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Previously on "Borgen"
In an episode of shakeups, Phillip, who's having an affair, asks Birgitte for a divorce. Birgitte had decided to turn a blind eye to his dalliance and put on a show about their happy marriage for TV1's audiences (and Denmark at large), but her husband was unwilling to put up with the charade. Under pressure from the Labor Party, Birgitte also forces Bent to resign from his post as Ministry of Finance. Meanwhile, Katrine quits her job at TV1 when she discovers that Torben allowed Kasper to edit their feature segment on the PM. (Click here to read the complete recap for this episode.)
This week's episode: "89,000 Children"
The fundamental theme of the season two premiere of Borgen can be summed up concisely in one phrase: "Sometimes you have to do things, even though you don't want to." Several of the characters utter those words when they're struggling to make lose-lose decisions. The episode opens in Afghanistan 11 months after the first season ended. In a complete role reversal, Birgitte's (Sidse Babett Knudsen) career is on shaky ground as she makes the toughest decision of her professional life, while Katrine (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) appears to have finally found stability with a new job. Tonight's episode also addresses an ongoing debate, which also permeates our own government, about the necessity of the War in Afghanistan.
Birgitte visits Denmark's troops stationed in Afghanistan for some good ol' morale-boosting. She thanks the soldiers for putting their lives on the line to promote peace and democracy and informs them that parliament will soon decide on the future of their involvement in the war. Mere minutes after the PM says she's convinced they will return home soon, two Danish patrols come under attack. Birgitte, Kasper (Pilou Asbæk), and the Minister of Defense, Hans Christian Thorsen (Bjarne Henriksen), are immediately flown out, but Katrine, who is now working as a war correspondent for Express, sticks around. When two of the wounded soldiers are brought back to base, the reporter is left petrified, reporting live from the field, as her photographer snaps photos of the dying men.
On the plane ride back to Denmark, Birgitte and Hans Christian discover that an unprecedented five soldiers were killed that day. The Taliban simultaneously attacked the English, German, and American camps so the U.S. wants Denmark to postpone its vote to withdraw troops. This doesn't bode well for Birgitte, who's wanted to remove the troops and put the Afghans in charge from the first day of her prime ministry. She leaves one grim setting for the next as she comes home to an empty house. Phillip (Mikael Birkkjær) and her son stop by the following morning to grab Magnus' (Emil Poulsen) gym clothes. But instead of asking about her traumatic trip, like he used to, Phillip asks if she's signed their divorce papers yet.
Even though Katrine was supposed to be embedded with the troops for a week to gain insight into their lives, she's sent home early because of the unsafe conditions. Now back to reality, her new boss Laugesen (Peter Mygind) wants her to write an article blaming the PM for the soldiers' deaths -- headlined "Nyborg hesitates. Soldiers die." Kasper (who's getting ready to move in with his new girlfriend and fellow communication advisor, Lotte Agard) stops by her apartment later that night to drop off an external hard drive Katrine's photographer gave him for safekeeping. Katrine tells him that she's working on an article about the soldiers' deaths and Kasper assumes that it will take the "simplified angle" of blaming the PM. "Didn't you resign from TV1 because you didn't want to be Friis' puppet?" Kasper asks, hitting the nail on the head. Now Laugesen's wielding your pen, he says. No you're trying to wield it, she responds, before telling him to go home instead of manipulating the free press. "You're not part of the free press as long as you work for Laugesen. And you know it," he says, getting the last word in. As overbearing as Kasper can be, he's completely right. Torben and Laugesen are both unethical; their lack of journalistic standards are just manifested differently. While Torben (Søren Malling) was too hesitant to challenge the PM's government, Laugesen is too eager to destroy it. However, both men are obsessed with doing whatever it takes to gain an audience, one in terms of TV viewers and the other readers.
