At the end of the second season, Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen) called a general election, announcing that she was “going to let the Danish voters decide whom they feel is the best prime minister”. It is, of course, always risky for politicians to ask that question, as it virtually invites the answer “not you anyway, dude”. Which, it turns out, is what happened to Birgitte.
So we catch up with her two-and-a-half years later, with Hesselboe back as PM. Birgitte has managed to acquire a consultancy which takes her to Hong Kong every now and again, a few board memberships, a fashionable apartment, hipster spectacles, and a new boyfriend; that being Archie off of Monarch of the Glen. (I keep saying this, but it means nothing to me – I didn’t see a second of Monarch of the Glen, so I’m just taking it on trust.) She also has an affectionate and civilised relationship with her ex-husband Phillip, which is good, I suppose; but I can’t help lamenting, once again, the fact that the writers thought it dramatically necessary to separate them. Dysfunctional marriages are over-represented in the arts; functional ones under-represented.
As for everyone else: Katrine (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) is juggling single parenthood and her job at TV1, where she’s their most popular presenter, and somewhat prima donna-ish; also there, her babydaddy Kasper Juul (Pilou Asbæk) and news editor Torben Friis (Søren Malling) are running what looks like an ever-so-slightly-camp discussion show called, with penetrating originality, “Juul and Friis”.
But there’s trouble ahead at TV1: new head of news Alexander Hjort rocks up with scarf and stubble to wonder aloud why there’s so much news on the channel – very good question, mate – and to note that their rivals are getting better ratings, so costs will need to be cut. I was slightly surprised by this, particularly given that TV1’s mission statement still seems to be “We Never Sit Down” – just how expensive is it to film two guys in a studio talking about current affairs, particularly if you don’t even spring for chairs?
Back with Birgitte – she’s becoming increasingly unhappy with the way in which her successor Kruse is steering the Moderates, particularly when after some coalition horsetrading he seems ready to sign them up to a controversial policy on the deportation of immigrants. Believing, as retired politicians everywhere do, that her country still needs her, she decides to leave Copenhagen-les-Deux-Églises and challenge Kruse for the leadership.
And at one stage it looks as if she might succeed. However, in the middle of the Moderates’ debate, Kruse is summoned to Parliament for talks with Hesselboe, leading to a dramatic deal, and Kruse looking like a decisive and successful politician. It’s a low blow from Hesselboe, her old foe, and after Kruse narrowly retains the leadership Birgitte has nowhere to go.
So she decides to form her very own party. Admittedly this is the sort of thing which makes slightly more sense in a country which has a tradition of small parties and coalition governments, and it is of course presented as highly principled, but it came over to me as perhaps a trifle high-handed: losing an election (as part of a minority party in a coalition anyway); breezing back in from Hong Kong with an expensive watch on her wrist; failing to convince her own party that it needs her as leader; and then, rather than staying and fighting, flouncing off to form the Birgitte Party.
Which is where we find her at the start of episode 2, with Katrine hired as media advisor. “You’re out of touch with the people you want to mobilise”, notes Katrine. Time, then, to do a bit of recruitment, and one by one Birgitte brings disillusioned pols on board – the slightly fangirlish Nette, the untrustworthy Jon (although I’d like him to be the good guy and Nette the dodgy one), and rightwinger Erik, who’s agin the immigration policy because he’s married to an Ethiopian. Dear old Bent stamps his foot for a while, but we kind of know what he’s going to do when Birgitte crooks her finger in his direction.
The TV1 newsroom is turning into, well, The Newsroom, with debates between Hjort and Torsten on how to cover the news: Hjort objects that Torsten keeps running stories about losers, and this is thrown into focus when Birgitte does her first interview as leader of the Birgitte Party on TV2, rather than going to the Juul and Friis Show.
We’ve already had it signposted, though, that Hjort is going to be the villain, particularly when he beds Katrine and is all, like, “Yeah, I totally hit that”, the next day at TV1. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out: Torsten seemed somewhat thrown – was he jealous? – and Kaspar might or might not be over Katrine; it wasn’t entirely clear from his reaction when she proposed to have dinner with him whether he thought that she was trying to seduce him, or whether he wanted to be seduced. (As it happens, although I think Katrine is a very strong character, and I can’t wait to see how the dynamic of having her and Birgitte run a political movement will develop, I wonder whether some of the single parenthood stuff was a bit too on-the-nose. It’s well-covered ground, and perhaps could have been approached with a little more subtlety.)
Of the two episodes I preferred the first, which covered the necessary ground with speed and flair; by contrast, I thought episode 2 took a little longer than it needed to get to its inevitable endpoint. But overall this was a strong, if not exceptional, start; and it’ll be interesting to see whether the Birgitte Party turns out to be the product of principle, pragmatism, or rampant egomania.