Well, well, well! If it isn’t our favorite messy bankers! Pierpoint is back in the office, and Industry wastes no time plunging us right back into the exquisite discomfort of tension and exhilaration that made season one so exciting. Although it isn’t exactly firing on all cylinders — the first half of this episode felt a bit gummy in its pacing at times — the season premiere showcases the writing, subtle performances, and glitzy cinematography that made last season such a thrill.
But first: For those who weren’t around for season one, Industry is a show about Harper, Yasmin, Rob, and Gus, four newly graduated young people struggling to make it at Pierpoint & Co., a prestigious bank, and in the finance world in general. Last season was all about the four surviving RIF, or Reduction in Forces day, where the bank cuts anyone who hasn’t proven their worth. As of the finale, Harper, Yasmin, and Rob survive to bank another day, but Gus torpedoes his own chances, walking away into an uncertain future. If this sounds like your average shiny-eyed-youngsters-becoming-professionals, think again. What makes Industry so remarkable is how naked it is about its characters’ ambition and the morally ambiguous (and sometimes downright gross) decisions they make to get there.
A quick montage shows us that the show takes place in our current moment, with Yasmin, Harper, and Rob living their various lives throughout COVID. Yasmin and Rob appear to be back in the office, but in all her montage shots, Harper is in a nondescript hotel, drinking beers and swimming laps while ostensibly making trades remotely from the hotel-room desk. Reminder: Last season Harper threw her superior Daria under the bus to bring Eric back to the workplace, despite their tense, sometimes violent work dynamic. She also suffered a panic attack on RIF day in a room full of higher-ups. This is all to say it makes sense that Harper might not be the best person to weather the world-changing whirlwind that was the pandemic. A central tension is immediately introduced when Eric reprimands Harper over the phone. She’s had the most time of everyone on the desk to get used to the idea of working in person. Now the New York office is breathing down London’s necks, sending in a mystery person to possibly “spy” on what Eric’s been getting up to. There’s talk about New York absorbing the London CPS desk, given that Brexit has made U.K. offices seem obsolete, but the bottom line is that Harper has to come back to work tomorrow.
And, of course, though reluctant, Harper makes it back to Pierpoint the following day. It’s clear that there’s bitterness around Harper being gone: People don’t return her greetings when she says hello, and the exchange she has with Yasmin in the bathroom (a great call-back to how the two characters struck up an unlikely friendship in season one) is positively frigid. Quick rewind: Yasmin and Harper fell out at the end of last season because Yasmin was hoping to work with Daria and escape a toxic situation with her superior, Kenny. Harper squashed those dreams when she traded Daria in for Eric; thus, Yasmin thinks Harper is a self-centered egomaniac, and Harper thinks Yasmin is a stuck-up hypocrite. Onward!
At the desk, Harper’s been demoted from her spot next to Eric, sitting by the window. When Eric gets on her case to cut in on a call Yasmin is taking on another line, she follows through with characteristic viciousness, only to lose her nerve when she realizes everyone is watching her. It’s a lose-lose situation, Eric pushing Harper to get involved in the business of another desk, which forces Harper into a confrontation with Yasmin, not to mention hints that Eric is more nervous about the New York–London consolidation than he lets on. Eric’s always been an iffy manager, like a problematic but charismatic general who wins awe at the end of the day despite any abuse because of his competence and cutthroat money savvy. Could he be losing his touch? When Harper freezes up and Rishi snickers at her across the desk, Harper asks him if he has a problem with her, and he publicly humiliates her. Harper tries to get Eric to come to her defense, but instead, he takes her outside to smoke a cigarette and have one of their now trademark chats. But Harper isn’t having it — she’s resistant to Eric when he tells her to work on her anger, that her bad attitude and lackluster behavior are affecting his bottom line. It’s another instance of the confusing mix of apparent affection and obvious self-interest that threads Eric’s relationship with Harper. Sometimes, he’s like a pseudo father figure. Other times he’s ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to make more cash. Harper’s prickliness makes sense. By the end of the day, Harper is no closer to presenting as her former confident, professional self, so Eric takes her aside again, asking that she go see what ostensibly amounts to counseling services on Pierpoint’s third floor. “I’m told it’s all confidential,” he says as he walks away from her, which mostly serves to make it sound like it’s definitely not confidential. The only somewhat solace for Harper seems to be her banter with Robert. It’s limper than before, not quite fizzing with the same energy they had pre-COVID. They’re both worn down by their jobs, the pandemic, and their lives.
What gets Harper to perk back up is not anyone at work but rather someone who she’s been swimming laps with at her hotel. Jay Duplass of The Chair and Transparent plays Jesse Bloom, a billionaire who made money during the pandemic (characters keep calling him “Mr. COVID,” which makes me chuckle) and coincidentally seems to share a love of aquatic exercise with Harper. Watching Bloom is like watching something ripple under still water. He seems cool, collected, the casual American — but you know that something fanged and dangerous lies beneath the surface. In true Harper fashion, she charms Bloom with her blend of awkward sincerity and directness. At Pierpoint, she asks if anyone knows Bloom. According to gossip, he’s unrecoverable. No one knows who represents him, and Harper sees her chance. Before she can get there, though, she has to attend work drinks for Rishi’s engagement. Harper attends but is iced out by people at the firm, and as she leaves, she gets into a long-awaited spat with Yasmin in the street. Robert ferries Harper away and into a cab.