As usual, Kasper gets into Katrine's head. Katrine tells Laugesen the following day that she can't write something she doesn't believe in. With Hanne's (Benedikte Hansen) encouragement, he agrees to put someone else on the story and allows Katrine to pursue a feature on the first soldier who died during the attack. Before she left the base in Afghanistan, Katrine found out that the soldier (like everyone else in the military) wrote a letter to be sent home in the event of his passing. The boots-on-the-ground journalist tracks down the soldier's dad to get a hold of the note. Her visit doesn't go according to plan. The grieving father says he never supported his son's decision to join the army. He hasn't even read the letter so he certainly doesn't want Katrine reading it, let alone publishing it in the Express.
Meanwhile, Birgitte finds out during a cabinet meeting that Spain and Italy still favor Denmark's withdrawal from Afghanistan. Amir Dwian (Dar Salim), Minister of the Environment, and Jacob Kruse (Jens Jacob Tychsen), Minister of the European Union, want the troops to come home. Hans Christian is the only one who wants them to stay put. Instead of complying with the majority vote, he goes behind Birgitte and the cabinet's back to promise support to the Unites States government. Knowing Hans Christian, he probably got a free hunting trip out of it. Birgitte then finds out that three more soldiers have died, bringing the total to eight people in two days.
Birgitte later meets with an Afghan NGO and pulls a total 180 about her stance on the war. The woman who founded the organization tells her that Denmark's presence in Afghanistan is crucial. "If you leave Afghanistan before we are ready to take care of ourselves, then there is no hope. Then the Taliban is all the Afghans have left," she says, shocking Birgitte. This conversation causes Birgitte to reconsider the opinion she held her entire life. Bent gets wind of her sudden change of heart and gives her a stern fatherly lecture. "The Moderates have always opposed any participation in armed conflicts," he says. "It's a beautiful principle, but it's outdated" Birgitte responds. She says she inherited the war and has never condoned it, but must admit that it has toppled the Taliban. Birgitte now wants to wait for stability before removing the troops. "When in the last 2,000 years has the situation in Afghanistan been stable?" Bent asks before leaving, upset and completely disappointed in his former mentee.
Instead of gaining an ally in Hesselboe (Søren Spanning) with her new position, the former PM withdraws his support to keep the troops stationed in Afghanistan. He tells her to devote more funding to the military in order to allow them to adequately do their jobs. So she's left with two choices: to withdraw or to keep them in place, providing them with more weapons and equipment. Kasper advises her to keep her word to the soldiers' families and to her voters and approve the withdrawal. But Birgitte isn't so sure. "Little Miss PC, always doing the right thing," she says about herself.
Later that night, she finally breaks down into tears about her divorce. Phillip has been pressing her about signing divorce papers. She keeps pretending to forget to do so, but in reality has been putting it off because she wants to stay married. "I'm at war at the office. I'm at war at home," she says in between sobs. "Sometimes you have to do things, even though you don't want to," he says, giving her a hug. Their daughter Laura overhears from the stairwell.
Katine has now given up on her story. After visiting the late soldier's father for the second time, she decides not to push him further. Laugesen is livid when he finds out that she's failed to write yet another assigned article. Instead of firing her, he gives her an easy assignment -- to cover a press conference between the PM and military families. Even though Kasper tells Birgitte not address the crowd, she feels obligated to do so. The dead solider's father, who Katrine had been pursuing for her story, also shows up to there, with a picture of the PM and her son in hand. Birgitte had taken the photo during her visit. She decides to meet with the mourning dad one-on-one. He reads the letter his son had sent him, which said that 89,000 Afghan children have survived thanks to the foreign military presence in their country. War is senseless, but 89,000 children makes sense, the dad reads aloud as he bawls. He later gives Katrine the letter, allowing her to finish the article and thereby receive from her boss.
Brigitte calls a meeting with the sergeant of the troop she visited in Afghanistan to decide once and for all whether to withdraw or not. After hesitating to voice his opinion, he finally says they can't pull out mid attack. They have to stay long enough (five to six more years) to appropriately train their army and police. So the PM obliges. She convinces parliament to vote against the withdrawal and in favor of spending more money on military equipment. Talk about wielding power! The episode closes with Amir lamenting that he didn't want to support this decision, but did so for the sake of the government. "Sometimes you have to do things, even though you don't want to."
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Borgen is an award-winning Danish drama series about the fight for political power and the personal consequences for everyone involved.