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'Borgen,' Episode 5: 'Men Who Love Women'

This episode will be streaming online for two weeks from October 12 to 26. Catch episodes of "Borgen" that aren't currently streaming via our recaps here.

Previously on "Borgen"

Katrine receives the scoop of a lifetime that the United States violated Danish law by landing CIA detainees on Danish territory. However, her pursuit of the story puts her and her source's lives in danger, ultimately leading her source to commit suicide. The news forces Birgitte to choose between two of Denmark's strongest allies and either cover up the Unites States' dirty tracks or stand up for Greenland. She decides to aid Greenland -- the weaker of the two -- and finally give the autonomous country in Denmark more control over its own security matters and foreign affairs. (Click here to read the complete recap for this episode.)

This week's episode: "Men Who Love Women"

Political theorists, rejoice! Machiavelli is back. And coincidentally, tonight's episode is better for it. The show opens with his words "All armed prophets have been victorious. All unarmed have been destroyed." Although it frames the episode well, the writers might have been better served by a quotation about women -- the episode's primary focus. "The one who offends woman wrongly or rightly is mad if he believes through prayers and weeping to find mercy in her" might have been a better opener. "Men Who Love Women" addresses the show's central theme of gender equality head on.

We find out in the opening scene that the cabinet is in the process of ratifying a gender equality bill that would implement quotas ensuring that women comprise at least half the board members of Danish companies. Only 1.5 percent of top executive positions in the country are currently held by women. This seems like an appropriate move for a cabinet that's half full of women. However, no one but Birgitte (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and the Minister of Economic Affairs Henriette Klitgaard, who drafted the bill, seems to think that -- not even the female Minister of Gender Equality Perniell Madsen. That's partly due to the fact that Perniell is bitter that she was passed over by the PM for the job of creating the bill. The Minister of Economic Affairs is the only person not voted into parliament. Birgitte plucked Henriette from her corporate job for the task.

Birgitte and Katrine's (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) sex affects every facet of their professional and personal lives, but it completely defines Henriette's life. Her gender is the omnipresent elephant in the room. The difference between the three powerful women? Henriette exudes sex appeal, while Birgitte and Katrine merely suggest it. The men of TV1 refer to the model-turned-minister as "the clit." Even with four degrees from foreign universities, people (including Kasper and TV1's Ulrik) can't get past the fact that she's sexy. Torben (Søren Malling) chooses Ulrik (Thomas Levin) instead of Katrine to conduct the interview with Henriette in order to avoid the appearance of bias, but he ends up being more lenient with his questioning than Katrine would have been. The Express publishes a cover story the following morning with a photo of a half-naked Henriette under the headline "One For the Board, Boys?", putting her sexuality even further on full display.

Each day brings a new conflict at work, preventing Birgitte from spending quality time with her family at home. She finally carves out a few hours for dinner and realizes that her children aren't enthused to see her. Both of her kids ask to be excused so Phillip (Mikael Birkkjær) allows his son to go start his homework and his daughter to go practice playing the piano. This doesn't sit too well with Birgitte, but it gives her some alone time with her hubby. She tells him that she has to head back to the office to meet with the CEO of Crohne Industries -- the country's largest corporation. The company allegedly dictated the government's corporate tax policy under Hesselboe's (Søren Spanning) leadership. Phillip worked in business before teaching at Copenhagen Business School so he's aware of the ramifications that his wife's bill will have on the business world. "Ministries and civil servants shouldn't get intimate with the corporate world," he says, referring to Birgitte's permanent secretary's relationship with Joachim Crohne. "Do we have to get a divorce, then?" Birgitte jokes. "I'm not a CEO. I just teach," he says. Do we sense some bitterness there in your voice, Phil?

Surprise, surprise! The PM meets with Joachim only to find out that his company opposes the gender equality bill. "We do understand that you being the first Danish woman PM feel compelled to fight for women's rights. However, it's always been an executive right to pick the board members," he says condescendingly. When he realizes that the PM isn't budging, he threatens to move Crohne abroad. After all, he can't allow his billion dollar corporation to be run by incompetent females. Joachim gives Birgitte two days to pull out the bill, giving her cabinet even more cause for alarm. The company accounts for 11 percent of the Danish gross national income. Making matters worse, five other large companies will pull out of the country if Crohne leaves.

