“That visceral reaction is exactly what we were aiming for.”

By Alamin Yohannes
December 22, 2020 at 12:01 AM EST
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Credit: Amanda Searle/HBO

Warning: The article contains spoilers about the season finale of Industry.

Harper Stern (Myha'la Herrold) chooses herself in the season finale of Industry — everyone else be damned.

Much of the recently renewed HBO drama's season 1 ender centered on whether Pierpoint's young grads would land full-time jobs at the investment bank, something that weighed heavily on Harper. To ensure her spot, Harper — when faced with the opportunity to retract her complaint that got him fired — chooses to bring back her toxic boss Eric Tao (Ken Leung) over Sara Dhadwal (Priyanga Burford), who wants the young grad to help her change the culture at Pierpoint. The decision secured her job but shattered her relationships with Daria Greenock (Freya Mavor), who was fired to make room for Eric, and her friend Yasmin Kara-Hanani (Marisa Abela), a fellow grad banking on Daria to get out of a toxic situation of her own.

Harper's ending was something series co-creators Mickey Down and Konrad Kay decided on early when mapping out the season — and they have seen the mixed thoughts about Harper's choice, which was precisely what they wanted. "That visceral reaction is exactly what we were aiming for," Kay, who suggests anyone watching closely will see that Harper always picks herself, tells EW.

Credit: Amanda Searle/HBO

Harper was a character conceived as one that would be underestimated, both by Industry's characters and viewers of the show. People assume she'd jump at the chance to change Pierpoint by taking this big moral stand against the company, but "if anyone looks at Harper and the way we conceived the character, it's just not in her wheelhouse," Down explains.

Kay points out how Harper is placed between Daria and Eric in a game of HR mechanisms and corporate politics throughout the season. From Herrold's perspective, the underestimation of Harper is apparent when Sara makes the pitch to side with her over Eric. Whether Sara makes assumptions about Harper or she simply sees her as an asset to achieve her goal to change the bank for the better, it's clear to Harper that this banking executive doesn't know her at all. "She thinks Harper is coming to change the culture of the bank, when in reality she's coming here to make money, secure her future, and look out for herself," Herrold explains.

Herrold is excited to continue telling Harper's story, which adds to the types of stories being told about Black people. "What I think is so rewarding about this character is, we're starting this conversation that the Black existence is more than one thing or more than two things," she says. "We as Black people are multifaceted. It is imperative that all kinds of stories are told. We, as a people, deserve better and have earned better."

Elsewhere in the finale, Yasmin gets out of her unhappy relationship, Gus Sackey (David Jonsson) throws away his chance at Peirpoint by choosing to free himself, and Robert Spearing's (Harry Lawtey) future at the bank was left unknown.

We spoke to Industry creators Down and Kay about what's next for Harper, the Yasmin-Rob sexually-charged dynamic, and much more.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Harper has landed her job at Peirpoint. What's next for her?

MICKEY DOWN: She makes a pretty profound decision to advance her career, maybe at the cost of the relationships that she's made over the course of the season. What we want to explore in season 2 is her negotiating what that decision means for her, her life in London, and her relationship with the people are closest to her, like Yasmin and Eric.

Also, we want to delve deeper into the reasoning [behind] why she went into this industry in the first place, and, as a broader question, why the four recruits went into this industry. The first season was really about what these characters will do to survive in this quite cutthroat new environment. The second season is going to be about what you do when you've got your feet under the desk, and you decide to reinvent yourself in tandem with what your institution is expecting from you.

Credit: Amanda Searle/HBO

What were you trying to say about how young professionals fit the workplace?

KONRAD KAY: Pierpoint is a kind of metaphor for a lot of corporate workplaces, but especially a financial workplace. Since 2008, there's been this kind of slow churn of progress towards reform in this industry.

What is interesting to us is whether you can truly change institutions where power accumulates or whether the people at the bottom are always going to be subject to the churn of things going on above them. There's a version of this show where Gen Z and millennial recruits come in, and we explore their politics, point of view, and worldview, where all these characters start moralizing about how the world has to be better. What we were trying to do was to show how [they were] still subject to all of these old processes, and these old ways of thinking. Harper is maybe a really good example of this, even though she kind of has her own free will and agency and obviously really drives her own story she becomes a sort of pawn in the chess game of the higher-ups as it were.

