Squawk Box: Andor/Borgen: Power and Glory

I'm just going to come right out and say it: Andor is the best Star Wars show to date. Hands down. It should also serve as a challenge to anyone playing around in that universe to up their game because this is a show that demonstrates the full potential of what Star Wars could actually be if the powers that be wanted it. (And if they don't, one hopes they're looking at this show and re-evaluating a lot of their thinking about the franchise.)

Andor tells the story of Cassian Andor, which is a character we met first in Rogue One. In Rogue One, he's a spy for the Rebel Alliance and deeply committed to the cause, but the show starts five years before, where we meet a very different Cassian. This Cassian, (still played by Diego Luna, reprising his role from the movie) is a bit of a ne'er do well, cynical and searching for his sister. We find out that he and his sister were separated when their planet Kenari was destroyed in a botched imperial mining project.

While searching for his sister on the industrial planet of Morlana One, he's antagonized by two corporate security officers and accidentally kills one and murders the other. He flees back to the planet Ferrix, where he gets his adopted mother Maarva's (the excellent Fiona Shaw) droid B2EMO (Dave Chapman) and his friend Brasso (Joplin Sibtain) to cover for him. He's picked up a Starpath Unit (valuable Imperial navigation technology) and wants to try and sell it to get off the planet-- unfortunately, this attracts the attention of Morlana's security including Syirl Karn (Kyle Soller) who is determined to solve the case and it also attracts a buyer, Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgard) who is a part of the Rebel Alliance.

Andor gets away and is presented by Luthen with a choice: help in a heist and he can either join the cause or walk away with enough money to be very comfortable for as long as he wants and find his sister. Reluctantly, Cassian agrees and joins a crew preparing to rob the imperial garrison at Aldhani. While they plan for that, Luthen goes back to Coruscant and meets with Mon Mothma (Genevieve Riley) a Senator from the wealthy core plant of Chandrila who is leading something of a double life, while trying to navigate the politics of the empire and being a Senator while at the same time secretly funding the nascent rebel alliance.

The heist at Aldhani is successful, though not without its costs and Andor takes his share of the cut and leaves- but promptly gets caught up in a new imperial crackdown and sent to prison on Narkina 5. His cynicism, which was already showing cracks as he worked with the radicalized crew doing the Aldfhani heist really breaks down here, and eventually, radicalized, at last, he leads a mass prison break and flees to safety. 

Everything converges back on Ferrix, where both the Empire and the Rebels are searching for Andor-- the former to take him into custody, the latter to kill him because of his knowledge of the organization. In the end, it comes down to Andor and Luthen and he demands that he be taken in to join the Rebel Alliance or be killed.

There is so much to love about this show I don't even know where to begin. First of all, it actually tackles the nitty gritty of finding and growing a rebellion in a mature, believable way. It's not easy. It's hard on people, living double lives. You never know who you can trust and sometimes you have to make very hard choices that lead to sacrifices. Second of all, this is so blessedly free of anything Jedi related, I can't tell you how refreshing it is. We don't see Tatooine at all. But what we do get is a look at the bureaucracy of the Empire and how it can be ponderous and inefficient on the one hand while being oppressive and unjust on the other. It's really nice to get down to the micro level on how the Empire actually functions on a day-to-day level and I think it's a sign of the maturation of the franchise- which is weird to say about a franchise that's been around for nearly fifty years. 

Overall: Great writing, great cast, great story-- best Star Wars show to date and I can't wait for the second (and unfortunately, last) season to drop. My Grade: **** out of ****

I think I might have almost forgotten that a new season of Borgen was landing on Netflix. But, naturally, having seen the first three, I knew at some point I would have to get around to the new episodes, and finally, I did.

Season 4, subtitled "Power & Glory", picks up more or less where Season 3 ended- with Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen) holding the Foreign Ministry with her party the New Democrats holding a few other ministries in a coalition government led by a Labour Prime Minister, the hip, social media savvy Signe Kragh (Johanne Louise Schmidt) (So instead of a 'blue' coalition at the end of Season 3, she's in a 'red' coalition.) The show opens with Birgitte more or less wholly enraptured by her work. There's no one in her life. Her kids have grown up and a more or less out of the house her ex-husband, Phillip (Mikael Birkkjaer) has remarried and is having a baby. Work seems to be all she has.

