Industry, series 2, review: bonk-busting banking drama returns in all its amoral glory

Maria Abela and Myha'la Herrold in series two of Industry - Simon Ridgeway
Maria Abela and Myha'la Herrold in series two of Industry - Simon Ridgeway

A lot of people these days watch "TV" on laptops with headphones. For them, Industry (BBC One) is the perfect show.

One: the high-octane, bonk-busting banking drama has hands-down the best soundtrack on television, taking in everything from Donna Summer’s State of Independence to, during the superb comeuppance finale, the Joubert Singers’s Stand on the Word. For those who have ears to listen, turn it up.

Two: once you do turn it up, your headphones will reveal some of the hilarious, and often scabrous, backchat that goes on on the trading floor of Pierpoint & Co, the London office of the US investment bank at the series’ centre. It’s bawdy and relentless – perfect mood music for the show itself.

Headphones, of course, are also distinctly antisocial, but then that suits Industry too. Banking, in this telling, is a viciously solipsistic existence, each man and woman out for themselves and all the money they can make.

The big suspension of disbelief watching Industry is to imagine that there would ever be a single moment when any of these characters would be dumb (or "weak") enough to trust anyone else. Their form of banking is just cage-fighting in suits. No one is anywhere even close to likeable, and as for pathos – well, it's hard to feel pity for someone whose entire motivation is cash, particularly when the looming jeopardy is they might lose the ridiculously overpaid job that’s making them miserable. The overarching plot for series two is that Pierpoint’s New York HQ has plans to axe the London sales desk where our cast ply their trade. And, er, so what if they do? It’s hard to get too exercised.

Eric Tao (Ken Leung) and Harper Stern (Myha'la Herrold) in Industry - Simon Ridgeway/HBO
Eric Tao (Ken Leung) and Harper Stern (Myha'la Herrold) in Industry - Simon Ridgeway/HBO

But then this is a show best binged with an espresso martini and a bag of popcorn, because a pause for thought such as "Do I really care?" can hole the ship. There’s plenty, on reflection, that doesn’t work. New character Venetia (Indy Lewis) is a doe-eyed graduate who joins Pierpoint seemingly to make up the numbers. Sober Kenny (Conor MacNeill) is, inevitably, way less fun than the toxic psycho Kenny of series one.

Against all this, writers Konrad Kay and Mickey Down scrap, and, ultimately, succeed in maintaining interest in their three central characters. Harper (Myha’la Herrold), the New Yorker with it all to prove who’ll get that deal by any means necessary, befriends a hedge-fund titan (Jay Duplass) and leads him in to a high risk "play" (everything is a "play" in high finance, which is probably a more telling word than its users have considered). Robert (Harry Lawtey), the working-class Northerner done good, has given up on the coke and champagne and finally starts to bring in some business. And Yas (Marisa Abela), the entitled heiress with major daddy issues, has to come to terms with how her surname, as much as her talent, may have got her this far.

The best parts of season two, however, belong to Eric Tao, the banking veteran, beautifully underplayed by Ken Leung. At the heart of the show is Eric’s dilemma: he wants to give young people like Harper the chances that he’s had, but he’s also fully aware of what sort of person those chances have made him. And he’s getting old for this game. You wouldn’t go so far as to describe Eric as conflicted – he’s been doing this for decades now – more like a emaciated Nosferatu who needs blood to survive.

Most of all, though, Industry is a blast: highly addictive, wicked fun and, in light of renewed focus on bankers and what they’re worth, topical too. There is copious drug use, lashings of sex and enough filthy language to give Malcolm Tucker a script credit. It’s either bold, crazy or a delicious admin error that it has found a home on BBC One. Either way, Industry remains TV’s wildest ride: strap on those headphones and jump right in.

Series one and two of Industry are available on BBC iPlayer now; series two begins on BBC One tonight at 10.40pm