katrine with explosive inside information that is so big and controversial that it becomes one of Katrine’s biggest stories ever. The source, Carsten Ockels, comes forward with photographs and transcripts of landings and takeoffs on the Thule Air Base in Greenland (Danish territory) whereby the Americans were being allowed to land with illegal detainees in Greenland. The information is quite sensitive and controversial and has to be discussed with the utmost sensitivity and confidentiality. The next morning, 2 men posing as police officers show up at Katrine’s apartment asking who the sources are that gave her the photographs of the planes. Torben tells Katrine that while the evidence is being investigated, they’re not publishing the transcripts or showing the pictures, but Katrine can refer to them.
When Birgitte becomes aware of this story, she investigates, and the response she gets from her ministers is that “the Danish don’t ask the Americans about the planes that land and that there’s no reason to jeopardize that relationship”. This suggests that the Danes do not question the Americans by asking pointed questions and they let the Americans do as they please on their territory. The Minister of Defence later goes on TV to ask, “why on earth should the US wish to violate Danish territorial laws”.
This story arises in Birgitte’s first 100 days as prime minister. She wants to continue to investigate the facts, try to correct the situation, and show solidarity and respect to Greenland. But publicly, when later interviewed on camera, she covers up and omits the truth and factual evidence. She acknowledges that flights took place, that they were in distress and that it was a forced landing, “when a plane is in distress, you don’t ask what it is carrying”. She later confides to Kasper that it was “perhaps naive of me to think that I wouldn’t lie in my first 100 days”. She feels guilty for it and decides to take a trip to Greenland.
Carsten visits TV1 and confirms to Torben that there was more than one forced landing made and that he is prepared to come forward and tell the whole story. Later, he does not show up for the interview and tells Katrine that the service will punish him for breach of confidentiality and it may result in the military harming his daughter. Carsten is later found dead and Torben tells Katrine he is giving her his full support to report this story.
Birgitte meets with the Greenland prime minister and he talks frankly about colonization from 300 years ago and the displacement of the entire town when Denmark decided to build the air base. He bluntly tells her the realities of the communities that live in Greenland; their high illiteracy rate, addiction, suicide rates, low birth rates, mental health issues and lack of resources.
After a sobering visit, she returns to Denmark where she describes the trip to Philip as “It was magnificent. It was depressing. Ugly. I think it’s the most beautiful place I’ve seen. All rolled into one. I’m not sure we did Greenland a favour by discovering it.” Negotiations over the expansion of the US radar at Thule have begun. For the first time, they will take place in Greenland and be led by the Greenland prime minister. Birgitte later gets news that the President of the United States has cancelled his visit and it is clear that it cost her the visit from the US PM because she stood up for Greenland and asked difficult questions about what was really going on when everyone else turned a blind eye.
BORGEN S2, E6 – “Them and Us” – Age of Criminal Responsibility, Laura’s Anxiety and Kasper’s Secrets
This episode is the second in a series this season where Laura, Birgitte’s oldest child, deals with the burden of anxiety and the aftermath of a panic attack. Kasper finally reveals his secrets to Katrine as he is also pushed to his limits because of a proposed bill from Svend Åge Sultum’s Freedom Party to lower the age of criminal responsibility to 12 years of age from 14. Sultum becomes increasingly adamant after he suffers a beating from a 13 year old, and he consistently blames immigrant youth for being troublemakers, in a typical, right-wing reactionary manner.
Laura suffers from anxiety, and in the episode previous has a full on panic attack. She has to recover and begins to see a psychiatrist in this episode, who prescribes antidepressants. Birgitte meets with Philip and his new partner Cecile, who is a pediatrician and they are in favour of the medication to prevent relapse. Birgitte disagrees, being of the mind that such pills are overprescribed to kids and that it may not help deal with the base issue. For once she seems out of her depth a bit – not because she doesn’t care for Laura but because she may not fully know the extent of Laura’s suffering. Eventually, Birgitte speaks to the psychiatrist involved and takes his recommendation that the medication be used to support other kinds of therapy, and he also reveals to Birgitte that Laura may not always express to her mother the full range of her feelings or the extent to which she feels pressure to be the good daughter who supports her mother the PM.
