HBO's 'Industry' Finale Revealed the Beating Heart of This Icy Finance Drama
One of the most surprising shows of the year had one final twist.
When HBO's sex-and-drugs-filled finance drama Industry debuted back in the beginning of November, the series immediately drew both acclaim and derision for its chilly remove. The synth-driven score, the jargon-heavy dialogue, and the transactional nature of show's key relationships signaled a willingness to portray its subject—the ketamine-fueled professional lives of young investment bank recruits in a perpetually gray vision of London—with a dead-eyed lack of sentiment. But there in the season finale was Rob, the coked-up party boy salesman played by Harry Lawtey, delivering a surprisingly hopeful message to his superiors: "There's still romance left in this business."
In Industry, that romance often takes the form of cruelty. Over an eight episode first season, which has been fully available on HBO Max for weeks but finished its run with two final episodes, "Pre-Crisis Activity" and "Reduction in Force," airing on Monday, the younger employees of investment banking Pierpoint & Co. received a brutal crash course from their supervisors in "the way things work," the cynical phrase often used to cover up signs of moral rot. That meant sexual harassment, verbal abuse, and a competitive atmosphere that grinds away at the soul. The reward at the end for this racially and economically diverse group of workers that arrived with a near-total lack of naivete about their roles in the company? A steady paycheck and a possible future in dealing out humiliation to the next generation.
For all the hyper-specific finance language and shots of traders squinting at spreadsheets, the arc of Industry's first season was a fairly straightforward workplace conflict in the Mad Men mold. The mentor-mentee dynamic between Myha'la Herrold's young trainee Harper Stern and her domineering boss Eric, played with sinister charm by Ken Leung, was what elevated the show beyond yet another tale of attractive young people hooking up while making obscene amounts of money. There was a push-and-pull between them, powered by what they both saw in each other, that made for one of the most compelling relationships on TV this year. Even though he was effectively fired earlier in the season, you knew Eric would return.
His reemergence was hardly a surprising plot twist—Leung gives the show's most locked-in, can't-look-away performance—but the decisions Harper made to reach that point, the choice to push out Freya Mavor's watchful VP Daria and potentially alienate Priyanga Burford's powerful head honcho Sara, indicated an important shift had occurred. After catching glimpses of what a different version of Pierpoint might look like, one less centered around macho mind games, Harper aligned herself with Eric. Despite his loathsome behavior, he won her loyalty and her trust. The question for future seasons will be if he can keep them.
Harper's choice further separated her from Marisa Abela's Yasmin, who secured her spot at the company and finally broke up with her long-time boyfriend Seb. Given their entanglements with Rob and the cutthroat culture of the job, the tentative friendship between Harper and Yasmin was not built to last. Still, as cutting as their argument in the open office was, there was a real sense of loss during the subsequent final montage. As bleak as Industry can be, pushing its characters to their mental breaking points and sometimes literally sending them flying head-first into glass doors, there's a clear affection for the characters that comes through in these moments of emotional combat. Co-creators Mickey Down and Konrad Kay know what's absurd, vile, and maddening about the world they've created, but they never forget the human element that can make it seductive.
Compared to premium cable's two most successful corporate dramas-—HBO's media satire Succession and Showtime's hedge-fund saga Billions—Industry takes a more ground-level, unglamorous approach to its critique of capitalism run amok. This isn't a story of titans manipulating markets, pulling the strings of powerful institutions, and jockeying for board seats as a form of ego management or Oedipal revenge. These are the people picking up the salads, building the PowerPoint decks, and signing the NDA's. If there's romance, heartbreak is on the horizon.
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