Grab a bag of Rishi’s popcorn, as Reduction in Force day at Pierpoint is here, and there’s more complex power plays going on here than in The Queen’s Gambit.
Over the past seven episodes, we’ve watched as the high-end banking industry and all its shocking lack of ethics have insidiously infected our four grads: Harper (Myha’la Herrold), Yasmin (Marisa Abela), Robert (Harry Lawtey) and Gus (David Jonsson). But judgement day has arrived, and the would-be Nick Leesons now have to give a speech to their seniors about why they should be hired - which, excruciatingly, is broadcast on TVs all around the trading floor.
“Are you ready to bite the head off a bear?”, American head honcho Adler asks Harper in the lift. Oh, more than you’ll ever know.
The thing is, these presentations aren’t really to discover the person behind the speech: it’s to find out whether the graduates have been warped enough into the type of people who will fall in line with the toxic culture that’s prevalent at the bank. “Just tell them what they need to hear,” is the sage advice from Clement (Derek Riddell), who has played the game successfully for years, only to be unceremoniously kicked out by the seat of his tailored suit by Daria an episode earlier.
Everyone is furiously spinning webs, forming new pacts and making sly digs about just how they could make life a living hell for the grads, unless they play along. Like the obnoxious Kenny, who acts with the confidence of a man who knows will never be sacked. This is why Yasmin forges a new power alliance with Daria, and bids to jump over to her team, which deeply unnerves Harper. Just like Harper, we never really know whether to trust Daria. Is she friend or foe? It’s the latter, it turns out, when she tells Harper just hours before her speech that the job “might not be a cultural fit” - the racist undertones are very hard to ignore here.
First up is Rob, who swaggers in with chat about how the industry is about showing the clients the night out of their lives (2CB pills at the Christmas party, anyone?). However, what’s coming out of his mouth stops being the focus when the trickle of blood escapes from his nostril. Should have gone easy on all those two-bag nights before, Rob.
Yasmin’s up next, lying through her teeth about the inclusive and supportive vibe on the FX desk. She holds herself with the conviction of her privilege, described by her loser now-ex boyfriend Seb as “a spoilt little rich girl”. But it’s Gus who really gives the killer performance: who strides in and declares: “Buy the dip, short the VIX, fuck Bitcoin”, and…mic-drop. The trading floor explodes: he’s won the £1k prize for mentioning the bankers’ chosen phrase!
Gus - since witnessing the death of Hari, his colleague, in episode one - is the only person in the gang who’s actually grown some morals. He watched as Pierpoint floundered how to deal with him, and correctly observed that he “became invisible”, kept around as a tokenistic sign that the bank and its employees are in any way diverse. By being pushed out to the sidelines, it’s allowed him the perspective to see the whole stinking industry for what it really is.
But if there’s anyone who’s really transformed in her training at Pierpoint, it’s Harper, as she pulls off one of the greatest coups since The Underwoods in House of Cards. Of all the graduates afforded a place on the bank’s scheme, she needs the role the most, which is why she takes the biggest risks, doubling down on some frankly insane behaviour.
We’ve watched as the world’s worst boss, Eric (Ken Leung), pretended to take her under his wing, then exploited and verbally abused her as he tried to cover up his misdoings. Pushed into confessing this by Daria, Daria then shafted her when she took control of their desk, then made it clear she had no plans to vouch for Harper. That is, until Harper threatened to reveal that Daria knew about Nicole sexually assaulting her.
Unfortunately, Harper comes apart in her carefully rehearsed presentation, and has a panic attack. What she doesn’t yet know is the power is about to be transferred back to her, as Eric is about to be reinstated, if only she retracts her statement and confirms she was pushed into it by Daria, who was acting in the interests of furthering her own career.
It’s an ethical quandary that Harper is put in - does she tell the truth, or does she, like everyone else, lie and play the game instead? This is how we know she’s truly integrated into Pierpoint culture: she’s out for herself. Eric’s created a mini-me.
“I’m really sorry,” she says in an extremely not sorry way to Daria, who is oblivious that her desk is about to be cleared out in exactly the same way as Clement’s.
Harper’s won the battle - but at what cost will this alignment with her nefarious bosses be?
Yasmin’s furious, as her chance to move desks has now disintegrated thanks to Daria being sacked. “You play broken really well,” she tells Harper. “But you’re just a bit of cunt, aren’t you?” Harper’s graduation to real-life merchant banker is complete.
She’s been annointed as the coveted team player, but as every disaster capitalist knows, there’s no i in team - she’s realised there’s no space for looking out for anybody else other than herself in this industry. Now, when does she get her own baseball bat.
We never find out what Eric said to his client’s wife that was so offensive - he doesn’t remember. I was really keen to hear what was a genuinely sackable comment, as we’d heard it all by this point in the series
Where’s Rob gone on his bike? After being told he was “worthless” by Daria and speeding away, it seemed like the episode was lining him up for a car crash... but nothing
The last shot sees Harper reading Yasmin’s inscription in her embossed notepad “here’s to (y)our futures!”. Is she having a pang of regret? We’ll hopefully find out in series two, which has just been commissioned
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