“Borgen” ’s Bleak View of Women in Power


Late in “Borgen: Power & Glory,” the standalone fourth season of the Danish political drama and cult hit “Borgen,” two girls step out of a authorities constructing, able to formalize an alliance. One is the previous Prime Minister, now International Minister, Birgitte Nyborg (the luminous Sidse Babett Knudsen). The opposite is Birgitte’s boss, the present Prime Minister, Signe Kragh (Johanne Louise Schmidt). Birgitte and Signe have been as soon as rivals with a confrontational working relationship, however now they’re all smiles, and all similarities: each put on black blouses, camel-colored coats, and their hair in voluminous buns. “To think that we almost needed a new world war to realize how good we can be together,” Signe says, earlier than providing Birgitte the title of Deputy Prime Minister. The ladies seal the cope with a selfie, which they publish to social Media with a utopian hashtag: #futureisfemale.

And but the scene is deeply sinister, representing the ethical nadir of Birgitte’s time in Danish politics. The primary three seasons of “Borgen,” launched between 2010 and 2013, established her as an idealist: a average who turned Denmark’s first girl Prime Minister, and who was in a position to keep her beliefs amid Get together intrigue and fixed Media scrutiny. Her property have been her charisma—embodied by Knudsen’s distinctive crinkled-nose smile—and the approachability she projected as a married mom of two. (Within the collection première, her candidacy was boosted by her admission, throughout a televised debate, that she’d had bother becoming into her swimsuit that day.) As Prime Minister, she handled points that have been typically wonky, and drawn from Denmark’s real-life politics: debates over the ethics of the pork business, the nation’s position in the warfare in Afghanistan, reform packages, and gender quotas on company boards.

“Borgen” ’s writers, led by the present’s creator, Adam Worth, forged Birgitte as nearly supernaturally resilient and virtuous. Neither the collapse of her marriage nor her daughter’s mental-health disaster nor a doable most cancers prognosis was sufficient to trigger an expert lapse. On the finish of Season 2, Birgitte known as a snap election, in order to affirm Denmark’s democratic course of; in Season 3, after two and a half years away from politics, she based the New Democrats, a celebration that rapidly turned an electoral kingmaker. She had one other alternative to change into Prime Minister, by allying with a coalition that included an anti-immigration social gathering, however, unwilling to compromise on one of her core political values, she selected to hitch one other coalition, in the lesser publish of International Minister.

The fourth season of “Borgen” has arrived on Netflix practically a decade after the conclusion of the third. (The third season was supposed to be the present’s final, however the Money and worldwide publicity supplied by Netflix—which acquired the streaming rights in 2020—appear to have spurred the producers to rethink.) Within the years that “Borgen” has been off the air, a number of younger, dynamic girls have ascended to the Prime Ministership of their (primarily social-democratic) international locations. In truth, the primary season of “Borgen” anticipated the election of Denmark’s first girl Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, in 2011. Thorning-Schmidt, like Birgitte, was in her early forties and telegenic; she, too, constructed a coalition that wrested energy from the ruling conservative-liberal alliance. However she resigned in 2015, after which she joined the company world—most lately touchdown at Fb, as co-chair of the corporate’s notoriously opaque Oversight Board. (In one other state of affairs worthy of a “Borgen” story arc, Denmark’s present Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, lately averted impeachment following a scandal involving the federal government’s killing of mink through the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The actions of Thorning-Schmidt and Frederiksen complicate the binary that has lengthy existed for Western girls politicians, who’re both extensively admired for what’s perceived to be their extra inclusive, equitable strategy to management (suppose Jacinda Ardern, of New Zealand, or Sanna Marin, of Finland) or who change into so subsumed by misogynistic discourse that it turns into tough to critique them with nuance (Hillary Clinton being an arch-example.) Contemplating the previous decade of girls in energy, one can formulate a kind of gendered Rorschach take a look at: does the picture of a lady chief look like a menace or a legal responsibility? Is she the Platonic best of a profitable head of state? Or is she merely one other elected determine who will disappoint voters?

