Now, as we discuss season two, there will inevitably be some spoilers from the first season, but we'll try and stay away from any dealbreakers, though if you want to go in fresh, just stop here and go watch the DVDs. When we left off with Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen), her leadership was on the ropes. With poll results falling, she has forged an uneasy alliance with the Labour Party to maintain majority control in parliament, but it has come at the cost of ousting her longtime ally, mentor and close friend Bent Sejrø (Lars Knutzon) from his Finance Minister position as a concession to the Labour party. In her personal life, Birgitte's marriage has fallen apart, with her husband Philip (Mikael Birkkjær) seeking a divorce, while the constant time away from home has also strained her relationship with her children. Meanwhile, spin doctor Kasper Juul (Pilou Asbæk) was forced to reconcile with his past, and the sexual abuse he faced as a child, while he continues to share a testy relationship with ex-girlfriend Katrine Fønsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen)...who resigned from TV1 after finding out her producer/boss at Torben Friis (Søren Malling) let Kasper edit a news story about the PM. Phew...
Much like "Mad Men," when we enter season two, some time has elapsed since the season one finale, and eleven months have passed when we enter the first episode. And from the start, the writing team doesn't waste a moment in getting the multi-threaded, multi-stakes drama rolling. A presidential visit to Afghanistan sparks off a political firestorm about whether or not Denmark should pull their troops from the region when the area around the very military base Nyborg gives her press conference, comes under attack, leaving three soldiers dead (including one who posed for a photo with PM). And once again, the scripts are unbelievably taut, taking us through the kind of topical arc many dramas would stretch over a few episodes or an entire season. And throughout this batch of episodes, complex dramas unfold against the backdrop of everything from African civil war to the internecine politics of EU appointments, but the real focus of the second season is on the characters. And it's that combination of deeply developed storylines and richly detailed players, that's the secret to the success of "Borgen," as obvious as that might seem.
The writing throughout this season of "Borgen" builds rich interior worlds for the lead characters, and even the secondary players carry the kind of weight that's rare for a show. When Birgitte's former secretary, the warmhearted and genuine Sanne (Iben Dorner) returns midway through the season, it's like a new light has walked into a gloomy room. And even though she less to do here than in the first season, her mere presence marks a dynamic shift in Birgitte's arc. And one can't help but be profoundly moved with Birgitte and Bent (who goes through some rather heavy developments) finally respark the kind of friendship they had, based around a mutual sharing of values, goals and deep respect they had before she was elected. Theirs is a subtle bond, but one made all the powerful when it's fused back together.
And it speaks to how dense and detailed the show is that we haven't yet spoken about what happens with Kaspar, or how "Borgen" makes episodes centered around the passing of various reform bills so riveting. It's really an accomplishment of scale -- of tackling numerous layers of politics combined with a fundamental understanding of how and why people make the choices they do, even when they're the wrong ones -- that makes "Borgen" the must-see show that it is. It's the rare program where small victories are celebrated like Super Bowl wins, because it's show that realizes that life is really an accumulation of successes, disappointments and decisions that make you into a good parent or a great leader. A good lover or an understanding partner. An idealist or a politician. And it's in these spaces that "Borgen" is an immensely entertaining, intelligent, witty and sometimes humorous portrayal of a sea of characters finding out when it's okay to let power control them, and when it's right for them to control power. [A-]
“Borgen” Season 2 is now available on DVD courtesy of MHz Networks.