Series / Borgen
DR, the people who brought you Forbrydelsen
, now bring you The West Wing
. In Denmark.
"Borgen" is Danish for "The Fortress", a nickname for the Christiansborg Palace, the centre of the Danish government. The actual Danish pronunciation is more like "Bauwen". (DR market this with the overseas title Government
, but neither the BBC or Link TV chose to use that name when transmitting it in English.) The show is a Danish Government Procedural
by Adam Price, running from 2010 to 2013. It has been critically acclaimed for its realistic fictional parties
and its lack of strawman stereotypes
, getting very high ratings in Denmark. The main character is Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg Christensen
, who is trying to balance politics, personal problems and her two kids.
The supporting characters are Katrine Fønsmark, a surprisingly intelligent journalist with a job at the public broadcaster TV1; her fellow journalist Hanne Holm, an equally bright, but alcoholic Team Mom
; Kasper Juul, Birgitte's brilliant media consultant and Katrine's ex-boyfriend, who still carries a torch for her; Bent Sejrø, Birgitte's mentor and Team Dad
; and Michael Laugesen, the former Labour Party leader turned Ekspressen
(think The Sun
) tabloid editor and Manipulative Bastard
The third and final season was shown in Denmark in late 2012, and abroad in Britain and Australia in 2013. A US remake with HBO and BBC Worldwide is planned.
- Abusive Parents: Kasper was sexually abused by his father.
- Against My Religion: Subverted. After successfully pulling off the peace treaty in Africa, Bent and Amir celebrate modestly with a bottle of fine brandy:
Bent: Does your god allow you to drink it?
- The Alcoholic: Hanne Holm, at least in the first two episodes of the first series and again in the first episode of the second.
- Alternate Universe: Not only does Borgen exist in a universe where Denmark's political parties are different, but its media catalogue and, in the case of Turgisia and Kharun, its international geography are alien to reality.
- Ambition Is Evil: Maybe not evil, but certainly not good. The show has a rogues gallery of careerist backstabbers, particularly Höxenhaven.
- And from the second series, Jakob Kruse.
- In the season 3 finale, Nyborg herself; when her party gets enough votes in the general election to hold the balance of power, she's offered the chance of being prime minister of an extremely diverse and potentially unstable coalition government, which would also include the racist Freedom Party, whose increasing influence was one of the things she re-entered politics to stop. She plays the trope straight, deciding that it's in the country's best interest that she form a much more stable coalition with the Liberal party that gained the most votes, on condition that they make concessions to her party's policies, even though it means that she doesn't get to be prime minister (again). As a consolation, it appears likely at the end she will become Foreign Minister.
- Amicably Divorced: By season 3, the Nyborgs; by mid-season 3, Kasper and Katrine.
- Armoured Closet Gay: Höxenhaven.
- Bad Boss: Laugesen.
- Bittersweet Ending: In the series finale, Birgitte joins the stable right-wing coalition after the elections, but gets them to tone down the policies she disagrees with, and becomes the Minister of Foreign Affairs, a job she is apparently very well-suited for, having an excellent command of English and French and having worked in business abroad.
- Blonde Republican Sex Kitten: Benedikte Nedergaard, Saltum's Starscream in the third season, is this, although (ironically given she's a Danish racial nationalist) she isn't blonde.
- Book Ends: In the first episode, Birgitte and her family enter Christiansborg in triumph after an unexpectedly successful election - and then again in the last one.
- Break the Cutie: The job nearly does this to Nyborg on a few occasions.
- Breaking Speech: By Saltum, when Kasper and Nyborg are successively forced to come to his office and apologize for antagonizing him.
- Bulungi: Two Season 2 episodes deal with Birgitte negotiating a peace agreement between the central government and the separatist southern region of a fictitious East African nation called Kharun, which is definitely not Sudan.
- The Chessmaster: Kasper, in his role as Nyborg's spin doctor.
- Children Are Innocent: A firmly-held belief by Kasper. Not so with Saltum.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Laugesen is mostly absent in the third season, replaced by Alex as a more subtle evil media person.
- Cigarette of Anxiety: Amir.
- Clingy Jealous Prime Minister: Nyborg, when her ex starts seeing another woman that her children like.
- Condescending Compassion: Basically Saltum’s attitude towards delinquent Muslim teens living in poverty and Pernille Madsen’s towards sex workers in S03E05.