With Harper, Gus, Eric, and Sara, there are several characters of color throughout the back. How did those choices fit into the exploration of the micropolitics of the workplace?

DOWN: In terms of the characters chosen at the bottom level, it was always important for us to have characters of color in those lead roles because it feels like an unexpected way into the show. Most shows about this industry are usually from the top-down, and they're generally about rich, white, straight men. This felt like the most interesting version of the show.

For Harper, we thought a lot about who would be a great mentor for her. When we were formulating Eric, we needed someone who saw something that other people didn't see in her, someone with a quite similar background who also considers himself an outsider. He needed to be able to bring her up and push her. He says in episode four, the idea of [Harper] being successful in this rarefied world is intimidating to a lot of people who have been the gatekeepers until now. This is not cynical, but we wanted to have an Asian American character you've never seen before. I heard Ken say in an interview that this is not the kind of part he was getting before. The idea that we've created the character, which just doesn't fit into the idea of what an Asian American or an Asian person should be on screen, is really important.

Yasmin has a lot going on in the finale between feeling betrayed by Harper and standing up to a few people, some long overdue. Where do you think she is on her journey of coming into herself, both personally and professionally?

KAY: Yasmin leans away from her personality, privilege, and network, things that would make her very at her job, but instinctively the people on her desk would recoil from. She goes through this negotiation with herself through the first season, and the question in a second season is, what am I without my privilege? There's a version of Yasmin that is very successful where she has managers who empower her and don't feel alienated by her upbringing. Season 2 is going to sort of lean into things that would have made her good in the first place if Kenny has recognized them in her. She could be a formidable force.

Credit: Amanda Searle/HBO

Yasmin and Rob's dynamic on the show is so fascinating. What inspired it, and what was their arc about?

KAY: Yeah, good question. In its very earliest incarnations, we were talking about what a kind of sub-dom sexual relationship feels like between two people who don't understand that that's what gets them off. Obviously, on some level, it's about power, right? Robert aspires to be with someone like Yasmin, so he doesn't mind being treated badly by her. Yasmin feels no power at work, no sexual gratification at home, so she goes looking for someone to give her a sense of power. She doesn't understand that the cat and mouse she does with Robert is a sexual thing for her.

There's a bit where she takes off her [underwear] and puts them in his pocket. There's a great bit of acting from Marisa does in the mirror where she says, "what the fuck?" That was such an important moment because she doesn't quite understand why she's getting a thrill out of this, and that felt very true to us and true to life. In the scene where she makes him eat the semen off the mirror is obviously hot, but it's also about power and pushing this guy to the absolute edge of what the game was to both of them.

It's all about that negotiation and experimentation, which we thought was true to people trying to feel their way through this.

Was it intentional that you guys left Rob's status at Pierpoint unclear?

DOWN: It was intentional for it to be unclear.

So for characters like Rob, Gus, and Daria, characters with futures away from Pierpoint, is there a place for them in the story moving forward?

DOWN: "Potentially" is a good word because there's always potential that these characters can return in some form, within Pierpoint or outside it.

Credit: Amanda Searle/HBO

Toward the end of the season, especially in the finale, there's a lot of maneuvering from the higher-ups. Is there more room for their agendas and storylines in season 2?

KAY: In season 1, [we made] sure that everything was subjective to the experience of the graduates, so you only really got a sense of the wide bank as it pertained to them. We're going to keep that in season 2 to some extent, but inevitably they're a year ahead in their career, and the relationships are going to be deeper. We have quite a big story engine for season 2 about the bank higher-ups. Their relationships with the senior figures only become deeper in the second season, so you get more of a sense of that stuff.

What are you guys most proud of about season 1?

DOWN: I'm quite proud of the fact that we've had managed to spark debate because it's all we really wanted to do. I love that people have such wildly different interpretations of the ending and of Harper's character and, some people actually hate Robert and other characters, and some people actually love them.

KAY: What we're trying to say is, put on screen in the relationships and choices that people make, and then, in the end, we don't provide easy answers. The fact that people have such different opinions about it really means that it's kind of work. It's worked as we intended, which really makes us quite happy.

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