Film files: ‘Industry’ finds comfort in chaos

Harper apologizes to Eric for not attending the breakfast meeting in a large, messy office with people working and conversing by office desks and computer monitors.
Myha’la Herrold plays Harper on HBO’s “Industry.” (Courtesy: Simon Ridgeway/HBO)

“Industry” is one of the best shows to come out in the last few years. Chances are, though, that you’ve never even heard of it. The British-American series, a sleeper hit on HBO and BBC, centers on five young post-grad hires vying for permanent jobs at one of London’s most prestigious and cutthroat investment banks. While a show like this wouldn’t usually appeal to me, I decided to give it a shot last month as its second season aired. It caught me by surprise in the best way possible.

The core characters include Yasmin (Marisa Abela), a publishing heiress who is treated like an errand girl by her male supervisor; Robert (Harry Lawtry), a white working-class Oxford grad who is more focused on snorting coke and sexting Yasmin than his job; and Gus (David Jonsson), a Ghanian-British Etonian who quickly grows tired of the financial world. At the center of it all is Harper (Myha’la Herrold), the only Black American woman on her floor who is concealing the fact that she is a college dropout.

What makes this show great is that none of these characters are very likable, but they are ridiculously watchable. Even when they’re making awful decisions, you still find yourself rooting for them to win.

This clearest case of this is found in Harper, the show’s protagonist and antihero. She looks at the meritocracy of her chosen field as a chance for reinvention and is not particularly sympathetic to the people she wrongs to make her reality possible. This obviously alienates her from her colleagues and often us as viewers. However, some, like her boss Eric Tao (Ken Leung), encourage her to embrace this, as long as it also benefits his desk.

Harper is undoubtedly an underdog and she knows it. In the first season, while sitting in a bathroom cubicle, she overhears a pair of fellow post-grads complaining about how she has an unfair advantage in the competition for a permanent job since she is both Black and female.

Her willingness to do almost anything to get a trade done is what keeps us hooked, as well as what hooks Eric into hiring her. He sees a younger version of himself – a mischievous American willing to wade into morally-ambiguous waters to dominate the trading floor. Even when she demonstrates that her only loyalty is only to herself, Harper’s tenacity makes it hard not to root for her.

Two other aspects of “Industry” that truly stand out are its writing and sound design. From the very first scene, a soundscape of synthy electronic music, abstract financial jargon and British slang floods your ears.

Some of the show’s best lines are snippets of background dialogue on the trading floor, one example being, “Cryptos reek of virginity and building your own bomb, but Kenny’s more fluent than he cares to admit.”

It’s also from this emphasis on sound that we quickly learn how finance is a confidence game. Often, the stakes of a trade lie in the vocal performances. When the pitch starts to get shaky, it’s no longer what a “one-year Euro swap in 500K DVO1” means, it’s about how confidently the trader says those words.

This intense atmosphere envelops you, and it feels good — almost comforting — even when one of the characters is close to losing everything. It’s intoxicating enough to give you the same thrill of adrenaline that everyone in “Industry” is chasing.

The show never holds back from exposing the cruelty, power plays and ritualistic humiliation that come at the expense of ambition, or how they mirror the intensity of the sex, drugs and partying the traders use to cope. This is made all the more evident in season two.

When viewers first met the young post-grads, they were clean and wide-eyed. They weren’t exactly blind to the industry they were entering, but they were at least naively assured about making their mark. Now, in the post-pandemic world of season two, they are still hungry but more jaded than ever. Harper is anxious to leave the hotel from which she’s been remotely working, Yasmin is as cold and arrogant as the bosses she once despised and a now-sober Rob is barely getting by.

This works in the show’s favor, however, as the characters seem much more human than they were in season one. You wince when an investor snaps at Rob, you flinch when Harper gets told she’s become invisible. Season two also introduces us to their families, which helps to flesh out their emotional dysfunction and past traumas.

While “Industry” has yet to be officially renewed for a third season, the changes reflected in season two only reaffirm the praise it’s received from viewers and critics alike, as well as cement its place as one of — if not the absolute — most thrilling show on television right now.

Hannah Eliot SC ’24 is from San Francisco, California. She likes to surf and is trying (and failing) to learn how to play the guitar.

Facebook Comments