SPOILER ALERT: Do not read further if you have not seen the Season 2 finale of “Industry.”
Brutality came to the boardroom on Monday night, as the second season of HBO’s “Industry” delivered some brutal bottom lines for those inhabiting the international banking series.
Series lead Harper Stern (portrayed with anxious nuance by actor Myha’la Herrold) has successfully orchestrated a coup against her high-powered employer Pierpont. She’s locked up the institution’s biggest client (Jay Duplass’ Jesse Bloom) with the same aplomb that got him signed. In the end, however, a life-threatening secret from Season 1 has returned to bludgeon her — a blow dealt by her mentor Eric Tao (Ken Leung).
Despite her penchant for high-flying stock purchases, Harper never graduated from the state college she told the London-based bank Pierpoint she attended. Moreso, she fabricated evidence of a college transcript and fed it directly to human resources. For this, she was fired in the final seconds of Monday’s finale. Tao has an easy explanation — that insider information given to Stern spurred handsome returns in both long and short stock plays for client Bloom, with prosecution possibly being imminent. While Eric can frame the decision as protecting Harper’s future in the long run, her meteoric success had repeatedly threatened his own safety.
Elsewhere, publishing heiress Yasmin Kara-Hinani (Marisa Abela) has been cut off financially by her father (Adam Levy) after confronting him over an impending wave of #MeToo accusations and subsequent payouts. Disruption abounds in both the fictional market and the bedrooms and hallways of the hustlers who work it. Variety spoke to “Industry” showrunners Mickey Down and Konrad Kay over tonight’s bombshells and what the future holds.
The closing scene of the finale was a fatal blow to Harper’s future. You can’t help but wonder, was this Eric’s game plan all along?
Mickey Down: That was the intention — to leave people feeling conflicted. It’s open to interpretation, shall we say. There are so many things that are being unpacked in that elevator scene before they go up to Harper’s “death floor.” Konrad and I love writing ambiguity into the show, that’s the joy for us. The idea that this has been a long game for Eric is totally fair. Others, maybe, have a rose-tinted idea of their relationship and he may have been saving her from herself. That’s also pretty fair.
Konrad Kay: In addition to being a force of nature, Eric can be quite a parody of a finance character — wielding a baseball ball bat, etc. We did’t use Ken Leung to the full strength of his abilities in Season 1. We realized that we’re writing for a generationally good actor. Like, fuck, we can do anything with this guy! In the room, we talked about Harper and Eric. We came up with this classical, mythic, almost Western sort of story — [Eric and Harper] are old cowboy and new cowboy. What are they going to teach each other? And also, wondering about the cliche, is the town big enough for both of them? There’s a great William Goldman quote about endings, which says that they should be totally surprising but totally inevitable at the same time. I think our ending does that.
Harper had some big wins this year, but has proven to have zero security. She’s bumping her head on every step of the ladder.
Down: Totally. Episode 5 was an exercise in explaining why she has this unchecked ambition. We learn she comes from an abusive home, where ambition is placed above everything else. She had this brother who was a victim of that kind of ambition. We were really worried about that episode. It was a massive swing for the fences. We can write about business and interpersonal stuff, quips to say on the trading room floor, but two twins that come from an abusive home? That was not directly in our wheelhouse, so we had to figure that out.
Yasmin Kara-Hanani also really went through it this season, especially at the hands of her father.
Down: Adam Levy, this incredibly charming and dashing actor that we cast, he’s very funny. He brought a lot of his own levity to our scenes. He’s seductive. But we approached him in a way that his misdeeds are murky. During production, we had a lot of different opinions about him. After the show started airing, we realized he was hiding in plain sight from the first moment. He’s a very honest character, in a lot of ways — a playboy who has really benefitted from my generational wealth and fucked his way through the world. He doesn’t think of himself as a villain at all. In some ways, Yasmin always had the blinkers up to his true nature, but she still can’t reckon with that. Accepting it means turning her entire life upside down. Everyone on this show is, at some point, given a choice: do something which is outwardly altruistic and good, but it might affect your bottom line. A lot of the characters push back on that.