“Borgen: Power and Glory” places apart the optimism and circumscribed plots of the present’s earlier outings to take up Birgitte in the latter mould—as a politician nonetheless on the peak of her powers however so stymied by skilled and private roadblocks that she devolves right into a cynic. The present additionally, for the primary time, devotes a complete season to a single political story line, concerning the discovery of oil in Greenland. (Greenland, which has been below Danish rule for the reason that eighteenth century, has had some sovereignty from Denmark since 1979, although it nonetheless receives an annual block grant of greater than 600 million {dollars}.) The query of whether or not Denmark ought to permit—and revenue from—the exploitation of oil lets the present interrogate political fights over the decolonization of Greenland, local weather change, and the hegemony of American, Chinese language, and Russian pursuits in Danish overseas coverage. This broader scope—and the willingness to interact immediately, if not all the time efficiently, with colonialism—looks like an try and resituate “Borgen” in the trendy tv panorama. (It additionally demonstrates how Netflix’s assets could make even prohibitively costly filming locations, like Greenland, accessible.)

Some figures in Signe’s authorities help drilling for oil as a result of of the potential monetary beneficial properties. Greenland’s International and Uncooked Supplies Minister, in the meantime, sees a beneficiant profit-sharing settlement as a pathway for Greenland to change into economically unbiased of Denmark. As Prime Minister, Birgitte was sympathetic towards decolonization efforts in Greenland, however as International Minister she has completely different priorities. Initially, she opposes drilling for oil as a result of of the environmental penalties—and since sturdy local weather coverage is what acquired the New Democrats elected. When essential details about a Russian proprietor of the drilling firm falls into Birgitte’s fingers, she intends to leverage it in order to do the “right” factor—at the least for her social gathering and for the atmosphere, if not for Greenland.

Then, an American ambassador—a suave bully, as People are typically on “Borgen”—asks Birgitte to maintain the data to herself. He dangles a proposition earlier than her: maybe Birgitte wouldn’t thoughts being put ahead as a candidate for the U.N. Secretary-Common? Birgitte is uneasy, however there’s additionally a brand new sparkle in her eye. It’s not like her to be tempted by such apparent flattery and backroom dealing. So why is she?

By the point the ambassador swoops in, we’ve seen that Birgitte is dissatisfied together with her private life: her relationship together with her teen-age son has been strained by his progressive, typically reckless activism, which clashes together with her average strategy. In the meantime, her ex-husband is having a baby with one other girl, and her daughter resides distant, in New York Metropolis. Birgitte’s age—she is now fifty-three—is one other obvious supply of nervousness: there are scenes of her sweating by means of her make-up and garments, and analyzing her wrinkles in the mirror. As she tells her mentor, Bent Sejrø, “If I’m not the woman working nineteen hours a day as Foreign Minister, who the hell am I?” The ability vacuum at house has left Birgitte searching for to regain a sense of management in her work. What’s underemphasized, consequently, is the diploma to which Birgitte’s considerations about her household and her look are intertwined together with her fears concerning the whittling away of her legacy as Denmark’s first feminine Prime Minister, because of Signe, her youthful, extra social-Media-savvy successor.

And so Birgitte complies with the ambassador’s request; when her deception is later uncovered, she is predictably dogged by accusations of impropriety. In a bid to guard herself—and to keep away from resigning, as Bent nudges her to do—Birgitte flips on the Greenlandic oil concern: she’ll not solely aggressively help the drilling however she’ll additionally weed out anybody who opposes her. She hires Michael Laugesen, an previous political enemy, as her secret spin physician, or Media coach. (That is accomplished proper after she finishes throwing up after an evening out—a comically unsubtle scene that conveys her personal repugnance on the thought.) Michael needs Birgitte to refresh her picture: to embrace social Media and take benefit of the feminist wave in politics. He additionally encourages her to resort to extra excessive ways, and he or she does—with vigor. Birgitte treats the Greenlandic representatives with disrespect; parrots the factors of climate-change deniers; blackmails her social gathering’s deputy chief, Jon Berthelsen; and publicly repudiates her son for his political exercise. She additionally places stress on Nadia Barazani, the Local weather Minister, to facet together with her, marking the second time this season {that a} white girl is positioned because the aggressor of a Danish girl of shade. (The opposite occasion, involving Katrine Fønsmark, a TV journalist and Birgitte’s former spin physician, and her worker, Narciza Aydin, is extra protracted, but neither confrontation explicitly or satisfyingly probes the gender and racial dynamics at play.)

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