Major spoilers ahead for HBO's Industry.
The season 1 finale of HBO’s Industry ended on a toxic twist that shocked fans. In the eighth episode, which dropped early and is available now on HBO, viewers find out who stays at Pierpoint, who gets the boot, and just how invested Harper (Myha’la Herrold) is in not going home to the United States.
The intense drama follows the lives of recent university graduates as they navigate a fictional investment bank in London called Pierpoint & Co, which viewers in finance will recognize as a thinly veiled amalgam of J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs. At the center of the group is the fearless and ruthless Harper Stern , the unexpected success story of the entry-level class, who lied about graduating from a state school (in an industry where it’s Ivy League pedigree or bust) and surprised everyone with her innate knack for the job. Over the course of the season, we follow Harper on a roller coaster ride of drugs, sex, competition, and substantial financial losses. But despite her unpredictable nature, nothing could prepare us for her ultimate betrayal.
After Reduction in Force (RIF) day, Harper has to make a pivotal decision for the future of the company —take back erratic, narcissistic Managing Director Eric (Ken Leung) or keep rule-abiding, no-nonsense Line Manager Daria (Freya Mavor). We know Harper chooses Eric, even though Daria is the only one willing to change the gross, intimidating, and misogynistic culture at the company.
Harper’s decision wasn’t a simple one, but it does speak to her character throughout the series — she has never been someone who values integrity. In episode 4, she lied to a client and a higher-up to try to cover a £50,000 mistake, only to make it far worse. Harper’s behavior shouldn’t be surprising considering that manipulation and corruption are a standard at Pierpoint.
Even the graduates’ program supervisor Sara (Priyanga Burford) and Daria participate in the toxic culture by focusing on their own personal gains instead of fostering a healthy work environment. Sara is more worried about maintaining the public image of the company, while Daria manipulates Harper into aiding in Eric’s termination. To make matters worse, Harper tells Daria that a client sexually assaulted her, and Daria’s response is to tell Harper “she’s not thinking straight.” Harper realizes that they are, in their own way, perpetuating the same system that kept Eric at Pierpoint so long. Plus, Eric looked out for Harper when Daria didn’t. Favoritism goes a long way in a workplace so fueled by narcissism.
Harper’s decision makes sense for who she is. She wants to climb the ranks at Pierpoint and is willing to do whatever is necessary, including screwing over a few people. However, viewers may wonder what would have happened if Harper chose Daria to remain at the company. Would the culture at Pierpoint really be that different if women were in charge?
Based on Sara, Daria, and Harper’s behavior; the answer is no. Industry writers make it clear that it is difficult for women to change an industry that was designed to exclude them on an elemental, systemic level. Even when Daria acknowledges her wrongdoings and tells Harper that they will take her sexual assault seriously, Harper has her fired. Her decision also affects her roommate and friend Yasmin (Marisa Abela), who will now have to continue working under an emotionally abusive male boss.
Pierpoint serves as a microcosm of the current corporate, misogynistic culture that plagues the high finance industry. The creators of the show, Konrad Kay and Mickey Down, say they left the finance and banking industry after failing miserably to meet the unrealistic expectations. In order for women to be successful in that world, they are forced to make extremely hard choices. In the show, Yasmin was strongly encouraged not to report inappropriate behavior in order to secure her permanent position. A very similar real-world incident happened in October of 2020, when Goldman Sachs was criticized for covering up sexual assault allegations and firing the woman who reported the incident.
It is clear that this industry is more about furthering personal agendas than creating a more equitable workplace without sexism. Survival and upward mobility are more important than accountability and equity at Pierpoint. Harper has now burned many bridges and doesn’t seem to care about repairing them. Should there be a second season (HBO has yet to announce a renewal), it will have even more competition and backstabbing. Considering that a new class of graduates will arrive, Harper will have to be even more cunning to avoid the possibility of a newcomer with similar gumption jeopardizing her place at the company.
If the women at Pierpoint want to continue in the field, they have to play the game. Can we blame them for using the system when it benefits them, and choosing to opt-out when it doesn’t?