- Contemplative Boss: Birgitte at the end of the credit sequence.
- Corrupt Politician: Labor party leader Laugesen explicitly acknowledges that Denmark is run by a tiny circle of industrialists, media men and politicians. He has no problem with that, as long as he is among them.
- Creator Provincialism: Averted in Season 2 with the Afghanistan and Kharun storylines.
- The Cynic: Kasper.
- Dark Secret: Kasper's childhood. He was sexually abused by his father, who also let other pedophiles have their way with him. Kasper eventually snapped and stabbed his father, leading him to be sent in a juvenile institution with his identity changed. Kasper remains haunted by his past, and tries to keep it hidden from Katrine through pathological lies, until he eventually sends her a recording of the news story reporting his father's arrest. It is also the reason why Kasper rips into Saltum when he moves to lower Denmark's legal age of criminal responsibility to 12.
- Decoy Protagonist: Laugesen is introduced as the leader of the labour party, which would make him the principal antagonist of the heroine. But he is immediately removed from office and turns to journalism, which makes him more of a minor annoyance.
- Denmark Saves the Day: Part of the reason Nyborg resolves the Kharun conflict is to improve upon Denmark's reputation as a xenophobic country.
- Driven to Suicide: Troels
- Drunk with Power: Averted. Nyborg keeps a good head on her shoulders where her job is concerned, despite the havoc it wreaks on her personal life.
- Episode Title Card
- European Brevity
- Fan Disservice: The actor playing him is handsome, but Kasper's ass isn't.
- Frenemy: Nyborg and Hesselboe. On a different level, Nyborg and Saltum have hints of this.
- Freudian Excuse: Kasper
- Fictional Political Party: There's the Moderates (who are social liberals, and slightly left-leaning economically), the Labour Party, the Liberals (who are right-wing) and the nationalist Freedom Party.
- The seven parties are not the real-life ones in Denmark, but some mirror the actual ones to a degree. They also seem to represent a simplified left-right "sliding scale" that's easier for the viewer to understand. Nyborg's centre-left coalition consists of:
- The Solidarity Party (hard-left with Muslims like Aicha Nagrawi, led by Anna-Sophie Linderkrone, resembling the real-life Red-Green Coalition)
- The Greens (left-wing & green like the Socialist People's Party, led by Amir Diwan)
- The Labour Party (centre-left, like the real-life Social Democrats, and modernising under Laugesen)
- The Moderate Party (centre-left/centre, like the Social Liberal Party in real-life).
- On the right, meanwhile, are:
- The Liberals (centre-right, clearly based on the real-life Venstre)
- The New Right Party (right-wing conservative, led by Yvonne Kjær, similar to the Conservative People's Party)
- The Freedom Party (hard-right and stated to be descended from Glistrup's Progress, just like the real-life Danish People's Party).
- In the third season, we get the New Democrats, another centre-left party, as the Moderates move centre-right.
- Fiery Redhead: Nete, in the third series.
- Foot-Dragging Divorcee: Nyborg.
- Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Zig Zagged. In the first series, Katrine finds out she is pregnant as the result of an affair with a married (dead) man, but decides to keep the baby regardless. When her mother finds out, she puts Katrine under considerable pressure to have an abortion, and Katrine, hurt at her mother's lack of support, relents. Though she clearly didn't want to have the termination, she recovers and moves on with her life.
- Green-Eyed Monster: Kasper doesn't take Katrine's relationship with Benjamin well.
- Also Birgitte, who becomes suspicious of Phillip's (innocent) relationship with one of his female students.
- Happy Marriage Charade: The Hesselboes. And by the end of series 1, the Nyborgs. The latter narrowly avert it by divorcing.
- Holding the Floor: Essentially what Saltum tries to do when he arranges to have Nyborg questioned before parliament over her government's approach to juvenile offenders.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Episodes 5 of season 3 revolves around the issue of protection and rights of sex workers, featuring the head of the Danish sex workers’ union, Helene, who is very pleased with her work. This trope is discussed in depth, and Helene says she is opposed to this term, as ‘you never hear about a happy real estate agent’.
- Hot Scoop: Katrine, who bears a noticeable resemblance to Billie Piper.
- He Who Fights Monsters: Amir's attitude when Nyborg's concessions to polluters causes him to resign from both the Ministry of the Environment and the Green Party.
