Maya, the new HR manager whose story is told in Rules of the game, has an inconvenient secret. She tries her best to look capable, especially in her attempts to change a sexist corporate culture with her own secrets, but she’s actually at Fly Dynamic on the run from a stalking ex-husband. You wouldn’t want that to be known. You don’t want to look weak.
Fly Dynamic is a family-owned sportswear company from the British industrial north: fictitious, of course, but its culture is instantly recognizable. Two brothers – CEO Owen Jenkins (superficially affable, ruthless, played by Ben Batt) and his sidekick Gareth (superficially more cuddly, actually addicted to violent porn, Kieran Bew) – ostensibly run the show. They’ve had a long history of after-hours parties and a selection of office juniors, dampened by an unspoken collective belief that you better watch out for yourself because no one else will. Which is undoubtedly true: At the opening of the first episode, there is the body of a dead woman on the floor of the foyer of the company headquarters. No one took care of her.
At the center of this whirlwind of #MeToo crimes and misdemeanors is Maxine Peake’s Sam, a hard-faced virago who joined the company at the age of 16 and rose through the ranks to become chief operating officer, the the only woman at board meetings and praised by the brothers – who are old enough to have tumbled with her in the playground – as “one of the boys”. Their mother Anita (a terrifying spin on Alison Steadman), a true businesswoman since her husband Harry’s death, says she’s “part of the family”. Loyalty is everything. It’s the market.
Maxine Peake, a revered and adventurous actress with a solid real-life Mancunian accent, has played many of the tough northern women. Few were as unpleasant as Sam, but Peake was drawn to her as a strong personality. “I find sometimes in dramas that there will be a female lead, but you can’t quite understand her character; it’s a bit like everyone,” she says. “I just felt like I knew all of these people from the first episode. They were complex and they were funny and there was a…seam of dark humor that I really liked. I think a big thing for women’s survival is our sense of humor.
Sam hired Maya (Rakhee Thakrar) but that doesn’t mean she likes him. The company goes public; a diverse hire makes them look good. However, when that hire starts asking awkward questions — like what happened to her predecessor, who is still on the company payroll — she ceases to be a PR asset. Somehow, the painfully well-meaning Maya needs to be watered to rest. Like anything guys don’t like, it becomes Sam’s job.
Maya is, in fact, not particularly likable, being judgmental, not good at jokes, and prone to relying on psychobabble. When it falls to her to pay the company’s annual visit to the parents of a young woman who died 10 years earlier after an office party, she sits on their couch assuring them that she will “save them some time”. ‘space’ to say what they feel. Unsurprisingly, they kick her out. What’s more surprising is that Sam doesn’t throw Maya away when she comes up with a wizard wheeze for corporate ties: Pajama Friday. “I loved Maya trying to annoy Sam with that,” Thakrar says. “She’s a tester.”
Maya is more than a tester. Having realized that her new employer has skeletons in the closet, she is determined to bring them out of the light. “I think it’s fair to say that she can quickly become quite obsessed with the truth because she kind of escapes her own truth,” Thakrar says. She dug deep, reading the online diary of a real HR manager and everything she could find about women leaving or being trapped in coercive relationships like Maya’s.