“I think about you less than I think about climate change,” a colleague tells Harper Stern in the new season of Industry, HBO’s razor-sharp, London-set series about the combative, cocaine-fuelled arena of international banking. The insult reveals as much about the show’s milieu as it does Harper’s ostracised junior banker, who’s been using Covid as an excuse not to show her face on the sales floor.
In reality, Harper (Myha’la Herrold), who works at fictional investment firm Pierpoint, is avoiding the fallout from the ice-cold double-crossing she executed at the end of season one, which saw a progressive female mentor fired in favour of Eric, a company man who thrives on the abusive workplace culture. By comparison, Harper feels performatively ruthless, and Herrold is assiduous in letting the college-dropout’s humanity accidentally reveal itself. Sometimes she even cries.
The first series of Industry premiered in the middle of the pandemic, when the world it depicted was largely shut down. Season two, which is now available to stream on BBC iPlayer, begins a few months after most bankers have hauled their Bloomberg terminals back into the office. Harper is living in a hotel after quarrelling with her roommate, the brittle FX trader Yasmin (Marisa Abela), who also survived last season’s big cull of recent grads. To add to her woes, her chippy boss Eric – a scene-stealing Ken Leung – seems determined to cut Harper down to size after last year’s machinations.
Mostly, though, Industry is the same show it was the first time around, with the same pleasures and pitfalls. The dialogue is so laden with financial jargon it occasionally becomes unparsable. The bass of the synthy soundtrack threatens to crack the office’s glass walls. There are a few new cast members to threaten the existing dynamics, including Alex Alomar Akpobome (For All Mankind) as Danny, a corny American banker who is new to the London office, and a welcome turn from mumblecore movie-maker and actor Jay Duplass, whose nonchalant newcomer mercifully rejects the hostile, rapid-fire cadence of the trading floor.
There is also a new challenge. The pivot to remote working has shown the head office how much money can be made by slimming down operations; either Pierpoint London or Pierpoint New York will soon subsume the other. This existential threat further floods the hypercompetitive waters in which Harper is already drowning. The only life raft is making the firm more money.
Mickey Down and Konrad Kay, the ex-bankers who created the series, have an ear for snappy dialogue and the stomach to let their inventions embarrass themselves. When Danny is introduced as “from New York”, he brazenly adds, “by way of New Haven”. Oh how I cringed to hear The Great Gatsby’s notorious metonym for Yale unabashedly repurposed in an office pissing contest.
But the show’s principle delight is to make having boatloads of money seem as unrelentingly miserable as we all secretly hope it is. If you found something to like in its bleak worldview and blistering pace in season one, you’ll be glad to follow Harper back into the office.
‘Industry’ returns to BBC One at 10.40pm on 27 September. All episodes of the second season are available to stream on BBC iPlayer