Borgen Review: Is “Borgen: Power & Glory” worth the watch?

borgen review: picture from the danish show borgen with birgitte nyborg and katrine fonsmark and written as a title is borgen power and glory review reflection thoughts

After watching the new season of Borgen, internationally known as Borgen: Power & Glory and Danishly known as Borgen: Riget, Magten og Æren, I decided to share a few thoughts on it. Welcome to Borgen review à la Katja.

If you have already watched the YouTube video and just want to jump to places in this text that are NOT in that video, you can go here for more on Greenland and here for more on Katrine’s storyline.

If you haven’t seen the YouTube video, watch it here:

What is Borgen

The OG Borgen was actually one of the reasons I fell in love with the Danish language. The title literally translated means “the castle” but here, it refers to Christiansborg, which is kind of Denmark’s centre of power because it’s where the Parliament, the Prime Minister’s office, and the Supreme Court all are. Supposedly, the term is also often used to refer to the Danish Parliament.

The show follows Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen), leader of a left-centrist party De Moderate, who kind of unexpectedly becomes the Danish Prime Minister. Other main characters include her spin doctor Kasper Juul (Pilou Asbæk), her husband Phillip Christensen (Mikael Birkkjær) and their two children, Magnus (Emil Poulsen) and Laura (Freja Riemann), leaders of other parties and other politicians, Birgitte’s mentor Bent Sejrø (Lars Knudzon), and of course, the other main storyline, the journalists – namely, Katrine Fønsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) as a TV anchor and journalist, Torben Friis (Søren Malling) as a TV news editor, and a few others. While carrying out overarching personal and political storylines, each episode deals more thoroughly with a specific issue (like environmental reforms, the age of criminal responsibility, gender equality, Denmark’s military presence in Afghanistan, pork production, and so on).

Borgen provides great entertainment if you enjoy political dramas and thrillers. So if “you yearn for democratic politics to be carried out with machiavellian sophistication and attention to principle and policy detail” (Jeffries, 2022), you will thoroughly enjoy this show. Long story short, if you haven’t seen the first three seasons, I highly recommend you watch them. Now let’s focus on the fourth one.

Borgen: Power & Glory

First of all, the HAIR. What is up with that? Birgitte’s and Katrine’s hair in the new season bothered me for a long time until I figured out it was the parting! They have a bun or a ponytail with a parting. And yes, it was such a strong distraction that had to be noted here. I don’t know if that was just me (because I was used to seeing them with different hairstyles) or if it looked weird to everyone.

Anyhoo, now that that’s out of the way…

Greenland

In the fourth season of Borgen (which takes place about 10 years after the last one), the main story revolves around oil found in Greenland, which stirs up the already shaky relationship between Denmark and Greenland. This is an issue that the show already touched on in the first season. Here we can already see the difference between this season and the previous ones – while the first three seasons more or less focused on a different issue with each episode, this oil discovery remains the main storyline throughout all 8 episodes of the new season.

greenland scenery from borgen power and glory
Greenland scenery from Borgen: Power & Glory

In case you did not know: Greenland is an island country that is still part of The Kingdom of Denmark. It used to be a Danish colony from 1814 until it became a part of Denmark in 1953. In 1979 Denmark granted home rule to Greenland and in 2008 Greenlanders voted in favour of the Self-Government Act, which transferred more power from the Danish government to its own local government, which basically means Greenland is gradually getting more autonomous. (Thanks Wiki!)

The political significance of oil discovery

Quite expectedly, the oil discovery raises many questions regarding Greenland’s autonomy and sovereignty, its issues, Denmark’s role as the “colonizing big brother” to Greenland, and Denmark’s role in international politics.

As we have already seen in the first three seasons (especially in the first two), Borgen is a show that respects its audience and likes to present both sides of political issues. So is the case of this oil drilling in Greenland. Although the show does take a stance on it, it does not take this task lightly and it takes the fact that the matter is more complex than one might think at first glance into consideration. Without denying that it is important that humanity stops its overconsumption of fossil fuels and how important it is to take climate action seriously, it holds a critical mirror to (bourgeois) environmental activism.

