‘Industry’ Season 2 Raises the Stakes With Absorbing Delivery

HBO’s “Industry” revolves around one of the trickiest themes to pull off well. The world of finance can be an archaic maze full of cryptic language for outsiders, but this series makes it engaging as the portrait of a particular generation. For all the talk of economic woes for non-boomers, younger millennials and Zoomers fresh out of college are finding prosperity in the droves studying finance and then servicing major corporations. This second season of “Industry” finds an even better stride than its predecessor by catching up to a post-lockdown world where the corporate system not only adapted to Covid, it profited mightily. There’s more intensity of a particular kind as well. This environment has such specific manners and rigid codes that even moments of debauchery feel on the clock.

The season begins a year after the events of the last round. Harper (Myha’la Herrold) is living out of a hotel in London but still carrying out her work for major bank Pierpoint. Her boss, Eric (Ken Leung) starts demanding she get back to the office. Harper eventually relents but the environment is not the most welcoming. Everyone seems to resent how Harper stayed locked away on purpose while most of them decided to return to the workplace. Instant hostility is palpable from Yasmin (Marisa Abela), the publishing heiress who always seems in a race with herself. Harper really feels the pressure when Rishi (Sagar Radia) calls her out for strutting into work when everyone’s been here for months. Eric warns that her style is getting sloppy and not like the eager, focused grad he hired a year ago. The pressure is on when the New York bank merging with Pierpoint sends a representative to keep an eye on everything, Daniel Van Deventer (Alex Alomar Akpobome). Harper sees a chance to truly prove herself when she spots a major hedge fund manager, Jesse Bloom (Jay Duplass), at her hotel. Bloom turned $28 million into $6 billion in the aftermath of Covid. If she can place him on Pierpoint’s client list, Harper will rocket up the ranks.

Last season was all about introducing the characters and framing the key ones as rookies. By setting the action of this new batch of episodes a year later, showrunners Mickey Down and Konrad Kay don’t have to spend so much time on exposition and set-ups. Now it’s all about everyone balancing self-discovery with the rigors of a rather merciless terrain. There’s some of the rush of movies like Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” and the sharp, precision writing of what remains HBO’s best drama, “Succession.” While “Industry” has yet to rise to the level of that show, it has the same sober view of human nature and how it operates within a space where all that matters is profit. Eric delivers his cutting observations eloquently (“I knew you before your face was troubled by a razor”) but shows little mercy when Harper begs for support when a co-worker openly berates her. Robert (Harry Lawtey) feels insecure because he’s not as savvy as some of the others, with even clients dismissing him over the phone for sounding weak. 

Rich details are essential because “Industry” understands something the best shows and films in this genre know well, that it isn’t about the money. Few times do we see anyone swipe their credit card or pass cash around in this show. The narrative is about young workers whose lives are their work. While everyone moves around vast sums of money, a warning from Deventer that eventually either the New York or London office has to close adds even more pressure. Many people in the finance world will tell you that it can feel like a game, in how one plays with numbers and profits while cutting and seeking deals. “Industry” strips away the romanticism. Yasmin is already wealthy so we sense she’s more concerned about planting her own flag somewhere, anywhere. She sleeps with clients, like Maxim Alonso (Nicholas Bishop), even after he informs her his firm is closing, thus depriving her of her largest client, because it’s the only way she makes real contact with anyone. This arena gets so draining, and Robert pushes away Yasmin’s offer for a wild night of fun and cocaine because he’s simply feeling empty himself.

New characters this season add to the roster with strong fresh storylines. At a party thrown by Maxim, Yasmin meets Celeste Pacquet (Katrine De Candole), Pierpoint managing director Yasmin hilariously mistakes for a sex worker. Celeste begins to take Yasmin under her wing and shows her that clients should feel lucky to have her in their presence. She doesn’t need to always present herself as tempting fruit, which she learns with some elite Italians who actually want to have a conversation. Robert gets involved with a potential major client, the older Nicole Craig (Sarah Parish), and in his case, a transactional arrangement may just give him the career boost he needs. The most consequential new character may be Jesse Bloom, who is both friendly but astute. He knows Harper is following him around because she could use his business, but he also likes her sincerity. Deventer also respects her but seems to also like her on another level. He’s a good younger counter to the experienced, fierce Eric, who is threatened by having his job suddenly be scrutinized by some kid from New York City.

An entire generation of young grads is now rising in a particular sector bereft of any idealism aside from the urgency to live well. “Industry” perfectly captures such a historical moment and culture. Instead of changing the economic order, the pandemic simply revealed how entrenched it truly is. Harper approaches Jesse with a pitch and he complains that it better not be another vaccine angle. Unlike “Euphoria,” the risqué sex and drug use has little to do with raging hormones, but with the loneliness of working for profit to such a degree that it defines all of your relationships and social exchanges. And yet, this is not a dreary show. It has great energy, performances and pace. You could never have traded a single stock or made a single investment and be taken in by the writing and drama. “Industry” succeeds because behind all the number crunching, it’s about the humans sitting behind the desk.

Industry” season two premieres Aug. 1 and airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.