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The creators of Industry unpack the show’s explosive second season

Along with sex, drugs and backstabbing, season two of Industry features COVID-19 and references to Succession – here, co-creators Mickey Down and Konrad Kay blow open the new series

“I don’t think I’ve admitted this in an interview,” says Mickey Down, the co-creator of Industry. “The original opening of season two was Harper in the hotel room for five minutes, talking on the phone, not seeing anything else.”

“HBO were like, ‘What the fuck is this?’” says Konrad Kay, his fellow co-creator. “The montage at the start was made in the edit from stuff we’d shot, because we were like, ‘Fuck, we need to throw people in this world again!’”

Rest assured, season two of Industry is absolutely riveting, both hilarious and cutting in its depiction of young, backstabbing, sexually voracious, often coke-snorting bankers with an addiction to earning money, not that they seem to enjoy it. Taking place 18 months after season one, the HBO/BBC co-production is also hugely topical: it acknowledges the pandemic. Whereas Succession, a supposedly contemporary show, pretends COVID-19 never happened, Industry introduces Jesse Bloom (Jay Duplass), a hedge fund manager who got rich during market instability and is nicknamed Mr COVID.

In fact, Industry takes several storytelling risks, including a jab by Eric (Ken Leung) at a colleague for dressing like Kendall Roy. “We reference Succession in episode seven,” Kay says, laughing. “I can’t believe HBO let us do it.”

After a year WFH (Working From Hotel), Harper (Myha’la Herrold) is ordered back to Pierpoint’s London office where she awkwardly catches up with Yasmin (Marisa Abela), who still holds a grudge from the season one finale. Meanwhile, Robert (Harry Lawtey) is now sober, Kenny (Connor MacNeill) has been to rehab, and Rishi (Sagar Radia) is an even bigger dick than ever. While Gus (David Jonsson) is no longer at the firm, he appears in later episodes, eventually dating Mr COVID’s son.

“Yasmin left season one not wanting to wear her privilege on her sleeve,” Down says. “But she spent lockdown surrounded by her rich European friends, and goes from enormous kitchen to enormous kitchen, sesh-ing, taking drugs, and partying. She comes back to Pierpoint and thinks, ‘This job is about confidence, and I’m a confident person.’ Maxime even says to her (during sex), ‘You should be more like this at work.’”

“Season one was really difficult to write because the characters, by their nature, were passive,” Kay says. “They had to be told to do shit. They were young and powerless. Season two jumps two years. Harper can drive her own story. She doesn’t need to listen to Eric anymore.”

When I speak to the duo, it’s in mid-August, at BBC New Broadcasting House, in an intimidating, glass-walled meeting room that could be straight out of Pierpoint. Before screenwriting, the pair worked in finance, Down in mergers and acquisitions, Kay in equity sales. While they may seem overqualified for Industry, a show inspired by their banking adventures, they otherwise had few IMDb credits. Subsequently, season one – and its Lena Dunham-directed pilot – stood out for its propulsive, in-your-face approach to the medium, upping the sex, drugs, and treachery for the sheer entertainment value and to obey the protagonists’ desires.

However, an uncredited presence in season one’s writers’ room was Candyman director Nia DaCosta. “It was before Nia conquered Hollywood and did Marvel stuff,” Kay says. “She had a big influence on Harper’s character. Her attitude slipped into the way she talks.”

In season one, Harper has the most compelling arc: she’s lied about her qualifications; she gets her mentor Eric sacked; she then rescues Eric, choosing to betray Daria, a VP who promised her full support. In season two, Harper’s complexity continues with her undefinable relationship with Mr COVID, her Eric away from Eric, and a cutthroat approach to a cruel, bizarre job – while remaining vulnerable at all times. In interviews, Herrold has praised the character for defying what’s expected from a Black woman on TV.

“The response, especially from Black Twitter, towards Harper is one of the things I find most satisfying about the show... I see, ‘Great, they’ve written a character who’s ambitious, sure of herself, and happy to bludgeon people’” – Mickey Down

“If it throws people, we’re doing our job,” Down says. “The response, especially from Black Twitter, towards Harper is one of the things I find most satisfying about the show. I don’t see, ‘How have you written such a heinous Black antihero?’ I see, ‘Great, they’ve written a character who’s ambitious, sure of herself, and happy to bludgeon people.’”

“I don’t like talking about this because I’m white guy,” Kay says. “It’s not my place. Mickey’s mixed-race. But a lot of me is in Harper. There are components of the micro-aggressions we’ve heard about, and there’s always an acknowledgement of her race. But race isn’t the key to explaining the way she is. That’s too facile, especially when someone like me writes the character with Mickey.”

I tell the duo that my favourite show, Mad Men, has a problem: I have too much comprehension of how to work at Sterling Cooper, especially when half of them only seem to wine and dine clients. In contrast, the business jargon of Industry is so mind-boggling, I wondered if the online screeners were supposed to come with subtitles. “What you’re talking about is the difference between Harper and Yas,” Down says. “Harper has knowledge at her fingertips. She’s read about every subject. But I’ve seen people on Reddit say Yas is basically (Mad Men character) Pete Campbell, in that she has nothing to offer but connections – and she leans into them.”

Like Down and Kay, the characters of Industry are cine-literate. Yasmin recreates the chest-thumping chant from Wolf of Wall Street, Kenny mimics the Ricky Gervais dance from The Office. “I like putting stuff like that in the show,” Kay says. “It means all these things exist in the universe, so therefore it makes the show more real.”

Future seasons could go further by referencing Down and Kay’s upcoming projects. The duo are working on a murder-mystery; an art-heist thriller set during Euro 96; and what Down refers to as a “piece of IP people will be really annoyed we’re writing – a beloved piece of British culture”.

In the meantime, Industry will be bingeable on iPlayer, as well as airing week by week on BBC One. Either way, they’d prefer you left space in between the episodes. “TV shouldn’t be an eight-hour movie,” Down says. “If you want to write a film, go write a film. One of the great things about HBO is, they force you to write a 55-minute episode with a beginning, middle, and end.”

“The hardest thing to write is a good ending, but it’s also the best thing,” Kay says. “If you do it properly, you get to write eight cuts to black. If you make that count, that’s awesome.”

Like me, Down and Kay rewatched Mad Men during the pandemic, which they now view through the prism of experienced screenwriters. “With Mad Men, we realised how simple some of the storytelling is,” Down says. “Some of the episodes are literally A to B to C to D. But the dialogue’s incredible, the realisation of the world, the themes, the motives – everything’s so good. There’s stuff in season one we overcomplicated. Some people said it felt punk-y, like you’re watching something original and raw. But sometimes it confused the fuck out of people.”

“In modern TV, you have your pilot, your second episode, six hours of filler, and your ending,” Kay says. “But we were like: ‘Let’s expedite all the main stories. If Harper’s going to kill Eric, she should kill him in episode three, not at the end of episode eight.’ If we get a season three, that’s something we’ll do again: how can you tell the most thrilling hour? We don’t pull any of our punches.”

Industry airs on BBC One on Tuesday, September 27 at 10:40pm. All episodes of season two will be available on BBC iPlayer the same day