When Sultum first proposes the bill early in the episode, Kasper confronts him in the halls and yells at him that he’s a parasite and loses his cool. He’s forced by Birgitte to go apologize to Svend Åge, and this brings up the memories of the way his father treated him and the lies and manipulation the man used to abuse his son. Kasper continues to lose his grip throughout the episode, leading to a confrontation and breakup with Lotte, and a reunification with Katrine after he presents her with a box containing all his secrets, in the form of newspaper clippings and VHS tape of a broadcast about the abuse. The boy who was Kenneth not only suffered sexual abuse at the hands of his father, but he was passed around to his father’s peadophilic poker pals. The abuse began when Kenneth was 8 and escalated to the point that Kenneth stabs his father at the age of 13 – which is why Sultum’s bill causes such a visceral reaction in Kasper. He would have been considered an adult under that rule, and as such would have lost his childhood twice over – at the hands of his abusers and at the hand of the justice system.
In the end, Birgitte proposes a bill without fully consulting the Labour coalition partners, in mid-debate in the house, where she borrows a phrase from a desperate, falling-apart Kasper, that the government not be responsible for robbing children of their childhoods.
This episode stuck to me (Amy) because it deals with kids. In my real life, I’m a high school teacher and I actually deal with kids in all their ups and downs daily. I’ve known several kids who suffered abuse (my own peers and my students) and a lot of my current students deal with anxiety issues. I find this story of Kasper’s particularly intriguing because of a few men I’ve known who did suffer childhood abuse, and never fully recovered from it.
BORGEN S3, E8 – “If You Never Change Your Mind” – Birgitte goes public about her medical diagnosis and announces her run for prime minister. Torben’s secret affair with Pia comes out.
Secrets and truths are themes that run strong for both Birgitte and Torben in this episode. Torben is absolutely miserable at the new change in leadership at TV1 which occurs at the beginning of this season. The new head of TV1 is Alex who has no grasp or understanding of the industry and it comes across very quickly that he does not possess the leadership skills or insight that it takes to positively impact the team and be a leader.
Torben is miserable and feels immense pressure reporting to Alex. Torben no longer has control of his professional life and happiness and decides to engage in a consensual affair with his colleague, Pia. This is the episode where Torben confesses to his wife (Karoline) about the affair and Karoline wants Pia transferred immediately. Torben agrees but right after realizes that if he transfers Pia, he will face scrutiny and pressure from his colleagues and the broadcast and ratings would tremendously suffer. Torben’s life becomes even more difficult and stressful as it quickly goes from bad to worse. When Karoline shows up one morning to TV1 and finds out that Pia was never transferred, Karoline asks Torben for the house key and tells him he can sleep at the office.
After keeping the news a secret for some time, Birgitte finally reveals to her colleagues that she has been undergoing radiation therapy to treat precancerous cells in her breast and is determined to not let anything stop her from working full days as the election fast approaches. Birgitte has formed a new party in this season, the New Democrats, and they have decided to support Hans Christian Thorsen (HCT) of the Labour Party who is running for prime minister.
Even while sick, Birgitte and her team finalize their proposal for the manifesto that HCT will present, and when she hands the proposal to him, he tells her that the joint manifesto has already been settled. Another person tells her that “you’ll agree to it when you’ve read it.” HCT dismisses Birgitte by saying that she’s been going through a hard time and that she should take a back seat. Shortly after, at a press conference, she’s asked directly if she agrees with the manifesto that HCT presented and she reluctantly answers yes. The audience knows this is untrue because areas such as education which are dear to her did not make it into the final draft.
In true Birgitte form, she does not let this situation extinguish her political goals, aspirations, or her fundamental desire to make a deep impact on the policies and morals that she believes in. As the episode progresses, she discovers that one of her party members has been leaking their confidential plans and ideas to the Moderate party. Birgitte is disturbed at this as she says “disloyalty is the only thing I absolutely cannot tolerate”. The mole is caught and let go immediately. Birgitte goes on TV to make a big announcement – she has decided to withdraw her support for HCT and to run for prime minister herself.
Birgitte shows immense personal and professional poise and toughness in this episode: from coming out with her diagnosis, to being dismissed by HCT, and to realizing she has a mole in her party and ideas to catch them. It was also important for her that people judge her on her policies rather than the “sympathy vote” for being in treatment for her illness, as one of her party members suggested she do. She has assembled strong and well thought out policies that will truly serve toward the betterment of all citizens of Denmark. She earns the trust of the voters and is overwhelmed at their strong attendance as she arrives to speak at a large venue at the end of the episode.
Catch all episodes of Borgen on Netflix now – with the new series out on the 2nd June!