I was also taken with Yasmin’s arc with her abusive boss, Kenny Kilbane [Conor MacNeill] — now sober and working the program after his Seaon 1 shenanigans.
Kay: Part of the humor for us was wondering if Kenny is being truly genuine and contrite — is there a version of this sobriety that is oppressive? Yasmin was so oppressed by Kenny in the first season. It’s his attempt to become better, but… she’s totally in the right as well. His sobriety does not allow him to become a moral authority. It does not excuse some of his worse behaviors. It’s a form of narcissism, thinking you’re better than people because you’re suddenly aware again.
Down: Sobriety has its own creed, in a way, an evangelism that can become fucking annoying.
Kay: He’s a character, we think, because of his inadequacies, [he] does want to assert power over people. That manifested itself in his getting drunk. Now he’s sober and again trying to lord something over her. I don’t think it’s conscious, I think it’s his nature.
Down: In the second season, we tried to do a better job of transferring to the viewer the same visceral reactions that people are having in the scenes. Season one felt like looking at the characters in a fish bowl, and this time we wanted to put the viewer in the bowl. The trading sequences are quite exhilarating, the sex scenes are quite full on, the drug scenes are really fun. What we liked about seeing the audience’s reaction on Twitter was the experiential nature of watching. People saying they were having panic attacks. We realized that every character is trying to pump the lever of the dopamine. If Harper makes a trade or Yasmin has a line or someone has a fuck, those endorphins allow everything else to recede into the background. That’s true to life.
Season 2 had so many incredible new characters, notably the very big role you gave to Jay Duplass [as hedge fund billionaire Jesse Bloom].
Down: Duplass was so incredible, such a revelation for us. On the page, we tried to make him not feel derivative, someone who made money off the pandemic and is now chasing off the privatization of the National Health Service. That can feel like an overtly villainous character. Getting Jay, who up to this point has played much more empathetic roles, we get a performance that feels human.
Kay: We honestly didn’t realize what a transactional, craven world we were making. It’s that we’ve lived with these characters for so long and we know them so intimately. So many of our conversations are about our empathy for them. What’s great about the show, if we could get two more seasons, is that we’ve created a world where a lot of the good shit can’t exist. But what could be really thrilling, and non-saccharine and interesting, is keeping the world as interesting but writing more humanity into these people.
Let’s quickly talk about some other newbies. Alex Alomar Akpobome as Daniel Van Deventer [aka “DVD”] was fantastic, almost like Patrick Bateman on a really great antidepressant.
Kay: DVD is the most archetypal finance bro we have on the show. He feels like he’s been plucked out of a bank. Our favorite thing about that character is that he always has the worst recommendations for things to do in London. Every single place he’s recommending — pubs, where he’s buying his food — it’s all the most ridiculous, finance bro thing. Like Time Out London.
Rishi Ramdani [Sagar Radia] also came to life this season. Particularly his recent sex scene with Harper, on the eve of his wedding. They both agree they’re “getting out the poison,” which stayed with me.
Kay: I can’t speak for Micky, but it’s one my favorite lines of the season. That scene is very surprising and sexy as fuck. You’ve never seen people fuck in such a bath of self-loathing. It gets hot and horrible so quickly. That rollercoaster of a scene is a microcosm of the show itself. Rishi is truly about the bottom line. Sagar carried himself with Rishi’s confidence between scenes. He ate the script.
One review, featured prominently in the show’s Season 2 marketing, called “Industry” the missing link between “Euphoria” and “Succession.” What do you make of that?
Down: Well those are two hyper-successful shows, so we’re not gonna balk at that. It’s not bad.
What’s the word on Season 3 and what stories are you considering?
Down: Me and Konrad talk about it all the time. We’ve been talking about the season and have some really fun ideas that we think will blow people away. We don’t know about Season 3 yet though.
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