On a broader political note, this oil discovery attracts a lot of international attention. Things start to get complicated when you mix Canadian companies with potential Russian owners or investors, and when both America and China are interested in the case and want to implement their own agendas.

In general, we get insight into diplomatic battles and witness some strategic political manoeuvres by Birgitte Nyborg both in internal and foreign politics.

Bonus

If the first three seasons were exclusively focused on Denmark, this fourth season gives much more room to Greenland’s history, issues, and position (in relation to Denmark and the rest of the world). Which, along with politics, also brings absolutely stunning scenery to the show. And there’s also a little love story between a Danish white boy – Birgitte’s newly appointed arctic ambassador Asger Holm Kirkegaard (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) – and a native Greenland girl – Greenlandic premier’s department head Emmy Rasmussen (Nivi Pedersen) – where she shows him a side of Greenland he has never seen before. It’s a trope. It’s a cliche. But from what I can tell, the show does it with enough respect for both characters and their cultures, so I’m here for it.

emmy rasmussen and asger holm kirkegaard from borgen power & glory
Asger Holm Kirkegaard (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) and Emmy Rasmussen (Nivi Pedersen)

Birgitte Nyborg

The main character of Borgen is still Birgitte Nyborg. She is Denmark’s foreign minister and still the leader of her party Ny Demokrater. On par with the previous three seasons, we witness her career and its effect on her personal life (and vice versa). She is a typical workaholic and reflects on her life claiming she is happy this way. Quite intimately, we see her go through perimenopause with hot flashes, sweating, and barely eating or sleeping. This was an aspect that I found quite interesting and it does raise some questions about how much this affected her choices and behaviour in her career as well.

birgitte nyborg portrayed by sidse babett knudsen
Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen)

Out of her family, Birgitte’s son Magnus now has the biggest role. He is, if I may say so, a typical GenZ environmental activist. I think he’s portrayed quite accurately – he cares deeply about many things and wants to “save the world” but he can be tyrannical and pretentious about it. Sure, Birgitte may sound like a typical older person complaining about younger generations, but she does have a point when she points out that Magnus is very quick to label anyone who slightly disagrees with him as a fascist. Because it is something that you can see younger people do, online or in real life.

Birgitte in the first three seasons of Borgen

I see the biggest difference from the previous seasons when it comes to the character of Birgitte and the balance of her professional and personal life. This is also what makes this season almost a separate show for me.

The thing is, in the first three seasons, Birgitte Nyborg was definitely one of the “good guys”. She is by far not perfect, she is a politician and she is very human. But she is trying to make positive change. She is acting from a place of good intentions. As Adam Price, one of the show’s creators, said, “I definitely want you to believe there is a shred of idealism in Birgitte Nyborg that is real. She’s also become a very professional political being, but there is definitely that idealism, and that’s important.” (Jeffries, 2013)

She is indeed slightly idealistic, but she is not naive and remains realistic about her options. She works hard to not betray her values while still trying to reach compromises that will result in positive changes. And that, my friends, is just so precious. You have no idea how difficult it is to create a character like that – that captures the perfect balance of optimistic but not naive, inspiring but not a martyr, an effective politician but not a hypocrite.

birgitte nyborg christensen portrayed by sidse babett knudsen
Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen) in the first season of Borgen

Thematic questions

So the general theme, the general question that the first three seasons asked, was: How can change actually be made? How can you remain true to your values but still work in politics and actually implement changes? What happens if you do that?

It’s such a delicate line for shows and movies because most of them fall to either side – either the character is corrupt and only cares about power (Frank Underwood, Selina Mayer) or he or she is overly idealistic (Leslie Knope) or even a martyr. But in Borgen, it wasn’t so much a question of “is it even possible to make a change in politics?” as much as a statement “yes, it is possible – but at a great price”. As NPR put it: “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a show that’s better at capturing the personal cost of political life. For Birgitte, power doesn’t so much corrupt as isolate. The more successful she becomes as PM, the more her private world dwindles.” (Powers, 2014)

And for me, this was the essence of Borgen. This was what really differentiated it from other clever political shows. To see a politician who knows how to play the game and does it well but doesn’t end up a corrupt hypocrite.

