Any episode that ends with a line that harkens back to arguably one of the best television episodes of the twenty-first century (that’d be Mad Men’s “Shut The Door, Have A Seat,” FYI) is always going to thrill me. There is something to be said about the way these series are kindred spirits. Industry, like that Emmy-winning AMC show, operates within and yet breaks out of its workplace trappings. All of our core characters exist wholly within their relationship to work. Even the moments when we see glimpses of their personal lives (and oh how they blur!) those calls for intimacy end up running up against impossible walls these young professionals have built for themselves.
Last week they confronted their pasts and saw how their families may well have been holding them back. This week, the Pierpoint crowd gets to figure out whether those other relationships they’ve built can withstand their ever-evolving notion of ambition.
On one end of the spectrum, we find Gus (David Jonsson). The lone Pierpoint employee who fled that company/industry, he stands now as a case study in what reconfiguring what ambition can look like. His family may pressure him to aim higher, to make good on his early promise. But with every passing day, Gus seems perfectly content with less. With Leo, obviously. But also with the kind of job that may not come with a great paycheck or even that big of a social footprint, but one that nourishes him in welcome ways. In a world that requires him to be productive—hyper-productive—and to see his life as something that needs to be maximized (for kids, apparently?), it’s refreshing to find Gus rebuking it all. He can and will do with less if it means being happy. (It’s telling that in a way he’s also letting go of notions of futurity and prosperity as conceived by the immigrant experience, but that feels like a much bigger topic, no?)
Gus aspired to a life he soon realized he never wanted; Yas has clearly lived and breathed wealth all her life so her promotion feels an all too appropriate next step (her ambition feels almost preternaturally innate), even if it came with an emotional misstep of sorts. But for others (cough Harper cough), a life of wanting is simply the only kind of life she can fathom. She wouldn’t want it to be any other way. As she tells Jesse, she’s all too happy to thrive in a gamified industry where it’s clear everyone is playing so long as she gets the satisfaction of winning. Her zeal has clearly brought her far. It’s how she landed Jesse in the first place. But her luck keeps running out. Or maybe it’s that her focus on winning (a “winner takes all” mentality that so often requires a “whatever the cost” kind of approach to life) can only help her so much. Or so it seems.
In a season full of high-stakes trading moments that had me cheering for Harper irrespective of what the hell she was accomplishing, her screwing over Rishi with Jesse has to be up there. Even if the moment of glory was short-lived. Can’t win ’em all, Harper! Especially when you insist on playing by yourself and see any kind of collaborative effort as necessarily impinging on your own brilliance.
As to whether she’ll be able to convince Eric to…well, who the hell knows what she’ll cook up with him now that it’s clear she no longer has Jesse’s ear, that is something for another day. But if the (even if unintentional) echo to Sterling Draper Cooper Pryce is any indication, we may be headed to a truly wild place where Pierpoint stops being our center of gravity and Harper gets to firmly anchor herself not in an institution but in her own skills.
The stakes keep getting higher and higher. Can Harper, like Don Draper before her, continue reinventing herself and building a future that requires further obscuring not only where she came from but the lies she told to get to where she’s at?
- If I were a different kind of person I’d re-watch The Big Short after (or in the middle of) this episode to better understand the mechanics of what Harper and Jesse were trying to accomplish. But that would require admitting that Adam McKay film clearly didn’t do its job correctly if I still couldn’t remember what “shorting” consists of. But yes, I do readily admit that probably has more to do with my financial illiteracy more than anything else.
- The way Myha’la Herrold chews gum and clenches her jaw is mesmerizing. What would otherwise be a physical tic to visually remind us of the self-inflicted stress and anxiety Harper lives with every day ends up being a hypnotic character tell that, in addition to her hair pulled back and her slick wardrobe, paint Harper as a wound-up young woman who knows she’s one crisis away from unraveling.
- Speaking of other random modern cinematic references: Did we really catch Yas and Celeste doing their best Matthew McConaughey-in-Wolf-Of Wall-Street?
- Sometimes a visual cue can feel a bit too…shall we say obvious? I didn’t mind the shot of Jesse’s empty chair at the talk he decided not to give. But that New York City snow globe? Too on-the-nose.
- I’m wildly fascinated by Kenny (Conor MacNeill). It’s not so much that over these two seasons we’ve seen some much well-earned growth from him. That in itself doesn’t feel that interesting; men like him get plenty of opportunities for atonement. It’s the way the show refuses to make him a martyr or a role model. He’s still insanely embarrassing and as socially awkward as he ever was. We’re more likely to side with Yas in how little grace she’s willing to grant him. And yet, his tenacity in the face of such indignity is perhaps proof enough that he may be becoming a better person than he ever thought possible.
- Oh, I almost didn’t write about Yas and Celeste! Or about Jesse’s “You know I’m an ally?” line. Both were moments that keep cementing Industry as arguably one of the queerest shows on television at the moment. Where else have you recently gotten such a lucid explanation of open relationships (sorry, polyamory) within the context of what, at first, seemed like a steamy, illicit sexual affair? “It is comforting to be in an institution like marriage and not feel trapped.” PREACH CELESTE! What’ll most stay with me from all of this is the way Yas used French as her language for desire and went cold when her narrative about being a plaything got reduced to rules and exceptions.