- High Class Call Boy: The source of Höxenhaven's demise.
- Hollywood Heart Attack: Bent's stroke in the second season.
- Homage: Birgitte Hjort Sørensen was influenced by The West Wing, specifically CJ Cregg, in her portrayal of Katrine; her line delivery is done in a way that makes her sound like CJ... especially when she speaks English.
- Hypocritical Humor: Courtesy of Birgitte: "I've never asked for a man's approval in my entire life! How do I look?"
- House Husband: Phillip. And of course no-one bats an eyelid. Because this is Denmark. And Denmark rocks.
- I Have No Justice Minister: Birgitte's reaction when she discovers that Höx leaked a recording of Anne Sophie contemplating abduction in order to save his job.
- Informed Flaw: Kasper has a reputation as a heart-breaker, but on-screen he shows interest in a grand total of three women, only one of whom he ever actually had a relationship with.
- Less so in series 2, when we start to see more of Kasper's dysfunctional dealings with women.
- Intergenerational Friendship: Birgitte and Bent.
- I Was Young and Needed the Money: What one minister basically says when it's revealed she was a lingerie model when younger.
- Jerk Ass: Laugesen. Saltum, too.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Alex Hjort, Torben’s boss in season 3. He’s smug, condescending and only cares about the ratings, but Torben’s serious high standards are of little interest to the viewers, who are paying for TV 1 with their tax money, and his suggestion to liven up the first debate turns out to be a success. Subverted towards the end of the season when he goes too far with the third debate.
- Kick the Dog: Saltum does permanent damage to his own career by chopping off a piglet's tail during a live TV interview. (It Makes Sense in Context.)
- Kick Them While They Are Down: In the first debate in season 3, Ulrich is made to do this to Birgitte, revealing that she had little understanding of her own political platform. What makes this extra harsh is that it’s due to her cancer treatments damaging her ability to stay alert and focused.
- Kicked Upstairs: Nyborg ejects Jacob Kruse from her inner circle and appoints him as Denmark's EU Commissioner when he betrays her and Bent.
- Laser-Guided Karma: Kaspar and Birgitte try to damage Amir by accusing him of hypocrisy for promoting environmentalism while owning a gas-guzzling classic car, and the resulting press persecution of him and his family drives him out of politics. By the end of the series, the same thing has (temporarily) happened to Birgitte and her family after the row over her daughter being sent to a private mental hospital.
- Late-Arrival Spoiler: The Nyborgs are divorced by season 2.
- Learnt English from Watching Television: How Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (Katrine) learnt her English.
- Lonely Funeral: The funeral of Kasper's abusive father is attended only by himself and Katrine.
- Love Triangle: Series 3 flirts with the idea with, on the one hand, Nyborg, her ex-husband Philip, and her new English boyfriend Jeremy, and, on the other hand, Katrine, her ex Kasper, and new lover Soren Ravn. For the most part it's averted though, and both women are still with their new partners by the time the series ends.
- Maiden Name Debate: Birgitte Nyborg Christensen reverts to her maiden name of Birgitte Nyborg at the end of the first season.
- Mandatory Unretirement: After giving up politics, Amir gets dragged in again when Birgitte picks him as her necessary Arabic-speaking and Islamic representative in the Kharun peace talks.
- Happens to Birgitte herself when she loses the general election announced at the end of Season 2, and subsequently leaves office. Two years later, Birgitte has no plans to resume a political career until she sees how Jacob Kruse is toeing the line to Hesselboe's agenda and making the Moderate Party increasingly right-wing.
- Manipulative Bastard: Laugesen is the most consistent example, though Kasper definitely has shades of this too. The entire Labour Party becomes a collective Manipulative Bastard when it tricks its own leader, Bjørn Marrot, into making a series of public gaffes in order to discredit and fire him. Jacob Kruse in the second series, until he badly over-reaches himself.
- Married to the Job: As Bent reveals at the end of series 1, virtually everyone in Christiansborg suffers from this to some extent. Divorces and open marriages are common among the politicians.
- Hanne Holm, which led to her ex-husband gaining sole custody of their daughter.
- Mentor: Bent to Nyborg; Friis and Hanne Holm to Katrine.
- Missing Mom: As stated above, Hanne Holm is herself one, having been absent for most of her daughter's childhood and all but loosing contact with her after her divorce, after which custody of the then five-year-old was granted to her ex-husband.
