Amid Revival Fatigue, Borgen: Power & Glory Reminds Us That Sometimes It Pays to Revisit Old FavoritesPhoto Courtesy of Netflix TV Reviews Borgen
Revivals are no longer a novel concept in Hollywood. But while the excitement with which these projects are now met might no longer be as deafening as it once was, one thing remains just as true today as it did years ago, when the phenomenon first took root in a creative ecosystem that was a little less starved for originality but still obsessed with nostalgia: A series must have something new to say to warrant its return. Otherwise, it risks being little more than a shallow cash grab made by a greedy corporation looking to capitalize on built-in audiences. Luckily for Borgen—the Danish political drama from Adam Price that, along with The Killing and The Bridge, helped to redefine the global television landscape in the early 2010s—it still has plenty of intrigue and a lot to say about women and power.
The series, which is back for a new, self-contained season on Netflix after originally signing off the air in 2013, follows Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a minor centrist politician who becomes the first female prime minister of Denmark. The first two seasons cover the character’s unlikely rise to power and the subsequent cost of holding onto that power while facing frequent attacks from not just the left and right, but also from her own cabinet and the unrelenting press. The third season, which picks up two-and-a-half years after the end of the second, details Birgitte’s return to politics, which sees her challenge the Moderate leader for power, lose that challenge, and then form a new political party in response.
What sets Borgen apart from most other political dramas on TV is not the show’s setting in Europe or the structure and rules of the Danish government (which I still don’t fully understand even after 38 episodes). It is the show’s investigation of its heroine’s approach to her career and her home life, which results in a series that engages with an all-too-familiar double standard, one that asks women to sacrifice their personal desires and careers for their families in a way men in their positions never have to. The new episodes—which pick up several years after Season 3 ended with the New Democrats winning 13 seats in Parliament and Birgitte becoming the minister for foreign affairs—continue to pull on these familiar threads now that Birgitte is 53, has an empty nest, and is going through perimenopause.
The new season, which is so prescient that it makes a reference to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, finds Birgitte as the foreign minister under a new prime minister, Signe Kragh (Johanne Louise Schmidt). When a sizeable oil deposit is discovered in Greenland, it presents an opportunity for the large island nation and its majority Indigenous population to finally gain independence from Denmark. This naturally doesn’t sit well with Signe and the Danish government. The narrative puts the current climate crisis under a microscope in a way that’s impossible to ignore, and it forces Birgitte to reconcile her own principles and the position of the New Democrats with the knowledge of what this new discovery could mean for Denmark as both a country and as a political player in international relations.
Also in play are Birgitte’s personal ambitions and desire for power under a young female prime minister who is in tune with the online world and who benefits from the very fact that Birgitte broke several barriers during her time in power. But Signe’s presence also forces everyone in the audience and within the show’s narrative to ask: Who is Birgitte Nyborg now, and what will her legacy be? After initially coming out against drilling for oil in Greenland because of her green platform, she must soon walk back her remarks in light of how much money the oil is worth. This sudden change threatens not just her ability to stay in power, but her reputation as well.
Each episode of the series begins with an epigraph related to the hour’s theme, and those in Season 4 feel more pointed than ever, especially as they relate to power, who wields it, and the dangers that come from it. Birgitte is a remarkable woman full of ambition, a role model to many over the years, but we’ve seen how her desire for power has come at a cost to her personal life. Although she hasn’t been prime minister for years, and even though her desire for power is wrapped up in a longing to make Denmark (and the world) a better place, there’s a part of her that will always want more. Now that she doesn’t have a husband and children waiting at home, she’s able to devote all of her time to her career without feeling the pressure or judgment of the Danish people. More importantly, she can prioritize her career without feeling guilty for wanting to do so.
Birgitte isn’t the only person fighting for power and control in Power & Glory though. Katrine Fønsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), an on-air journalist who became Birgitte’s media advisor in Season 3, has just accepted a position as the head of news at her former employer, the broadcast television station TV1, at the start of the season. Throughout the eight episodes, we find her attempting to exert control over the newsroom. While her intentions are good and stem from a desire to break news and uncover corruption in politics (it should be noted that Borgen is one of the few shows on TV show to portray journalism with competence), she frequently butts heads with one of her reports, as she is unwilling to give up any sort of editorial control to her anchors.
Katrine presents an interesting alternative to Birgitte. While she’s always been successful in her professional life, she’s sometimes struggled to find long-term happiness. Since we last saw her, though, she’s maintained a loving and lasting relationship with Søren Ravn (Lars Mikkelsen), to whom she is now married and with whom she is raising two children. And while she, like Birgitte, is in a unique position of power this season, she’s struggling to maintain a grasp on it. The same questions we have presented to Birgitte over the years apply here too: How far is too far? How much is too much?
Like the three seasons that first captured our attention a decade ago and contributed to a growing desire for and interest in international television, Borgen: Power & Glory is a satisfying drama, one that has a lot to say about power, about women and how we’re viewed by society, and about what happens after we reach a certain age. It stands out in a crowded landscape for the way it places women in positions of power and asks them to engage with and react to a patriarchal society that rarely offers them the support they need or the respect they deserve. These eight new episodes might not always live up to the 30 that came before, but the messages within them and the debates they spark make them worth watching.
Borgen: Power & Glory is now streaming on Netflix.
Kaitlin Thomas is an entertainment journalist and TV critic. Her work has appeared in TV Guide, Salon, Gold Derby, Polygon, and TV.com, among other places. You can find her tweets about TV, sports, and Walton Goggins @thekaitling or read more of her work at kaitlinthomas.com.
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