Stevie TV is a new monthly column for the Spinoff by Steve Braunias. Here he imagines scenes from a New Zealand Borgen.
“Teflon Key’s coat’s wearing thin as she trades chips with Sky City who wants us to stump up with some cash for the new convention centre in Auckland that the PM promised would be built for zilch in return for money making gambling concessions being given to the casino.”
– Barry Soper, Newstalk ZB Soapbox
Newly elected Prime Minister Bronagh Key comes home after a hard day’s work running the country to find her wise and supportive husband doing the dishes.
John: At the end of the day I think most New Zealanders would agree it’s important to clear away the dishes at the end of the day.
Bronagh: I see you’re talking in subtitles again.
John: No one can understand a word I’m saying otherwise.
Bronagh: I like the subtitles. They give you a certain depth.
John: Yes. It’s strange how that works. How was your day?
Bronagh: Good. New Zealand went to war in Iraq, and then I went to the gym. Afterwards I did some shopping, had coffee, and chose a new artwork for the spare room.
John: Can I see it?
Bronagh: Here it is.
Bronagh: It’s a Simon Denny. It exemplifies the artist’s critical and creative responses to the contested space of the media-sphere, which has for some time been the object of his attention. Oh and it also entails a dynamic slippage between information, images, and objects.
John: It’s a lot of sacks wrapped in plastic, spilling down the stairs.
Bronagh: Note how it echoes the quote at the top of the show by Barry Soper, taken verbatim from his Soapbox segment on Newstalk ZB.
John: You mean neither make a lick of fucking sense?
Bronagh: That’s why I love you. Give me a kiss, you adorable house husband. Oh! What’s this?
John: A hipster beard. Like it?
Bronagh: Bed. Now, sunshine!
Bronagh sweeps onto the set of Seven Sharp to talk about what’s in her fridge. First, she consults with her spin doctor, David Cohen.
Bronagh: What am I going to say? I haven’t looked in the fridge in months.
Cohen: Milk. Eggs. Cheese.
Bronagh: I like it but it’s not enough. What else?
Cohen: Chops. Sausages. Mince.
Bronagh: Christ, that’s brilliant. Such a wide range. What else?
Cohen: Bread. Butter. Herrings.
Cohen: It’s a nod to Denmark, where the original series was made.
Bronagh: A masterstroke.
Cohen: Thank you. That’ll be $950.
Bronagh: Money well spent. Here you are.
Cohen: Oh no! Instead of our pet hamster Mike Hosking, your interviewer will be a ruthless Nordic ice queen a bit like the one in Borgen.
Rebecca Wright: Prime Minister Bronagh. Is this really the best time for New Zealand to deploy troops to Iraq at a time when Isis State are arguably a spent force?
Andrew Little: I think I can answer that question. And it’s no.
Bronagh: No one told me you would be on the show. There’s something fishy going on. I’ve been blindsided. Politics is a complex, high-stakes game, with its concessions and ultimatums, and I’m not sure I know how to play it.
Close-up on her worried face.
Bronagh holds late-night crisis talks with trusted National Party operative, Bill Ralston. They stand together at the top-floor window of Bronagh’s mansion, and look out.
Bill: All this can be yours. But power isn’t a cute little lapdog. You’re going to have to grab it and hold onto it.
Bronagh: All politics is about seizing the day.
Bill: It requires analysis, consequence, and execution.
Bronagh: Democracy is the worst way to run a country – except for all the others.
Bronagh: It’s from Churchill. It was at the top of last week’s episode.
Bill: Yes, I saw that. But the actual quote was, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except all those others that have been tried.”
Bronagh: It’s an ungainly translation.
Bill: It makes you wonder how many of the subtitles are badly translated. Perhaps a lot of the dialogue is lost in translation, as they say.
Bronagh: I’m not sure if that’s the issue.
Bill: What do you mean?
Bronagh: I mean I don’t think it’s important. The quote from Churchill is ungainly, like I said, but it’s close. I think what’s more interesting is the role that sub-titles play in TV shows. You look at all the new wave of programmes from Denmark – Borgen, The Killing, etc. People are crazy about them. But perhaps one of the crucial reasons is the subtitles. The experience of reading them gives the reader a kind of literary experience. There’s something else going on other than the passive role of watching TV. Reading is active; it demands close attention. Subtitles also benefit from the magical properties of the written word.
Bill: So what do you think Borgen would be like if you stripped away the subtitles?
Bronagh: Kind of boring.
Bill: I think your argument is fatuous. It doesn’t take into account the acting, the lighting, the editing, and the beautiful production values. And the actual storytelling. The narrative, doesn’t rely on subtitles.
Bronagh: Are you drunk?
Bill: Sadly, no.
Bronagh: Oh, look! It’s John. Say something in subtitles.
John: At the end of the day I think the majority of New Zealanders would support military action against a bunch of fucking savages.
Bronagh: What you said looked so good in print that it has empowered me to continue on as Prime Minister and proceed with sending troops to Iraq. Thank you, darling!
John: I actually came in to tell you that you’ve a visitor.
Bronagh: At this time of night?
John: It’s Donghua Liu and his family.
Bronagh: Well, show them in! Mustn’t keep them waiting! Do we have any fortune cookies?
Borgen plays on the Arts Channel, Thursdays at 8.30pm