- The Mole: Nete becomes Kruse's mole in the New Democrats after she loses faith in their ability to succeed.
- The Mutiny: Hanne and Ulrik stage one of these in season 3 when Alex has Torben fired for scrapping Alex's plan to stage the final debate like a cheesy game show.
- Naïve Newcomer: Nyborg, to an extent. She didn't expect being elected prime minister prior to the election.
- New Media Are Evil: As the editor of the tabloid Ekspres, Laugesen uses vitriolic viral video editorials to constantly criticize Nyborg and her coalition allies. DR runs a fake website for Ekspres which features videos by both Laugesen and Saltum.
- In season 3, TV 1's Torben Friis is asked by his boss to sex up political coverage with game show-style political debates, etc.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Kasper's attempt to damage Amir's image to make the Greens more co-operative leads to Amir getting monstered by the press so badly that he gives up politics completely, the Greens leave the coalition, and Birgitte is left leading a minority government.
- Nyborg's idea to call a new general election leads to the end of her government; her resignation as prime minister; the return of Hesselboe to office; and the return of Kruse, who proceeds to make the Moderates as right-wing as Hesselboe's party.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Laugesen's attempt to discredit Hesselboe during a televised debate spectacularly backfires when the voters reject both him and Hesselboe in favor of Nyborg.
- No Bisexuals: The reaction to Troels Hoxenhaven's affair with a rent boy reeks of this.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Balding strong-man president of a former Soviet state with a questionable human rights record and significant clout on the future of Danish energy production, anyone?
- Not to mention the Danish captain of industry.
- Saltum bears a major physical resemblance to the late Mogens Glistrup◊, a far-right party leader.
- Non-Indicative Name: The Liberals are right-wing, which makes them this trope for American viewers. However, note that in Denmark and most of the rest of Europe, the term is used exactly for the type of politics the Liberals stand for.
- Off the Wagon: Inevitably, Hanne Holm.
- Paparazzi: A particularly unspeakable case, persecuting mentally fragile psychiatric patients.
- Playing the Victim Card: Both Birgitte and Kaspar accuse Saltum of this, with good reason: his political tactics are usually based on saying digusting things in public and claiming to be the victim of Political Correctness Gone Mad when people get angry.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Saltum, who is incredibly racist, and quite redneck-ish. Also, Laugesen, who's homophobic but who at least professes to be left-wing.
- Also, Islamophobic e-mails bring down Laugesen, and he's also shown to be fairly sexist towards Nyborg, bigoted towards immigrants, and basically completely unprincipled in the pursuit of power. Once his political career is over and he takes over as editor of the Ekspres he becomes an anti-PC populist, and when Nyborg goes after the Moderates in Season 3 the Ekspres starts running muck-raking headlines about what a bitch she is, suggesting that Laugesen ends up in bed with the Moderates.
- Power Hair: Averted with Birgitte, who has long hair.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Birgitte herself, and also Torben Friis (mostly).
- Right Behind Me: In the second episode, Birgitte is summoned to see the Queen of Denmark so she can be appointed "Royal Investigator" (which means she can start negotiating a coalition). There's a delay and Birgitte wonders how long the... certain word for a woman... is going to be, as a footman arrives to tell her that Her Majesty is ready.
- The Rival: Hesselboe to Nyborg.
- Ruritania: One episode revolves around the visit of the president of the former Soviet republic of Turgisia.
- The Ophelia: Laura.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
- Kasper to Saltum.
- In S 01 E 02, Hanne Holm gives a particularly vocal one about Katrine's shallow understanding of journalism.
- Rejected Apology: In the final season, Laugesen tries to apologise to Birgitte privately for his persecution of Laura when she was mentally ill, but Birgitte refuses to accept any apology unless it's in the paper as prominently as the original stories.
- She's Back: The tone of Season 2's end as Nyborg returns from leave and calls for a new general election...
- ...only to be averted when Season 3 reveals she was forced to resign after her government lost the election.
- Shown Their Work: Inverted in-universe. Nyborg usually relies on having hard facts to back up her arguments, but in season 3 she's preparing for a crucial TV debate and because she's distracted by, among other things, pre-cancerous cells that have been found in her breast which she hasn't told anyone else about, she fails to pay attention to an explanation of the tricky details of her party's economic policy. As a result, she flubs it and has a Critical Research Failure live on TV, which makes it easy for her opponents to paint her as someone who doesn't know what she's talking about. She doesn't make the same mistake twice.