Happily, work provides her with a new challenge. Oil has been discovered in Greenland. The Greenlandic Government is all too eager to announce that to the world as quickly as they can. Birgitte and her party, having been elected on a climate change manifesto, try and dissuade Greenland from using the oil. Katrine Fonsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) is back at TV1- this time as the Head of News. She's also now in a relationship with Soren Ravn (Lars Mikkelsen). Birgitte finds out that the Prime Minister is planning on bringing in the former Labour Party Leader Michael Laugesen (Peter Mygind) as her Chief of Staff- Birgitte leaks it to the press, which blocks the move, but in retaliation, the Prime Minister puts her in charge of the Greenland issue.

The subsequent episodes throw Birgitte into a multi-pronged crisis that sees the pressure on her rise on multiple fronts and nearly pushes her to a breaking point. She discovers that both the Russians and the Chinese are interested in the Greenlandic oil, which in turn bring pressure from the Americans. She's also starting menopause (at least I'm guessing? Seems to be heavily implied that she is.) Her son Magnus (Lucas Lynggaard Tonnensen) is involved in a militant animal rights organization and frees some pigs which get picked up by the press and lead to a temporary and public rupture between the two of them. 

She further compounds her problems by somehow (with the help of Laugesen, who she brings aboard as a secret advisor to help her become more modernized in her strategy and use of social media) deciding to flip her position on the oil and wanting Greenland to exploit it because it's a relatively small amount of oil in the grand scheme of things and the money could be used to fund Danish social programs. This immediately causes a crisis within her own party, the New Democrats which eventually culminates with her colleague Jon Berthelsen (Jens Albinus) challenging her for the leadership of the party.

Eventually, things come to a head and Birgitte goes to Greenland herself and comes to the conclusion that her position was wrong. When even her old friend and mentor, an ailing Bent Sejro (Lars Knutzon) says he can no longer recognize his own friend, she not only reverses her position on the oil again but resigns as party leader, clearing the way for Jon to take over as Foreign Minister-- but not before (it's broadly hinted) that she might be nominated as Denmark's next EU commissioner.

(Oh, Katrine? She has a bad time as Head of News of TV1 on multiple levels and eventually quits to write a book with Torben (Soren Malling) called Power In Denmark.)

Overall, the return of Borgen doesn't miss a beat. Though there are some notable absences (Pilou Askaek didn't return as spin doctor Kasper Juul and I feel as if his presence could have provided a nice counterweight to Birgitte's embrace of the 'dark arts' with Laugesen) but other than that, it's great. The Greenlandic angle to all is perfect-- there's lots of history and tension between both Greenland and Denmark that's fertile ground for the overall storyline and the plot development. I also like that as a character, Nyborg is always torn between her love/obsession with her work/career and something else. Whether it's an ambition for power (as in this season) or trying to be a good mother/save her marriage (as in Seasons 1-2). She's been to the mountaintop and there's always going to be a part of her that wants to get back there-- even though the intricacies of Denmark's coalition politics oftentimes seem to irritate her and while she's willing to be ruthless where she has to be, she's ultimately not willing to sacrifice everything at the cost of her humanity/basic principles.

If there's a weak spot to this season it might be Katrine's storyline. I love her character and it's not... bad- it's a nice contrast with Nyborg's arc, I just don't think it lands well. She has all the power and comes to the realization that she doesn't want it over the course of her arc- but she also seems to have been given no clear training in management at all. She seems to still want to be a journalist and that part... strains credibility a little. I mean, I'll allow for cross-cultural differences a wee bit, but I don't think you'd become the head of news without someone being like, "hey, you can't just make changes willy-nilly, this is a union shop." and "hey, if someone wants to have a baby, that's cool! Even if it might be inconvenient for your staffing!" 

Great to see this cast again, great story and it's so good to see this show again. Very little to complain about here. My Grade: *** out of ****


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