Industry, HBO’s fast-paced drama about young financial traders in London, was already a fun, thrilling watch in its first season, and it becomes even more so in season two. The new episodes, the premiere of which aired last night, maintain the series’ commitment to glossy eye candy: It’s a fancy-restaurants-and-explicit-sex-scenes kind of show, like Succession but with more of a high-low divide and even more shrugging contempt for its surroundings. The protagonists, especially Harper (Myha’la Herrold) and Yasmin (Marisa Abela), tend to find themselves in intense work-hard-party-harder situations, and the series is great at playing up those visual contrasts. But what really distinguishes Industry as a show about wealth and power, and especially the screwy, backstabbing machinations that go into creating wealth and power, are its dialogue and sound design.
There’s an appealing, wildly effective, almost Altman-esque constancy to the way people speak in Industry. Language flows through the show, slipping across a range of accented English to Italian, French, German, and Arabic and perpetually wallowing around in the totally incomprehensible (to me) language of financial trading. Does someone need “flow or color slash currency ideas from the CPS end?” Harper asks in the season-two premiere, adding “as you know the lay-up trade over the past few months has been selling the dollar.” In the background, an off-screen male voice yells, “Is anyone here young enough to give a fuck about memestocks?”
I barely know what a short sell is. At some point in 2011 I briefly understood the phrase “margin call;” that knowledge has long since left me. Police procedurals have made legalese an ubiquitous American vernacular, and I’ve been bathed in TV medical jargon long enough that characters can shout frantically about heart rhythms and blood panels and fixed pupils and I can track the action without much thought. These devices have the benefit of swiftly connecting to a physical, often visible outcome: the patient makes it or they don’t; the person is set free or they aren’t. But the rapid-fire pace of Industry’s financial language is both uninterested in expositional hand-holding and totally divorced from any immediate, concrete reality. Something-something-something trading long? It’s a five-alarm fire and careers are at stake, although for the life of me I could not tell you exactly why.
Far from being alienating, though, that linguistic density only adds to Industry’s appeal. When characters react to the stress of being on the trading floor, Industry makes that palpable: There are voices everywhere, picking up phones and whispering into them with the desperate urgency of someone who can feel the entire world on the brink of a collapse. There’s a roller-coaster-like feeling of everyone’s fortunes rising and falling, not in concert but in close proximity; the noise never stops, and the fluidity with which characters move in and out of various languages further underlines the global, borderless, unceasing feeling of chaos Industry creates for its characters. Even when their vocabulary sounds like money-flavored white noise, the stakes are always apparent in the vocal performances, when the pitch starts to get shaky and the words start to come faster and faster. It’s not about what “the dollar sell-off” means; it’s about how confidently the new young trader says those words.
Though it’s impossible to watch Industry without subtitles — you’d miss too many of the sexual innuendos, for one, and the most intimate family drama plays out in languages other than English — the sheer number of those languages holds the viewer at a slight remove. Unless you do actually speak each one that appears in Industry (in which case: congrats!), you end up following the show through feelings as much as particular details. It’s the aural equivalent of “no thoughts, just vibes.”
Industry is an incredibly watchable show, but for my money (which is largely allocated in a risk-averse portfolio of mutual funds), the primary draw is how much fun it is to listen to. It’s not so much a radio play as it is a fully immersive sound bath, made of constantly roiling tension and the occasional relief of someone in the background yelling about NFTs. It’s what makes Industry stand out from other fast-paced dramas: Its sound landscape is as distinctive as anything about its visual style. And in spite of how stressful the series can be, that sound design is almost comforting, in the way any white noise or coffee-shop background sound can be. Industry envelops you, and it feels good — even if everyone is always about to lose everything.