- Slap-Slap-Kiss: Kasper and Katrine.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Kind of in limbo between the two, actually. Becomes especially apparent in comparison with its highly idealistic American and incredibly cynical British counterparts.
- The show partly focuses on Nyborg's struggles to reach her goals and make her premiership a success without compromising her integrity.
- Bent slides towards idealism...
- ...while Kasper slides towards cynicism. So does Amir, eventually.
- Sorry That I'm Dying: So writes Jørgen Hedegård's son, serving in Afghanistan, in his last letter to his father.
- Surprisingly Good English: Many of the characters are fluent in English and use it frequently in conversations with non-Danes, Birgitte in particular. Made less surprising by the fact that 86% of Danes are actually fluent in English.
- Perhaps even more unexpected is Birgitte's Surprisingly Good French during her phone conversations with the EU Commissioner.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: The credits contain a not-quite-standard disclaimer, declaring (paraphrased) "no similarity is intended or should be inferred to real persons or events after 1982".
- Undying Loyalty: Kasper and Bent to Nyborg.
- Untranslated Title: Borgen means "The Castle" in Danish, but is often used as a slang expression for the government. DR marketed the series in English-speaking countries as Government, but the BBC decided to go with the untranslated original.
- Viewers Are Morons: Invoked in Alex's attempts to reshape TV 1's news broadcasts.
- Violence Really Is the Answer: After speaking with representatives of Afghan non-governmental organisations, who thank her for her country's aid in fighting the Taliban and urge her to keep the troops on the ground until the Afghans are ready to fend for themselves, Nyborg begins to rethink her position on Denmark's presence in Afghanistan.
Bent: I wanted the Taliban removed, yes, but through democratic means.
Nyborg: How, Bent? How can you remove a dictatorship democratically?
- Walk and Talk: usually averted, but employed deliberately in the finale of series 2, to express the different style of running government while Thorsen is in charge.
- The War Room: During the Somali hostage crisis.
- The War on Terror: A central plot point in two episodes of series 1, which concern the question of CIA rendition flights and expansion of the military budget, respectively.
- And continued somewhat at the start of Season 2, when Nyborg is forced to reconsider her earlier promise of withdrawing Danish troops from Afghanistan.
- When You Coming Home, Mor?: Birgitte and her kids constantly, and Katrine and her son in the final season.
- Wild Card: In the second debate, Birgitte reveals that her party will become this and refuse to declare anyone as their preferred candidate for Prime Minister.
- Will They or Won't They?: Katrine and Kasper. By season 2 they finally get back together, between season 2 and 3 they have a child and get divorced, and by mid-season 3 they are finally Amicably Divorced.
- What Did I Do Last Night?: In Season 2, Nyborg, drunken and emotionally destitute, impulsively sleeps with her driver. When she wakes up the next morning and sees her clothes strewn on the floor, you can tell this is what she is asking herself in her head.
- What If the Baby Is Like Me?: Kaspar's extreme unwillingness to have children, due to not wanting to continue the line of his abusive father, and/or fearing that he'll become abusive once he has a child.
- Women Are Wiser: Played with.
- Workaholic: Birgitte morphs into one of these over the course of the series. In her defence, she is the Prime Minister. Also Katrine, although not to the same extent.
- Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Saltum tries this when he is mugged by hoodlums, using his ordeal to force the issue of enacting tougher penalties for juvenile offenders.
- Wrong Name Outburst: Kasper calls Lotte "Katrine", right when they drink to moving in together.
- Your Cheating Heart:
- Phillip has a fling with one of his students when the pressure he’s under becomes too much for him. This is one of the reasons he things it’s best that he and Birgitte divorce by the end of season 1.
- Höxenhavn cheats on his wife with a young man sent as a trap in season 2. It has devestating results on him.
- Kasper cheats on his girlfriend with Katrine as part of the general deterioration of his relationship with her. They break up soon after.
- Torben cheats on his wife with director/editor Pia in season 3. When his wife learns, she tells him to fire or transfer her, and when he can’t, she reveals the affair to the staff at his work and kicks him out of the house. He gets her to take him back by the end of the season, leaving Pia heartbroken.
- Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: According to Bayanov.