What follows is familiar, like watching scenes from season one: Robert helps Harper drunkenly stumble to her hotel room. Last season, this would probably have resulted in some ill-advised fucking, but this season, Robert is working on himself. He fends Harper off and puts her to bed. The next morning, when Harper wakes up, she sees Robert has cleaned up her filthy hotel room and left her a note: “Hotel life = not for you. You’re taking our spare room.” As she leaves the room, she spots Jesse at breakfast and finally lays her cards on the table. She works at Pierpoint and wants to know if he has any representation. Jesse is charmed by her guts and tells her that if she were serious about him, she’d miss the breakfast she’s scheduled to attend with Eric and go instead to a Q&A he’s attending. Of course, Harper goes to the Q&A instead of following through for Eric. Acting like a self-destructive mercenary? She’s back, baby!!
As for Yasmin, post-COVID life isn’t all that great for her, either. At a raucous apartment party thrown by her family friend and client Maxim, she learns that Maxim’s fund has gone bust. To numb the pain of her biggest client disappearing, she embarks on what the bankers keep calling a “Big Night” full of wine, coke, and suggestive dancing with her new friend Celeste who Yasmin assumes is a “sex professional.” Last season Yasmin turned most of her sexual energy toward teasing Robert in a domme-esque power play that hinged on his routine humiliation. This season, it looks like Robert is not Yasmin’s object of attention. It’s not clear yet who it is, but based on the giggly, effervescent closeness between Yasmin and Celeste, I can’t help but wonder if Yasmin is going to embark on a romance with this dynamic, mysterious older woman. Except it turns out Celeste is not a sex worker but works at Pierpoint just like Yasmin, managing the money of High Net Worth Individuals. Later, Yasmin has characteristically aggro sex with Maxim. The show hasn’t yet gone deep on just what’s behind Yasmin’s desire to dominate in bed, but when Maxim asks her why she doesn’t bring that kind of energy to work, it hits upon an essential disconnect inside of Yasmin. Last season she oscillated between being the well-bred nice girl and the pitiless domme-wannabe. Will this season finally push her into fully accepting her love of being on top, both in the bedroom and on the desk?
That question gets a sort of answer when Yasmin begins to haze a new grad just like she was once hazed. Venetia, unlike younger Yasmin, doesn’t cater to everyone’s whims. She’s not ordering salads for the team, and she speaks up when she finds the culture of banking objectionable. But instead of supporting her, Yasmin goes into full bully mode, ultimately making the youngling cry.
It’s a question the show seems to be undecided on: Should the characters want to change banking from the inside? Or is sentimentality like that corny in the workplace? Is Pierpoint’s macho sadistic culture just how the industry is? To make matters worse, Kenny, Yasmin’s old tormenter, is back, sober and having turned a new leaf. His newly found personality only serves to contrast Yasmin filling in his old, tyrannical shoes. The episode ends with a fed-up Yasmin wandering into Celeste’s office, which, with its tasteful art, dim lighting, and expensive furniture, seems like a sanctuary in comparison to the brutal world of the desk.
Finally, there’s Robert. Oh, Robert, you poor, feckless man. Robert is afraid of the phone. He isn’t bringing in sales, and his email pitches aren’t working to hook clients. Eric tells him to go to the dormant client list and start by calling the least active account. It’s as much a throwing of a gauntlet as it is a directive from a boss — if Robert doesn’t start making some new money for the team, there will be consequences. I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear that the least active client is none other than Nicole, who sexually harassed Harper only to throw her under the bus last season. At first, Robert fails to interest Nicole in him. But by the end of the episode — having helped Harper through her drunken night — he picks up the phone again, telling Nicole that he has no idea what he’s doing, but she’ll have to stick with him. This season, Nicole is to Robert as Jesse is to Harper. In other words, Nicole is the big client that Robert is circling, hoping to use as his stepping stone to success. But unlike Jesse, we already know that Nicole is potentially bad news. What will she demand from Robert in return for her favor?
• Who is pogdaddy911, a.k.a. someone Harper is obsessing over on Instagram? My theory is that it’s her brother, who she mentioned last season as having disappeared. But then again, Harper doesn’t always tell the truth about where she’s from and what’s driving her, so maybe not?
• I didn’t really cover Danny Van Deventer because it’s not super-clear to me how he’ll fit in this season, but just as a quick rundown: Danny is the “spy” sent over from New York to check in on London. So far, he’s charming and disarmingly suave, flirting with Harper and getting on Eric’s nerves.
• I am very excited for whatever the roommate situation will be with Harper, Robert, and Gus, who we only see very briefly in the montage!
• LOL at Rishi’s extremely posh white fiancé telling Harper to read Roxane Gay and Ta-Nehisi Coates. I love when this show delivers a barbed joke at the expense of clueless British snobbery.