We will get to that final moment (because OMG what a closer of a scene!), but this recap bears starting not with the specifics of where Industry left its characters at the end of this impeccable season but with the thesis that clearly dominated this eight-episode offering. For, regardless of where the likes of Harper, Robert, Rishi, Danny, and Yas ended up, their storylines collectively painted a bleak picture of what it means to try to live and work within a system that, as one character puts it, corrodes you in real time.
Perhaps Celeste said it best while being aghast at Yas trying to virtue signal with her choice of clients: “Do you want to operate within the system and be successful or do you want to dream that you can change it and be left behind?” In many ways, Industry has been asking this question over and over throughout the course of the season. The role models these young professionals have had—everyone from Eric and Jesse to Nicole and Celeste—have stood for the value and gravitational pull of the status quo. Things have been done a certain way for decades (if not longer!) and accepting them has been the only way to move forward and upward in this world.
Time and time again, we’ve been shown that being a craven individualist is a surefire way of getting one’s way. It’s how Harper has gotten herself out of many a sticky situation. And, for much of this episode, it looked like she would once again dodge a bullet and come out on top. Sure, it would’ve meant burning Danny, ditching Rishi, and even needing to come to terms with the fact that she’d inadvertently (maybe!) committed a very obvious case of insider trading. But it would have allowed her to not only stay at Pierpoint and in London but to do so alongside her mentor, whom she’s grown to trust. Only, she should’ve known all along that such trust is a fickle fiction in this business. If Industry season two has taught us anything, it’s that relationships at Pierpoint are only (and can only ever be) transactional. Just as she had handily thrown Danny and Rishi under the bus, it dawns on Harper much too late that she’s been similarly discarded by Eric once she proved she could be of no more use to him.
But maybe that’s too cynical a read of what happened in that final scene. Might there be a kind of paternalistic impulse at work here as well? Is Eric truly looking out for Harper by making her own up to her own deception and forcing her to start anew on her own terms, ideally away from the corrosive power of Pierpoint and its employees, himself included? My bet is that it’s a bit of both; selfless care and selfish survival are not here mutually exclusive. Not that that makes Eric’s final chess move sting any less. There’s a lesson here to be learned about how to stay afloat in this business. And it is not a pretty one, especially as it was the second time Harper had been played by someone she thought she could trust, or someone she didn’t think she’d need to be wary of. Watching her realize in real time that Jesse had used her should’ve served as foreshadowing for the way she’d soon find out that she was never really in as much control of her fate (or her career, or even her standing in the company) as she thought she was.
That feeling of powerlessness in the face of a system that rewards brutal moves like those Jesse and Eric play was likewise felt by Yas and Robert. The former tried to make her work feel more in line with her values only to be lectured about how, just as perhaps there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism, there may not be ethical employment (or financial trading) under it either. So long as you’re dealing with the kind of wealth (and the moneyed folks who own it) that Pierpoint handles, you’re never going to be able to draw a line along ethical, let alone personal, parameters. Such a realization would have hit Yas like a ton of bricks had she not also blown up her life by trying to prove to her father that she could stand by her own newfound moral center. The lesson here is equally insidious: Quiet, performative virtue signaling is okay so long as you’re perched atop a privileged high horse.
As for Robert, try as he might, he clearly can’t quit Nicole. Especially as he can’t disentangle his own feelings for her from the “predator” image he’s tried to form of her in his head. Just like Celeste, Nicole is blunt about the way she moves through the world. Sure, she gets handsy when drunk, what of it? “Things happen, and then things are fine,” she explains. Is there a better mantra for the impunity that folks with privilege (be it money, power, or likely both) so carelessly wield on any given day? That could be Yas’ father speaking. Or Eric. Or Jesse, even.
And it’s them who get what they want. Their protégés and underlings (Gus notwithstanding!), in contrast, end up needing to swallow their pride and admit they may not be ruthless enough (yet!) to work the system nor blindly naive enough to think they can actually change it.
If Industry ends with this season finale, the two-season HBO wonder will serve as a terrifying inquiry into contemporary workplace culture. This isn’t just a Death Of A Salesman-type take on the way workers are chewed up by a system. Instead, it’s something all the more dispiriting: a portrait of an institution—and of the people that institution creates, nurtures, and depends on—that corrodes those inside it in order to sustain itself. It’s a tragic story precisely because it feels so inevitable. And familiar.
- Sometimes a small, quiet moment grabs you for what it tells you about a character. Like Harper arriving at Eric’s office asking for water only to grab the entire jug of water and downing it, a rare instance of the young employee losing composure in front of her mentor.
- “She was a woman when she wanted me.” This entire #MeToo/NDA storyline has been a highlight of the season. Mostly because the show never shied away from the thorny issues of consent and agency—and because it kept stressing the way these many instances are premised on power imbalances and depend on the stories those involved tell themselves and others.
- I never did touch on it mostly because it felt gauche, but among all the folks we’ve met during the series, Jesse has to be the most despicable, yes? It’s a race to the bottom on the show, I know. But somehow his smarmy demeanor, not to mention the casual cruelty he doles out with a smug smile, is unsurprisingly off-putting in a way that puts him head and shoulders above the rest of these soulless, ambitious pricks. (Also, after that “poison” comment, you have to put Rishi, now “happily married,” right up there, as well).
- I was so happy to see Yas and Harper getting along at the wedding—laughing at their own cruel comments to one another, no less!
- Series co-creators Mickey Down and Konrad Kay wrote this episode and deserve every single praise I’ve heaped on the series’ second season. Expanding the world of Pierpoint while also making the company a microcosm for a morally bankrupt system without ever making the show feel like it’s giving you a TED talk on late-stage capitalism would be an accomplishment in itself. Doing so while making a funny, sexy, thrilling television series that’s driven by character is just outright remarkable. And yes, I will continue to rank it alongside the likes of Mad Men as one of the best workplace series of the 21st century.
- So… season 3 renewal, when HBO?