There is no good. There is no bad. There is only work.
As a mantra, or a tagline, even, that’s as clunky as they get. But those were the lines that kept running through my head upon finishing the penultimate episode of Industry’s near-perfect second season. Ethical questions, after all, which seem so central to the show’s narrative, are constantly being pushed aside (or “buried,” to use this episode’s language). Whether it’s a sexual assault allegation or even an attempt at insider trading, the characters in Industry constantly find themselves setting aside their inner moral compass in the service of a greater goal: their ambition, yes, and money (obviously), but success above all.
Over its first two seasons, this HBO/BBC Two production has done a handsome job of sketching out how individuals make themselves helpless in the eyes of a system they know they can’t (or won’t allow themselves the imaginary power to think they can) change. But to watch the likes of Harper Stern (Myha’la Herrold), Yasmin Hanani (Marisa Abela), and Robert Spearing (Harry Lawtey) bear witness to the way their industry demands silence and submission but find ways of weaponizing such knowledge for their own benefit is one of the perverted joys of the show. Especially because, as written and performed, the murky ethics involved here are never presented in dull, didactic ways.
Take Rob, who’s been struggling both with his sobriety and with the knowledge that his sexual relationship with Nicole, his high-powered client, may not be the romantic affair he’d let himself buy into. At every moment since he first discovered he’d not been singled out (for his good looks, for his background, for his charm)—when he found out Nicole had also once insinuated herself onto Harper—Rob’s been toying with how to proceed. He’s kept his distance and tried to set new boundaries, knowing full well he’d crossed a line that now put him in a rather tenuous situation. And even when he sees the possibility that Nicole may move on to a newer target (Indy Lewis’s ambitious if wide-eyed Venetia), he opts to disengage. Or, rather, to do the absolute minimum to care for his would-be protégé.
The choice backfires, of course. Because, unlike Rob, Harper, and Yas—all of whom have brushed aside or outright benefited from such sexual advances from clients and colleagues alike—Venetia sees right through what she was subject to. She calls it how she sees it: a sexual assault. It’s an expression that makes even Yas flinch. In one of the episode’s most self-revealing moments, the young heiress turned personal wealth manager admits that if she was to see any kind of untoward sexual advance as “assault” then, well, she was assaulted the night before. The flippant comment doesn’t get the comforting laughter she expected. Instead, she’s forced to really digest how it is that Venetia sees those moments of power imbalances. (The young grad really doesn’t take to lines like “Assault is a sliding scale,” it seems.) Nevertheless, it’s Yas’ words which then clearly ring in her ear as Venetia wonders if she’s making too much of what was, as Yas herself put it, something that’s happened to them all too many times to count.
Such systemic condoning of Nicole’s behavior (or not outright condemning it) goes all the way up to the top. Petty HR quibbles are “mosquitoes” to the brass. All they care about is performance. As we’ve learned time and time again, people have no value in places like Pierpoint unless they’re making money for the company. And even then, they have an expiration date (see: Eric). It is absurd to think such an environment would truly put “care” over “profitability” when it came to their employees, let alone their clients. In a way, Venetia’s allegations and the bureaucratic domino effect it’s triggered may be one of the bleakest storylines Industry has yet to produce, especially as it eventually gets hijacked (by Harper, no less!) into a power play that gets Daniel (Alex Alomar Akpobome) into her, Eric, and Rishi’s plan to leave Pierpoint and start somewhere else anew. As with everything else, a crisis like this one is but an opportunity, no matter the human cost.
The episode began with a kind of thriller-esque vibe, what with the three Pierpoint traders taking illegal photos of the company’s intellectual property. And we end at a bar, with a new plan and a new alliance, a chance to leave the messiness of Pierpoint behind. But can Harper continue to run away from her problems, personal and professional alike? Can she find her way to Bloom’s good graces in time for her to make her biggest career leap yet? And how will Rob and Yas handle their own mishandling of Venetia’s wellbeing? The series opened with a cautionary tale about what happens when profits are put over people, but it seems no one is really heeding that warning. So are we in for a bang or a whimper of a season finale?
- “Why are you dressed like Kendall Roy?” is such a specific putdown. I was impressed by how nonchalantly Ken Leung lobbed it our way.
- Jesse wearing an “Of Course I Cum I’ve Got Fish to Catch” tee is so stupidly hilarious in so many different ways that I feel the need to single out the amazing work Colleen Morris Glennon has been doing in this season’s costuming department. (See also: the oversized casual wear Harper prefers when out of the office which makes her look even smaller than she is but not any less strong.)
- Given that we spend so much time in sterile, slate blue environments, I enjoyed being welcomed into Jesse’s obscenely old-school house (so much hard wood, so many chandeliers, and, uh, apparently an indoor basketball hoop?), especially as director Isabella Eklöf (the mind behind Border) let us see the vastness of such a space in wide angles. It further drove home how isolated Jesse is and yet how imposing he can still be in such stuffy environments.
- Oh Kenny. Just last week I was singing, well, not his praises but commenting on how interesting an evolution of his characters we’d been presented and then…between his nerve-wracking elevator pitch and his concern later in the episode, it seems like he may not get the grace he thinks he deserves. Though it must be noted that in all of this he does make Yas look all the worse.
- Gus continues to surprise me. Anyone who’s complimented by being told they were always destined for politics is someone to be wary of. He may be quiet and unassuming, but to watch him effortlessly pull levers with those around him to get his way (in service of Leo, it must be noted) is to see a master manipulator at work. He’s a sly one!