The PM is then blackmailed by a member of her own cabinet when Perniell finally gains some leverage over her. She threatens to give an interview to TV1 to voice her discontent about Henriette composing a bill about a subject matter in her jurisdiction. "I'm your boss. I forbid it," the PM yells, fresh out of patience. She then asks Kasper how TV1 learned about the conflict between the two ministries. The spin doctor plays coy, even though he knows he's responsible for the mess. He let the information slip during breakfast with Katrine. Kasper runs off to Katrine's apartment to confront her as she's returning from a date with her spin instructor. She clearly loves spinners. Kasper yells at his ex for ignoring his warning that the information was confidential then receives a verbal beat-down of his own. Katrine tells him she dumped him because he was self-involved and secretive during their relationship. "I have no secrets," he says. "You have nothing but," she retorts.

That night Bigitte burns the midnight oil researching Joachim and his company. Instead of studying his background, her husband advises her to fight fire with fire and bluff her way out of the situation. "You can't bluff. You're a girl. Am i wrong?" he says half-jokingly. You'd think that a professor at a prestigious university would have more than one analogy at his disposal. He used the same poker metaphor when doling out advice about cabinet-forming negotiations. After denying his sexual advances because she was too busy with work, Birgitte finds out the next morning that Phillip slept with Henriette 17 years ago -- before he had met Birgitte -- when they worked together briefly at Simtech. He somewhat volunteers the info when he sees The Express' latest issue -- the front page is plastered with a sexy picture of Henriette with an article alleging that she slept her way to the top. "When you worked together you fu**ed her?" Birgitte asks, astonished. He admits to it and she becomes upset that he hid it from her.

Birgitte and Henriette meet soon after with their spin doctors to discuss how to address the PR nightmare. Kasper has an epiphany and ralizes that Crohne indirectly owns the publications, including The Express, that are running the smear campaigns. It's the company's way of turning the the public against Henriette and the bill itself. At this point, Birgitte has decided to drop the bill. The pressure from Crohne, the other major corporations, and her own cabinet members, including Bent, proves to be too much to handle. And on a subconscious level, Birgitte also wants Henriette to fail because she once slept with her husband. Kasper, who's been ogling Henriette incessantly, later meets the former lingerie model to stress that she can't use the argument that Crohne owns The Express to bring Laugesen down during their TV1 debate. They need to hide the PM's talks with the company from the public. He also tells her not to mention the bill, causing her to suspect that it's being ditched. And Kasper responds as any chauvinist would. He abruptly kisses the married mother of three and tells her they're not pursuing her bill. Henriette runs away upset.

Whether a strategic attempt to corner Birgitte into passing the bill or simply a loss of temper while debating with Laugesen, Henriette blabs the cabinet's secrets on national TV. "The corporate powers-that-be are dead against my proposal of putting more women on the Danish boards. Your paper is owned by Crohne Media who want the bill dropped," she says. Katrine, who conducts the interview, lets the minister have the last word and disobeys her producer's order to let Laugesen address the allegation.

The PM has a revelation of her own the following day. She realizes that Joachim had been bluffing throughout their conversation. Why would the richest and most powerful Dane alive, who donates to national organizations and parties with the queen, up and leave his beloved country at the age of 70. He wouldn't. Birgitte meets with Joachim and shoots him down with one word. "No. The answer is no," she says. "You run this country's largest company, we make the laws." She says that the consequences of giving in to his demands would be a far greater loss for democracy than him moving his company out of the country. It would essentially be moving 10,000 jobs out of Denmark to avoid adding three women to his executive board. Joachim agrees to support the bill and stay in the country in exchange for a two-year environmental tax break. A giddy Birgitte heads home and tells her husband "Your wife just beat the most powerful man in Denmark in poker." But now he's too tired to "celebrate." Their already inactive sex life has become even more dormant and the cracks in their relationship are widening with each episode.

The PM is forced to drop her poker face the next day when she learns that Henriette lied on her resume. Kasper suspects that Joachim is the person who discovered her secret and mailed the evidence to parliament. If Birgitte doesn't act on the fact that her minister blatantly lied about holding degrees she hadn't actually received, The Express will jump on it. The reasonable leader gives Henriette the opportunity to fess up and fires her on the spot when she doesn't. The information never leaks to the media and Henriette is allowed to pretend to resign. She hands over the ministry to Perniell.

The episode closes on a sad note. Kasper shows up to Katrine's jogging route with coffee and breakfast and catches her running with her fitness instructor. They share an intimate kiss. Heartbroken and embarrassed, Kasper throws the food away and leaves before he's noticed. This must be karmic intervention...

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KCET site editor, movie over-analyzer, TV binge-watcher.
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