At the top of this week’s Industry episode, Daniel (Alex Alomar Akpobome) asks Harper (Myha’la Herrold) for permission to be vulnerable. However odd the request may sound, it’s apt for the kind of environment the two of them inhabit. The world of Pierpoint—and finance in general, it follows—is not only ruthless but cold-hearted. There’s little room for emotions. Sure, Harper may still feel slightly guilty over having ousted Eric (more or less). As does Danny, for sure. But to be open, to be vulnerable, is to show weakness. At work, as in life, you’re supposed to keep your cards close to your chest. You’re not supposed to telegraph how, if at all, you’re feeling.
Asking permission to be vulnerable, then, allows both Harper and Daniel to maintain a modicum of distance between their feelings and their everyday interactions. It brackets off whatever he’s harboring and gives her agency over how and even if she acknowledges it. As a framing device, it helps set up an episode that forces our varied ensemble of characters to come face to face with emotions they’ve clearly long been ignoring.
And, surprise, they all have to do with family.
By design, season two of Industry has expanded outward from its rather razor-focus on Pierpoint’s workplace environ. We’ve gone on work trips and gotten to even follow former Pierpoint employees into their new lives in the public sector. But this episode may be the one that’s taken us furthest out from the Pierpoint trading floors and offices.
Harper, Yas (Marisa Abela), and Robert (Harry Lawtey) all spiral out of the controlled space of the office and into wilder territory, finding themselves confronting family histories that all but ask them to revert back into the anxious, clueless, and needy kids they once were.
Reunions with a brother, a nanny, and a father, respectively, allow each to reexamine where they once were and where they are now. Or rather, that’s what they all at first hope to do: Harper hopes to win over her brother with her new flashy job; Yas is eager to live out her continental fantasy; and Robert is all too happy to rub his success in his father’s face. Only, they each find that such neat encounters were never going to work. Mostly because it would’ve required them to remain calm. To remain stoic. To forgo any emotional excess—which none can accomplish.
Boasting that she loves their line of work because it allows her to remain planted firmly in the present (“I try not to dwell in the past”), Harper and her colleagues find that openly ignoring their past is ultimately no way to move forward.
Harper ends up a blubbering mess after tracking down her brother (who is, it must be noted, surprisingly chill about being found out by his sister whom he hadn’t talked to in years). Yas discovers yet more proof that even the sullied image she had of her father was all too clean. (Anyone who can candidly drop anecdotes about catching her parents cheating is clearly still processing.) And Robert, who remains committed to the Pierpoint script and who does a hell of a job embodying the asshole-driven world of finance to his young would-be recruit, has the realization that his pursuit of a way out of his father’s circumstances won’t earn him a way back into his life.
To watch Robert, having relapsed and singing in the church choir while nursing a hangover, or to watch Harper try to keep her cool while possibly still high in front of a client, is to witness these young, cosmopolitan professionals losing composure for people who truly have no time for them anymore. It also highlights that such tensions aren’t byproducts of what they’ve done with their lives but actual prerequisites for them.
By the time her brother loses his shit and cool, his words feel both damning and obvious in equal measure: “You only give a fuck about yourself,” he spews. “You’re a fucking narcissist.” What’s fascinating in that moment is that those very qualities are what she would otherwise value in herself. In a way, only caring about herself and focusing on her own wellbeing (not to mention future and possibilities) is what’s kept her afloat at Pierpoint. What has she been doing with the likes of Eric, Jesse, and Danny if not keeping her own interests at the forefront of every intimate relationship she’s built since she got to London?
The episode may have begun with a permission to be vulnerable but it ends with the futility of such a request. A much more hardened Harper returns to the office, uninterested in either opening up or letting others open up to her. To do so would require looking in the mirror and admitting that the raw emotions she let herself feel with her brother almost broke her. And since he’s not there to take her ire, she repurposes his words and throws them back at Danny. In doing so, she makes a statement not only about what she’s taking away from the weekend but also how she’s coming to see herself within the context of Pierpoint. And she may as well be talking to herself: “Maybe you just don’t like what you’re looking at.”
- I try to imagine what it would be like to say things like “Feels good to be back in the continent” and fail every time. Yet Yas makes it look so easy. So effortless.
- Speaking of Yas, of course she wouldn’t know how to pronounce Ja Rule!
- I wanted to single out the use of closed captions/subtitles during the Berlin nightclub sequence. It seems like such a small detail but it helped further disorient us and place us squarely in an unfamiliar world. But also, from a stylistic perspective, it was a welcome way to overcome the sound mixing issues that often come with such a scene. (There’s only so much yelling-over-the-music dialogue you can handle in any given scene, especially when such spaces so handily call for a kind of visual way of communicating that goes beyond yelled-out dialogue.)
- I wonder if we’ll ever meet Harper’s mother. Getting even more insight into who she is actually helps color Harper’s zeal for success. And I’d love to see that dynamic play out for us now that Harper’s circumstances are so different than they were when she first left the U.S. to pursue bigger, better things.