HBO’s British-American banking drama “Industry” is back in full force. Aptly heralded as the “first great Gen Z workplace drama,” according to GQ, the high-stakes series has generated a cult following for more than its trademark purple hoodies.
Pierpoint & Co. is the fictional London-based investment bank where chaos ensues in “Industry.” In Season 1, viewers watch a class of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed junior bankers vie to prove their worth and secure a permanent spot at Pierpoint. Created by ex-bankers Mickey Down and Konrad Kay, the show follows a group of 20-somethings as they navigate career, life and relationships, with a side of debauchery, of course.
While the first season laid the exposition, the second season of “Industry” digs deeper, forcing the characters to reckon with whether they can “be the change” within a toxic work environment or cede their humanity in the name of success.
The show explores what happens when capitalism, institutionalization, identity and power coalesce, using these young grads as vessels to mirror the best and worst parts of ourselves. Aside from the drugs, sex and business school jargon, “Industry” is its own kind of coming-of-age story.
In Season 2, the ambitious Harper Stern (Myha’la Herrold) and her colleagues return to the office after the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked international havoc. Now third-year bankers, Stern, Yasmin Kara-Hanani (Marisa Abela) and Robert Spearing (Harry Lawtey) have developed a trauma bond and are tasked with not only thriving but also surviving in the callous, coke-filled world of corporate finance.
On the CPS desk, Stern is determined to secure mastermind investor Jesse Bloom, aka “Mr. Covid,” as the anchor for a pending billion-dollar deal, but not without some challenges. Throughout the season, it becomes increasingly clear that her managing director, Eric Tao (Ken Leung), senses Harper eclipsing him.
“Harper being super-talented, young, American, a woman of color and diminutive evokes in Eric a kind of paternal feeling, in some ways, and other things, including competition. There’s this kind of fatherly attitude he has towards her that I think she’s starting to chafe against,” writer Jami O’Brien told HuffPost. “In some ways, the story is about the coming of age of these grads. I think a natural step in that process is to break away from your parents, including Harper breaking away from Eric. He’s grappling with his place in the industry and life, so seeing this young, super-talented up-and-comer is threatening to him.”
The power struggle continues as colleagues-turned-friends-turned-mortal enemies Yasmin and Harper come to head. At the end of Season 1, Harper chose to protect Eric over line manager Daria to ensure her job security; consequently, Daria, who was Yasmin’s boss, was fired.
Despite Daria’s promises of changing the very corporate culture she propagated to get to the top, Harper’s self-interest trumped everything and everyone else — including Yasmin. Their icy bathroom exchange upon Harper’s return to in-person work is only a glimpse of what’s to come.
“They both felt truly rejected by the other one at the end of Season 1. It’s almost like a breakup in that way. People’s egos have been bruised,” said Marisa Abela, who plays Yasmin, the young publishing heiress. “There is love lost between them. There was a sort of true sort of kinship between the two of them, they had an actual connection. I think that there is a road to salvation for their relationship, but more than anything, these two speak truths to each other quite often. As painful as it is for them to hear, it’s those truths that kind of ring in their head when a problem is occurring.”
The show’s co-creator Mickey Downs added, “Yasmin says to Harper there in the first episode, ‘Good luck trying to find someone to love you,’ which goes right to the core of Harper’s insecurity. She’s thinking, ‘I do not want to put myself out there with people who I will potentially form a loving relationship with because I don’t think I’m good enough. They’ll think less of me or I’ll show some form of vulnerability, emotional weakness — and they will use it against me.’ It’s a tragedy in some respects, but it is also kind of the origin story of the Harper we’re gonna explore for hopefully multiple seasons.”
As Yasmin toils away on the foreign exchange (FX) desk, she’s met with the return of her harasser and now-sober colleague Kenny, plus a new, younger intern named Venetia. Played by Indy Lewis, Venetia is not at Pierpoint to dim her light. She is uninterested in keeping up archaic traditions, such as being the desk’s errand girl, and has the gusto to say “no,” which Yasmin deeply resents.
“Venetia doesn’t need Yasmin’s help, and Venetia feels very self-assured and empowered at work. That really just triggers Yasmin because I think people don’t like to feel like they put themselves in a position of being a victim,” Abela told HuffPost. “They like to feel like it was thrust upon them and that there was nothing I could have done to change what happened to me. Whereas Venetia is sort of a walking symbol of ‘Maybe if I just said no, everything would have been fine.’ Unfortunately, I think that Yasmin probably paved the way for when Venetia says, ‘I don’t want to get lunch for everyone on the desk.’ She’s just too far gone to really see it that way.”
Abela said that audiences are watching “trauma cycles take place in real-time with Yasmin and Venetia.” Rather than guiding Venetia through the FX minefield, Yasmin, who has been indoctrinated by Pierpoint’s practices, just enacts and regurgitates the harm that she suffered. O’Brien noted that this is a testament to one of the themes of “Industry” — the institutionalization of people.
