When I first wrote about The Dropout weeks ago after watching the first three episodes, I was upset that limited series was trying make Elizabeth Holmes (Amanda Seyfried) a sympathetic character. Thankfully, as the series went on, viewers lost their sympathy for her. It’s an examination of the full on narcissism that exists in the business world, not just in Holmes, but those around her.
In one scene after hearing that Ian Gibbons (Stephen Fry) who at one point was the chief scientist for Theranos, had committed suicide, Holmes goes into a meeting and shows some emotion. Then, she turns to her business partner and domestic partner Sunny Balwini (Naveen Andrews) and her mood changes to relief that this means he won’t be able to give a disposition into a patent lawsuit. Just a few moments prior she seems to have a breakdown as she tells people about a dragon puppet that’s on her finger that she’s forgotten to take off. The company had thought of having these finger puppets to give to kiss who have to have blood drawn from their fingers.
By now, Elizabeth Holmes has done more damage to blonde women than every blonde woman joke in the book. Her deep voice that sounds like Mira Sorvino in Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion and wide-eyed look has been the think of parody. And Theranos became one of the biggest examples of a fraud company.
But how did it get this way? The series looks into it as it was a cause of businesspeople haunted by their own fears someone else might usurp them. During one episode, executives of Walgreens deal with Holmes and Balwani and their deceptive tactics to the point that top executive Wade Miquelon (Josh Pais) threatens to walk when Holmes and Balwani also invite representatives from CVS, a competitor, to their office.
Also, if you look at George Shultz, (Sam Waterston in a great role) who was on the Board of Directors at Theranos, you see a man who was afraid to admit that he made a bad decision. And Shultz had the credentials that anyone want. He served as the Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan and Secretary of Treasury and Secretary of Labor under Richard Nixon. During a scene where tensions come to a peak with his grandson, Tyler (Dylan Minnette) who talked with the Wall Street Journal, it’s obvious George is more worried about his own reputation than what his grandson and others have gone through. This is the “I made the best decisions on the information I had at the time” excuse that many people use rather than admit they were wrong.
And admitting any wrongdoing wasn’t what Theranos and its people were prepared to address. Most of the test results were wrong with some people getting false results on serious illnesses. The technology to tests for just about every sickness, illness, ailment and virus on the planet with a tiny drop of blood was science fiction when Theranos was founded and still is. Why did Holmes think it could be possible? Who know? And the series never does really delve into that.
Instead, it focuses more on the strong arm tactics Theranos used to silence any naysayers. You probably hear more about “Non-Disclosure Agreements” and “NDA” here than the last 30 years of movies. With an NDA, someone who knew things were not working couldn’t tell anyone out of fear of lawsuits. And Theranos hired lawyers David Boies (Kurtwood Smith) and Linda Tanner (Michaela Watkins) to do their dirty work in the legal department. In the end, even Tanner gets screwed over by Holmes and Theranos.
While The Dropout is a good series, it’s not a great series. There’s too many characters that those you spent the first part getting invested in pretty much leave and are never seen again while others come on later in. And while all these people are relevant to the rise and downfall of Theranos, the eighth and final episode seems rushed to come to a conclusion. At the same time, eight episodes roughly 50-55 minutes long is enough.
As Holmes, Seyfried does her best to make Holmes unlikable but I questioned the final scene where she breaks down outside the Theranos office and screams. It would’ve been better if she kept it internalized. But once her Uber car arrives, Holmes changes her demeanor to happy and pleasant for her driver. It’s no surprise. She’s a narcissist. It’s very likely that Seyfried will get a lot of award nominations and praise.
The biggest disappoint is Andrews as Balwini, but mainly because the series doesn’t give him much to do in the second half except just show up for a few scenes and argue with Holmes. It spent so much building him up early on. I was also wondering why they even tried to keep their relationship a secret.
As I said, Waterston does some good work as Shultz and Minnette is good. Laurie Metcalf is always a joy to watch as Dr. Phyllis Gardner, one of the first to be skeptical of Holmes. However, the casting of Alan Ruck as a gullible Walgreens executive who was able to coerce the others to do business with Theranos seems a little off. You wonder how someone could rise so high in the corporation. Ruck seems to bring the same persona he did as the gullible tourist in Speed. I’m not really sure the real Dr. Jay Rosan may have acted like this but I think a lot was dramatized.
And like I mentioned above, we don’t really need to see more. There’s probably more you can research on yourself. I think the reason so many people got on board with Holmes and Theranos is the business world, especially with technology, is full of “what ifs” with investors and partnerships that didn’t pan out. Look at Netflix and Blockbuster. If the business world, you don’t want to miss out on the next biggest thing.
And while Holmes idolized Steve Jobs and Apple Computers, what Jobs and the rest were trying to do was to make bigger computers accessible to regular people. But it took years, and decades, to move a computer from a big room at IBM to a small piece of machinery that was about the size of a checkbook that could fit in your pocket. There was a lot of trial and error. Holmes wanted Theranos to run the Boston Marathon went it didn’t even know crawl across the room just yet.
What do you think? Please comment.