TV series review: Borgen (2011-2013)

If you come across Borgen, treat yourself to watching a few episodes. This political drama will suck you in.

Borgen starts with elections in the Danish parliamentary system. The series exposes the political negotiations that go on behind the scenes to create a coalition government in the Danish system. Akin making laws, forming a coalition government is a bit like sausage making. It was stomach churning to watch.

This Danish TV series has been compared to The West Wing, a US political drama that ran in the 1990s. Borgen, or “The Castle”, follows the rise of a woman to Prime Minister in Denmark. The show reveals a lot about Danish male-female relations and the treatment of women in Danish politics and society at large.

Birgitte Nyborg is not only breaking the glass ceiling, she is dealing with the shards that fall all around.

Not growing up male, she isn’t attune to the signals that males send each other through their behavior. She receives some advice from males explicitly or implicitly. In initial, independent discussions with the heads of the different parties, one male politician tells her to sit at the head of table. Otherwise she will not be taken seriously.

She is constantly being challenged by male politicians in power plays, the equivalent of getting shoulder slammed in the hallway—a subtle, or maybe not so subtle, move by men trying to reassert their dominance.

Men feel free to talk about and to women as if they are sexual objects. Men routinely make note of and refer to a beautiful minister who used to be a model in ways that would not be considered appropriate in corporate America. Minister Klitgaard is referred to as “The Clit”. How much is an accurate representation of Danish society?

Borgen is a window into Danish society, culture, and politics. I not only learned about how parliamentary democracy works in Denmark, but I learned about specific political and historical issues. For example, I learned that Greenland was actually an autonomous region of Denmark, with resentment on the part of the Greenlanders. Nyborg’s moderate government is thrown by revelations that the CIA routinely lands illegally obtained prisoners in Greenland through a post-9/11 agreement with a previous Danish government.

I was struck with how very little the US appears in Danish politics, even when the US’s cavalier behavior of abducting people from other countries becomes an important issue in Denmark. The focus was on Denmark and Greenland. The US never entered into the discussion.

Or when Nyborg had to decide if she would imprison and then extradite a political dissident (or terrorist, depending on your perspective) as demanded by a repressive former USSR satellite. Other European countries chime in about whether she should or not. (They all support her extraditing the dissident, all except France.) The US was never mentioned—as though the US never spoke up, as though this matter fell below the radar as something that the Americans should be concerned about.

Borgen is an engrossing drama. I had some trouble locating it. (It is not on Netflix.) It well worth tracking down. Stephen King was not wrong to list it as the best TV he saw in 2012. I only wish there were more than three seasons.

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One thought on “TV series review: Borgen (2011-2013)

  1. I bought the DVDs so I had all three seasons in hand before I began. I certainly agree that Borgen was a) engrossing, b) involving, and c) a series with high production values, a superb cast, and was very well written as it wasn’t just about the PM.

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