“Young people get fed into these systems and these institutions, and one of the things that the show is grappling with is whether or not you can enter an institution like Pierpoint and hold on to any shred of humanity. We know institutions are very hard to change, and they are very, very persistent,” said O’Brien. “What does it take to be successful in this world? Venetia has a line later in the season, which I absolutely love, which is, ‘Do you ever feel yourself corroding in real-time?’ We’ll see Pierpoint have its way with Venetia as well, as it does with all of the characters on the show, including Yasmin.”
In Season 2, an unsuspecting ally extends a life raft to Venetia, as Yasmin’s former boy toy Robert has reinvented himself. Raised in a working-class household, Robert joins Pierpoint under the impression that the trading floor is where true meritocracy matters.
“It’s people — in that kind of sensitive time in their lives — trying to make major discoveries, but doing it in an environment that is so unkind, toxic and demanding… I’d like to think that our show is a coming-of-age story. I really believe that it’s about young people discovering themselves, they just happen to be doing it in an unusual place.”
– Harry Lawtey, who stars as Robert Spearing on “Industry”
However, the well-intentioned personality hire is wildly incompetent and unconfident; albeit given multiple chances to do the right thing, many times, Robert falls short. Unlike Harper who doubles down and fulfills the mission by any means necessary, Robert buckles. “Love him but Robert, I don’t think he’s a killer — and that’s where he doesn’t align with this culture,” Lawtey told HuffPost.
“He makes mistakes because he’s a young person in his 20s. That’s what that phase in your life is all about,” Lawtey said. “But in a way, that’s what the show is about, as well. It’s people — in that kind of sensitive time in their lives —trying to make major discoveries but doing it in an environment that is so unkind, toxic and demanding. He’s having to work out whether he can be this person who he thinks is better, more true to himself, somebody who can look in the mirror and respect. Can I be that person and still do this job? Or will this job change me without my consent?”
During the season, Venetia refers to Robert’s new demeanor as a “Damascene conversion,” which Lawtey says might be over the top, but isn’t far from it. To Lawtey, as the series analyzes toxic workplace culture, it reinforces the notion that good people can be complicit in bad things. Throughout “Industry,” Robert continues to wrestle with trying his best and discern what being good means.
“The likes of Robert and Yasmin genuinely think they’re doing [Venetia] a favor by giving that advice. Because that’s the way they were treated, and as with anything, as with any workplace, culture has a trickle-down effect from the top,” Lawtey said. “If that’s something that’s set, then it’s infectious. It’s a shame to see, and you don’t excuse it, but you understand it. I’d like to think that our show is a coming-of-age story. I really believe that it’s about young people discovering themselves; they just happen to be doing it in an unusual place.”
Meanwhile, Robert’s flatmate Gus Sackey (David Jonsson) left Pierpoint at the end of last season, feeling underutilized, undervalued and not challenged by the finance world. Black, gay and ordained for greatness, Sackey is the son of a Ghanaian ambassador to Angola and an Oxford graduate. Yet he’s been unemployed for almost a year and hasn’t told his family the whole truth. In Season 2, audiences watch Gus walk the tightrope between fulfilling the desires of African parents and figuring out what — and who — enrich him and his bank account.
“A lot of Season 1 was him just like striking out and doing what he was meant to be doing,” Jonsson told HuffPost. “So much so that he forgets why he’s doing it. Whereas now everything is kind of under this microscope, where every decision that he makes is kind of like, ‘Well, how’s that gonna affect your future?’ Then you add into, as you rightfully pointed out, West African parents. It’s like, ‘Now listen, that’s not going to cut it. Give us some more justification here.’”
He continued, “Season 2 for Gus is very testing in terms of who he wants to be, who he thinks he should be, all the things that he can be, and weighing those things out against the sacrifices that his parents made to just simply be himself. It’s not just you riding the ship. We have ancestors who have done this before us way back. I try to get into Gus as much as possible because I think he’s so intricate. I hope people can be empathetic to who these people are.”
The stellar writing, casting, acting and suspense of “Industry” contribute to the series’ allure. But its strength is the ability to accurately convey the gray parts, red flags and harder lessons of adulthood and the journey to self-actualization. Co-creator Konrad Kay told HuffPost that while the writers have sought to not be too didactic about the message of “Industry,” the show’s mission in Season 1 was to make “righteously entertaining” television.
“I think the show has gotten deeper from a character point of view. Its themes and its moral complexity feel less slapdash. The moral choices the characters are making and their overall arcs are much clearer,” Kay said.
He went on to add that the show has done exactly what he and co-creator Down hoped to do, which is “live really in the gray of existence” where none of the characters fall into archetypical TV.
“Making people invest eight hours of their time is really quite a difficult thing,” Kay said. “We just hope we’ve made something that’s super watchable, has good week-to-week hooks, and people feel like they want to keep coming back to.”