Birgitte in Borgen: Power & Glory

In Borgen: Power & Glory, the thematic question changes completely and we land in the zone of “is it even possible to be good and a politician?”. Sure, the fourth season’s Birgitte is not evil, but she does betray her values rather fast (compared to previous seasons) when she completely changes her stance on oil in order to remain in power.

Whereas we saw her give up a position of greater power for the “good of the country” on quite a few occasions in the previous seasons, here, she barely even thinks about it and seems more preoccupied with losing her position and how it will look to the public. Her actions (cooperating with Michael Laugessen, changing her stance on the oil etc) are all motivated by her desire to stay in power rather than implementing change, helping people, doing good for her country or anything else. She is thematically a completely different character.

To be clear. I am not complaining that she changed. It is perfectly believable that her character as a person would develop this way. But this change ultimately affects the show’s main theme and what the show is essentially about. That is why thematically, she is not the same character.

birgitte nyborg from borgen power and glory portrayed by sidse babett knudsen
Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen) in Borgen: Power & Glory

Thematic questions

Instead of “how can one actually work as an uncorrupt politician and make positive change”, the show’s underlying question is now: “Is it even possible to not be corrupt in politics? Can you notice when you’ve ‘gone to the dark side’? Is it possible to notice that?” Or, “How far should politicians stand by their ideals? Should we sacrifice our principles on the altar of economic stability?” (Jeffries, 2022)

Both options are perfectly valid, of course. But the thing is that this type of character, a politician who entered politics with idealistic ideas but now after so many years just wants to cling to power, is much more common. With good reason and it also works well, but still. I think that in Birgitte (and especially with Sidse Babett Knudsen’s brilliant portrayal of her), they had a rare gem of a character but then made her become a cliché (which by itself is a cliché). It just seems like a wasted opportunity to me. Then again, the show was co-produced by Netflix, so what else do you expect?

Katrine Fønsmark

Now we finally come to my favourite storyline. I just don’t care that much about oil, sue me. In the OG Borgen, Katrine Fønsmark was a TV anchor, newspaper journalist, and in the third season, Birgitte’s new party’s media advisor/liaison/spin doctor. In the new season, we see her as she starts her new job as head of news at TV1.

I found this storyline to be the most fascinating because if you compare it to the previous seasons (that took place approximately 10 years ago), you can clearly see how much has changed – in the world of media and news as well as the workplace atmosphere.

katrine fønsmark Birgitte Hjort Sørensen
Katrine Fønsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) in the second season of Borgen

Generational differences

Katrine used to be a young and ambitious journalist who is always “seeking the truth”, and “having the ethical responsibility to find the truth and tell it to the public”. When Katrine worked as a hands-on journalist, she had many strong opinions about how things should be and what could be done better. As do many young people. And the thing is, even if you stay true to that, even if you continue along that path, the time comes when you become the boss. Sure, maybe you are the kind of boss that you always thought you would be. Maybe you’re actually great. But here comes the trouble: the young people have changed.

You can become the boss you’ve always wanted but the problem is, your employees are not you.

Sure, Katrine as head of news is not perfect. We get to see her experience the same issues that her boss, Torben Friis, had in previous seasons, where she has to decide between journalistic integrity and money. Here, again, we witness this “once idealistic but now same as the rest” theme. But that’s not the part that interested me the most. What I loved about her storyline was how we see the role of social media in the workplace now and the aforementioned generational divide.

Katrine and Narciza

This is captured Katrine’s conflict with Narciza (Özlem Saglanmak). Katrine gives Narciza instructions and constructive criticism as her boss. Some may say she is micromanaging, however, she expects that if Narciza has a problem with it, she will talk to her directly and they can resolve it. Because that’s what Katrine did as a young journalist. Na-ah. Narciza doesn’t really say a lot to Katrine but instead spills her thoughts on social media. This actually happens more than once and it’s a pattern that happens in real life too more and more often.

