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Nothing Gold Can Stay: The Brutal Ambition of ‘Industry’ Season 2

The HBO show’s second season ended Monday night with a shocking statement—and grand aspirations for its future

HBO/Ringer illustration

At the end of last week’s episode of Industry, HBO’s raw, wry careen into the euphoric heights and wretched lows of money-moving in London’s Canary Wharf, longtime rainmaker Eric Tao shares a frank observation about the human condition. Once a feared operator known in the biz as the Terminator, Eric, played by Ken Leung, now fears being terminated himself. Once drunk with power, he is now just plain drunk. “Isn’t it lucky,” Eric muses to some of his Pierpoint & Co. allies, licking his wounds in the midst of a job hunt gone awry and gaming out how to benefit from the news that employees at a rival firm have jumped ship, “that no one is ever satisfied?”

He, and his colleagues, would certainly know. On Industry, which concluded its second eight-episode season Monday night, the characters’ antsy ambitions have been the cause of, and solution to, their lives’ problems. Young workers chase commissions; predatory clients and polyamorous coworkers chase tail. Stories of workplace abuse are exchanged and leveraged like foreign currencies. Insider information is traded; spivs are spiv’d; toilet stalls contain multitudes; Kendall Roy is canon. Money is no object—it is the only objective. The concept of “objectionable” is, like advisory fees, experienced on “a sliding scale.”

And as ever, the best-in-class big bad bank Pierpoint remains positioned to profit from all these dismal equations. It is a company fueled by the reality that having it all will never feel like enough for its clients and employees, and that people are willing to pay handsomely—with their fortunes, with their days and nights, with their one wild and precious life—to feel as though they are pulling ahead. “Do you feel like everything we do is a confidence game?” Eric asks his erstwhile protégée, Harper Stern, in the season finale. “I wonder sometimes, are we the marks?”

With an increasingly sprawling cast of hot-headed and hot-to-trot major characters, Industry faced a tricky task at the end of its second season, trying to tie together a large number of arcs like a young analyst trying to distill a half-dozen screens’ worth of volatile and discordant Bloomberg charts into an actionable sales pitch. Rather than bundle things up tidily, though, the show’s creative team of Mickey Down and Konrad Kay delivered a finale that unspools and spirals. It makes for a fitting non-end to a show based in a world where what matters most is what’s next—where the alpha, and the poison, hides in what’s to come.

“You know, during the gold rush, all the gold miners actually went bust?” asks the eccentric billionaire Jesse Bloom, played by Jay Duplass, in the second season’s second episode. A mélange of Bill Ackman and Michael Burry and, regrettably, the Wu-Tang Clan–loving Martin Shkreli, Bloom is a baron known colloquially to CNBC types as “Mr. COVID” thanks to some lucrative doomsday trades he made in the darkest days of the pandemic. As an investor, Bloom isn’t interested in elbowing others out of the way while panning riverbeds, so to speak. “The gold is actually not worth that much,” he says, standing in his tennis whites on a grass court. “I’m interested in the picks and the shovels. The people who sold those? They were the ones who came out on top.”

As they say, there’s a sucker—or maybe, in Industry parlance, a wanker—born every minute, and the show’s characters either grasp that or prove its validity in widely varying amounts.

Some, like the hyper-trader Rishi Ramdani (Sagar Radia), spend their days adeptly profiting from someone’s tiny hesitation here, or split-second information lag there. Others, like the middle-management wunderkind Danny Van Deventer (Alex Alomar Akpobome), are kind of like internal Pierpoint-branded picks and shovels: a helping hand, maybe, but also a tool. There is poor Robert Spearing (Harry Lawtey), who is caught in a cycle of addiction and shame, of using and being used, and Gus Sackey (David Jonsson), who is in the midst of making a return to the Industry industry, having learned that politics is just a confidence game, too.

And then there is Yasmin Kara-Hanani, played by Marisa Abela, who in many ways is only at the start of her own journey of self-discovery. A naive nepo babe eager to break the wheel of her father’s exploitative entitlement, she instead finds herself adrift without her lifelong anchor. She lies disillusioned in bed with her bored, married new boss Celeste Pacquet; she is dismissive to a younger employee who confides in her about a sexual assault by a client; she is reduced to dining-and-dashing and scrounging for cab money and getting Robert, disastrously, to source her some blow. She is so rich that she exists in a separate echelon from normies. (Her coworker Jackie, eyeing a statue in Yasmin’s Berlin pied-à-terre, murmurs: “Doesn’t matter how much money I earn; they’ll never let me in these circles.”)

But when Yasmin tries to take a stand and ditch her lecherous dad both personally and professionally, she is told by Celeste (Katrine De Candole) that his money is the only thing that makes Yasmin useful in a place like Pierpoint. “Every dollar, every client,” Celeste says, “if you probe deep enough, an advantage has been taken; an angle has been played.”

