“Four cents? Four cents?” As Harper Stern, a young banking graduate, successfully browbeats a senior colleague into helping secure a deal for her client, viewers will no doubt be cheering her on. But for her and for us, the victory is bittersweet.
The older female client in question (Sarah Parish) sexually assaulted her during a drunken car ride, an incident that Harper is reluctant to flag. It was a woman, she justifies to another graduate and, seemingly, herself.
In the world of Industry, banking is no longer a boys club – at least on the surface. Women in positions of power (and in positions to abuse that power) seem very visible, both as clients and within the offices of Pierpoint & Co., the fictional London investment bank where we meet Harper (Myha’la Herrold) and her fellow young grads, all vying for a handful of permanent positions.
Pierpoint is a spider web of power dynamics and unwritten rules, all of which the graduates (and the viewer) are desperately trying to decipher, always two steps behind. The company is on the precipice of change, stuck between the old, familiar world of Etonians and fast cars, and the new world, where a graduate like New Yorker Harper – young, female, Black, no family connections or Ivy League education – can land a new client within weeks of joining.
Evidence of the old world is everywhere, however. Cocky newcomer Robert (Harry Lawtey) neglects to change out of his much-maligned suit, and later has his shirt front pocket ripped off in the men’s toilets.
Race, gender, and class are all issues that the screenwriters address. Hari (Nabhaan Rizwan), a graduate convinced he’s being treated unfairly because of his state school background, doubles down and pulls several back-to-back all-nighters, fuelled on coffee, pills, and endless energy drinks, in order to impress his seniors. Increasingly anxious and paranoid, he runs to the toilet in tears when he realises he’s picked the wrong font for an important document.
It’s here in the toilet stall that Hari’s recent lifestyle catches up with him, and he dies, apparently of a heart attack. It’s a shock twist that viewers may have seen coming – in one taxi ride, he was seen clutching his chest. (The series is also partly inspired by the tragic death of City intern Moritz Erhardt, who had a seizure after working 72 hours straight.)
Creators Mickey Down and Konrad Kay, both former bankers, told the press that they wanted to get the “texture” of the finance world right – including the jargon. And what jargon. At best, I found the unrelenting finance terms incomprehensible, and at worst, completely distracting, taking me out of the Pierpoint world instead of immersing me in it. I can revel in Harper’s “four point” success, but because I couldn’t explain that success to you, there’s still a lingering disconnect.
The show Succession is also finance orientated and loaded with industry jargon but manages to get away with it, in part by cranking up the scale; everyone can understand a company takeover, but only industry-insiders will understand the intricate details of the stock market.
But we’re only one episode into Industry, and following Hari’s death, the stakes have been clearly laid out. The Pierpoint graduates know the toll and damage the high-pressure environment can wreak; they’ve seen the worst-case-scenario played out, witnessing their peer being carried outside in a body bag. But they return to their desks anyway. They care, deeply, about landing those jobs, and that’s surely enough reason to tune in to episode two.
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