An example is when Katrine tells Narciza she is fired. She utters one sentence in anger and storms out, then posts about it on social media. In this whole situation, I really saw the issue being more in the lack of face-to-face communication than anything else.

katrine fønsmark from borgen power and glory Birgitte Hjort Sørensen
Katrine Fønsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) in Borgen: Power & Glory

The ‘maternity leave’ issue

Upon my second viewing of Borgen: Power & Glory, I realized that the main issue in Katrine’s storyline is not Narciza’s behaviour but the impact of social media on the workplace climate and individuals. The thing that the show does very well is the gradual increase of pressure that comes from the internet and how it raises Katrine’s anxiety levels. As opposed to many other shows that present the issue in a much more black-and-white scenario of a video going viral, causing immediate panic attacks. Not that that doesn’t happen. But the main danger of the internet doesn’t come from viral videos. It comes from its overwhelming presence in our everyday lives. It comes from its never-sleeping nature of constantly watching your every move, and its ability to potentiate the slightest mistake into a full-blown catastrophe.

Sure, Katrine and Narciza’s conflict lacks face-to-face communication but on the other hand, it is only amplified by social media. Another example is the issue of maternity leave. When Katrine’s employee Mie (Ena Spottag) tells her that she and her partner are starting fertility treatment, Katrine’s initial reaction is, “No, Mie, don’t do this to me.” She reacts as a boss who has just been told she may soon have to deal with additional scheduling and more work. However, Katrine immediately realizes the rudeness of her response. The next second, she adds, “No. Sorry, I apologize. I’m really pleased for you. It’s great news. Sorry.” She explains why she reacted that way. The matter seems to be resolved to her.

But the internet never sleeps

In spite of that, soon the office – and the internet – fills with rumours about how Katrine wants to stop maternity leave and what a tyrant she is. People mention they heard what her (first) reaction was and somehow, no matter how many times she repeats she is not against maternity leave, the public opinion seems to stay that way.

Katrine did in fact react in a, pardon my French, shitty way to what Mia said. But here is the thing. She realised that and apologized immediately. Personally, I’d criticize her if she didn’t apologize and correct her mistake. But she did. And yet, this seems to remain a growing problem for people online.

And the question is: What can Katrine do to stop the morality mafia from harassing her? What do we expect people to do? If correcting your mistake is not enough, what is? It seems as though the internet doesn’t want apologies nor does it want better action. It wants perfection, it demands it. What the internet wants from Katrine, in this case, is not that she fix her mistake but that she had never made a mistake in the first place. A very human, very understandable mistake. The question that arises is: In the age of the internet’s big-brotherly omnipresence, are we even allowed to be human?

katrine fønsmark portrayed by Birgitte Hjort Sørensen reads facebook comments
Katrine Fønsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) reads Facebook comments in Borgen: Power & Glory

What do you think?

As you can see, Katrine’s storyline gave me a lot to think about. It just made me reflect on the way social media and the internet in general affect the workplace and how our generation is much more used to operating on social media than communicating face-to-face and resolving conflicts in a constructive way. Or maybe I’m just getting old. I don’t know. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below or directly on YouTube!

Conclusion

All in all, I’d say the new season is still definitely worth the watch, especially if you like political dramas. Also, of course, if you enjoyed the first three seasons because you can look forward to reuniting with some of the characters. (But beware, Kasper Juul is not in it – I am giving you a friendly warning so you won’t be disappointed like *cough cough* some people were.)

And as I said before, if you haven’t seen the first three seasons, I also highly recommend watching those.

Thank you for reading this review/reflection/rambling on the fourth season of Borgen. If you haven’t seen it in YouTube form, make sure you watch it as you will see examples from the show directly. Jump here to watch the video.

Let me know what you thought of the show if you’ve watched it – in the comments down below or in the comments on YouTube.

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I will see you soon with a new chat!

List of Sources

[1] Greenland. (2022, September 30). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenland

[2] Jeffries, S. (2013, November 14). Borgen creator Adam Price on what’s next for Birgitte Nyborg in the show’s third and final series. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2013/nov/14/borgen-creator-adam-price-birgitte-nyborg-third-series

[3] Jeffries, S. (2022, June 2). Borgen review – this antidote to real-life politics is like The West Wing 2022. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2022/jun/02/borgen-review-this-antidote-to-real-life-politics-is-like-the-west-wing-2022

[4] Powers, J. (2014, February 4) ‘Borgen’ Is Denmark’s ‘West Wing’ (But Even Better). NPR. https://www.npr.org/2014/02/04/271525839/borgen-is-denmarks-west-wing-but-even-better

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