It’s no surprise that Industry has drawn comparisons to another show about a chauvinistic-yet-charismatic workplace that features genuinely innovative solution-finding and also a lot of salespersony smoke and mirrors. After all, the Industry showrunners referenced that other series—Mad Men—themselves, calling back to its Season 3 finale by including the line “shut the door and have a seat.” (Sadly, there was no shout-out to “That’s what the money’s for!” though I suppose that sentiment is forever implied.) One musical cue during the finale sounded like a lyrical homage to Don Draper sneering disdainfully at Michael Ginsberg in the elevator: “Money doesn’t care about you / Always going somewhere without you.

And like Mad Men (as well as some other greed-forward shows, like Succession and Billions), the plot of Industry is tilting toward a splitting up of the Pierpoint gang, a ragtag but ruthless schism. But what that might look like—an unholy but “lean” alliance of Harper, Eric, Rishi, and DVD—has evolved. That’s because (shut the door! have a seat!) of three words: “You’re fired, Harper.”

Of all the loose ends left fraying in the wake of the Industry finale, this is the one that is most tempting to tug on. Since the show’s opening season, the relationship between Eric and Harper (Myha’la Herrold) has been Industry’s Don-Peggy backbone: sometimes strong, sometimes totally weaselly, always aching. Even when they’re at odds, they still feel like two of a kind, like siblings giving each other the silent treatment but also a lift to school. They are both arrogant. They lie and confess things to each other; they pay menial dues and take care of magnificent hotel bills; they share an office vape in the wake of a global pandemic. They sit side by side at, uh, Yankee Stadium and watch their best-laid plans evaporate in a cloud of their ex-colleague Daria’s perfume. They stand in an elevator exhaling onto their hands to make sure that they’re human and real. “Walk with me,” Eric says to his messed-up mentee, probably one of many dozens of times he’s said that.

Except that this time, for Harper—a woman whose whole career has involved going fiendishly rogue—it might as well be the plank. A toady in a windowless room informs Harper that Pierpoint knows she fudged her college diploma, voiding her employment. Her neck bulges; her eyes plead. “You’re fired, Harper,” Eric says. That’s how the good lord works, sings a choir as the closing credits roll. In a way, the good lord and the free markets have something in common: They both prefer to conduct their business with an invisible hand.

The biggest surprise of the finale’s closing scene wasn’t that Harper was dismissed from Pierpoint—it was what she got dismissed for. The college transcripts seemed like the kind of stunt that had maybe been sufficiently buried by time and money, whereas her bigger and more recent transgression—just some casual insider trading?—was more in “bright fucking red line” territory. Harper’s use of material and nonpublic information that she bullied out of her politico roommate in order to give Bloom an “edge” was about as blatantly unethical of a decision as it gets. And to Industry’s credit, the show acknowledges that.

Bloom is so bewildered by what he’s hearing, there in his cavernous wooden lair, that he leans in and gives Harper an embrace. This isn’t some Rishi-style detox quickie, however. Bloom makes this gesture mostly to cover his ass: He pats down Harper’s body for wires, finding nothing. In a show rife with intense physical contact, this chaste interaction is oddly electric, a warped connection between two people whose ability to feel meaningful satisfaction seems to have long ago short-circuited.

As the boilerplate legalese that can be found on most financial documents always goes, past performance is not indicative of future results. Some Pierpoint employees, like Yasmin, purport to enjoy the art of what’s new and what’s now: “That’s why I like our job,” she says early in the season. “It’s like a perpetual present tense.” (Easy for her to live in the moment when her financial accounts haven’t been frozen by her dad yet!) Eric, on the other hand, is reminded of the same thing the hard way when his boss, Adler, harps on four bad quarterly results of his instead of the hundred good ones. A stressed DVD, calculating the commissions the disgraced client Nicole Craig could bring in with a new trade, tries to partition off the past, like a hedge fund manager attempting to silo away a failed fund. Still, if Industry is to be renewed for a third season, it will be in large part because of its proven track record—the big ideas that have driven the show until now.

Like the cash-rich tango between Jesse and Harper (and Gus!) that, who knows, could form the basis of Iron Toad Attacker LP down the road. Or the tension between the bombastic Rishi and the claustrophobic life he leads. (And that’s before a new baby!) Or the way people who should want for nothing are so often left wanting. Or the reality that knowledge is power, but not always the opposite.

“Tell her I’m no expert; I just own it,” Jesse says in the finale when he is asked to speak at a conference about his latest ill-gotten investment. He is on a private plane, lounging underneath a duvet, having recently moved markets with an appearance on CNN. “The thing people forget about that Icarus dude,” he says in that interview, “is that before he fell, he flew. And I bet the sun gave off a lovely light.” Industry’s characters all instinctively fly toward the light. Maybe the real edge will come when someone, anyone, learns how to be capable of enjoying the warmth.