Episode 5, Plant a Tree starts with a typical political publicity stunt beloved of many a politician:Birgitte is filmed planting a tree and talking up the government’s latest green policy. The problem is though that it’s January and as the nurseryman who supplied the tree points out to Kasper Juul, Birgitte’s spin doctor, nobody plants a tree at that time of the year. Kasper couldn’t care less: the only outdoors that the pasty-faced Kasper ever communes with is the pavement between the office and his apartment.
After the planting of the tree is faked so that Birgitte can deliver her piece-to-camera, the politicians and the spin doctor in their gas guzzlers drive out, leaving the gardener to dispose of the tree. What is he supposed to do with the tree, he asks Kasper. The spin doctor shrugs and tells him to throw it away. “Nobody plants a tree in January,” Kasper says, before casually taking a drag on his cigarette and leaping into the waiting car.
What I particularly liked about this episode is that it reveals the ruthlessness behind the political scenes. No matter how personable Birgitte comes across, it was she who gave Kasper the go ahead to discredit the Climate and Energy Minister, Amir, by revealing to the press that he has a collection of vintage gas-guzzling Cadillacs. Birgitte badly needs the support of Amir, the coalition’s rising star and only minister from an ethnic minority. But her plan to bring him back into line goes disastrously wrong as the press lays into Amir to such an extent that he is forced to resign. And then Birgitte loses the support of the entire Green Party.
As each side refuses to budge over policy Birgitte has her work cut out for her, trying to appease both sides yet still retain cross-party support for her policies. I found the hypocrisy involved over the green policies in this episode to be very true to life. Once a political party is elected, bit by bit all their idealistic policies they proposed to the electorate are either watered down or thrown out altogether.
One of the strengths of Borgen is that we see the chaotic domestic lives of all the major characters. Katrine Fonsmark, the ambitious journalist is so driven by her work that at 31 she’s still living like a student in a tiny rented studio apartment. Kasper Juul is a damaged commitment phobic who seems incapable of renting his own apartment. Instead he boomerangs from one jilted girlfriend to another.
Birgitte’s domestic arrangements may look orderly, on the surface: she has an au pair who cooks and helps out at home. But on closer inspection, Birgitte’s home life is just as chaotic. Her marriage has collapsed yet we never really find out what really went wrong – apart from Philip being fed up with Birgitte putting work before family.
Birgitte does try to be a good mother but she lacks awareness of the agonies her daughter Laura is suffering. Low self-esteem is bad enough for teenage girls. Imagine what it must feel like if you happen to be the daughter of the most powerful person in the country. No pressure there, then!
Birgitte is less sure of herself when she finds herself in a tense meeting with her ex and his new girlfriend, who happens to be the paediatrician who first alerted her that Laure’s teenage angst was something more serious. Birgitte doesn’t want to let go of Philip and finds it particularly painful to be without him. There is one particularly poignant moment when Birgitte is alone. She holds her head in her hands, as if to say, how can I go on like this?
Borgen is currently screening in the UK on BBC 4.