Industry: Season 2

Genre: Workplace Drama
Network: HBO
Season Year: 2022
Watch: Max

Everyone sucks. Ok, not absolutely everyone. But it is really difficult to root for just about anyone on this show. Even the ones you think may have a glimmer of honor and self-respect generally end up being the spoiled brats, damaged sociopaths or debauched losers that you kind of expect them to be. Is this just a generational thing? Is back-stabbing, constant coke snorting and depraved sex just what the cusp Millennial / Gen Z crowd are up to? Am I only to relate to the only two main Gen X actors, Ken Leung and Jay Duplass, in this season of television? Coincidently the only two characters in the show who aren’t constantly ingesting drugs or involved in graphic sex scenes. Maybe that’s to spare us. Maybe that’s just who us olds are.

This is all to say that Industry can be a pretty fraught piece of TV. The intensity level probably meant to mimic the amped-up nature of a coke high or the adrenaline-filled nature of a physical encounter. Honestly, the biggest anxiety comes from a bunch of work stuff that I barely understand. I know these financial people are constantly gambling and risking and gambling some more, but the details are all a bit of nonsense to me. Because though I may live with a person who worked in this world for a couple decades, I absorbed practically nothing. All I know is that I look over at Ms. Hipster and she seems to constantly have a sheen of cold sweat on her brow watching this show. So all I have without understanding the finance jargon are the despicable characters constantly spouting it. And, yes, I understand that characters need not be likable to be good, but I can’t help but compare this series with one that pulls off the trick of making terrible people still somehow be ones I want to spend time with: Succession.

And I suppose this is one of my issues with the show overall. I truly can’t stand Harper Stern (Myha’la Herrold), the character they’ve chosen to lead this season’s cast. They made her the American fish out of water in the first season. The against-all-odds success story. This season she’s just a straight-up dick. Like a truly horrible person. A sociopath who will do anything and anyone to come out on top. I’m sure the writers tried to give us an understanding of why she’s like this, but it doesn’t change the fact that every time she has an opportunity to redeem herself and do the right thing, she chooses the darkness. She’s a really tough hang for me. And I know I’m generally kind of a prude when it comes to this stuff — and the writers are not shying away from her being a fucked-up person — but I just have a hard time believing any one person would be this coldly driven. Though I work in a more namby-pamby industry, I suppose. And, once again, come from a generation where you put your head down, do your work and take very few chances. But at the same time be respectful and collaborative with your workmates and avoid conflict however and whenever possible. So… not my experience.

Outside of Harper, we have what amounts to another group of young characters who, this season, are rendered pretty ineffectual and flimsy. Especially in the face of Harper’s boldness. There’s the spoiled princess, Yasmin (Marisa Abela), who probably feels the most like a young person. Or what us Gen Xers imagine the stereotypical young Millennial is. She’s a rich girl who gets her job through nepotism, but is completely unaware that she neither worked for nor deserved the job she has. But still she thinks she deserves more. All while ingesting more coke than seems humanly possible, sleeping with clients, family friends, a really, truly annoying French co-worker and anyone else she spies while barely working and thinking that somehow equals deserving even more in her work life. And then is shocked (shocked!) when it all comes crashing down because her confidence is completely misplaced and her cluelessness of her own situation really real. She feels terrible for herself. But are we also supposed to feel bad for her? Because I most certainly don’t. Another character for whom I have no sympathy. But am I the asshole here? I don’t think so.

So that leaves us with Robert (Harry Lawtey). The dude who spent the entire first season doing drugs out of dude’s asses and trying to screw his way through everyone in order to presumably distract from the fact he’s kind of a dummy. Newly sober, his dumbness is fully on display this season. But Robert, reformed party boy, is no fun. His fellow characters say as much. And, honestly, he is a bit of a wet blanket. I don’t know if it’s just him, but Lawtey is incredibly good at resting dufus face. He spends the majority of the season literally slack-jawed at his terminal. But the writers clearly go out of their way to rehab his image. We see his shit-heel father and understand that there is very little there in terms of his upbringing to prepare him for being a normal participant in society. His mother issues come out full force with an older female client. All with weird tinges of subservient infantilism. But he is the guy this season that they clearly try to use to ground us. To give us one person who is “normal” and at least trying (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) to overcome this terrible industry and his personal failings. All while showing us that sober people are kind of a drag. Even kinda-sober people.

But, look, the show is compelling. It’s well-written. It’s well-acted. But it’s kind of a slow-motion car crash. Which is what makes it compelling, I suppose. But also makes it harrowing in a way that isn’t always pleasant. Not to go back to Succession again, but at least that show has some comedy breaks on occasion. Or at least some moments of absurd levity. And I get that these are different shows, but there are some grinding episodes in the back half of Industry that involve some serious financial gymnastics between Harper and Jay Duplass’ billionaire investor character, Jesse Bloom, that literally feel like being thrown into a repeating nightmare of mean-spirited, jargon-laden torture. That said, the drama and machinations with Jesse, which happen simultaneously with a splinter group from Pierpoint trying a bit of a mini-coup, is a pretty impressive dance. The whiteboard must have been a real doozy. And then the twist to wrap up the season wasn’t something I certainly saw coming. But this may have just been because I had to pause every five minutes to confirm with Ms. Hipster what the hell was going on. Because, again, I don’t know or understand shit about the different types of groups at an investment bank, British financial rules at what and how exactly shorting a stock works. So I was so focused making sure I was following the plot that I missed the signs that some behind-the-scenes stuff was afoot.

I imagine there will be a third season of Industry. And I’m not quite sure my constitution can take it. The writers left the show in an interesting place, so I’ll be curious how they land the plane. Or just keep the chaos going. Will season three be Harper’s redemption arc? Will Robert go back to hitting the pipe and finally pick up the phone and actually do his job? Will Yasmin get a job as a barista and just morph into Rachel Green from Friends? Do we find out why Jesse Bloom’s son, goofily named Leo Bloom (Sonny Poon Tip), is one of the more confounding casting decisions in the near history of peak TV? I mean, this is based on the fact he’s supposed to be in high school and looks thirty, confusingly has a British accent despite his father being American (which they kinda explain away, but weakly) and, uh, looks absolutely nothing like Jay Duplass. And, yes, I know his mom could be something other than a white person like Duplass, but none of that is explained in any way, so it just comes off as a weird choice all the way around. In fact that whole story line between Bloom and his son just seemed like a wedge way to keep the oddball Gus character (David Jonsson) involved in the show after he exited Pierpoint at the end of last season. Anyway, lots of questions. Lots a plot to unravel. And hopefully some growing up. But probably not.