The Dropout (2022) Limited Series Review A+

Amanda Seyfried

Elizabeth Meriwether created the eight-part series based on Rebecca Jarvis’s podcast of the same name, and she does a phenomenal job of telling the story of the now-defunct biotechnology company “Theranos” and its disgraced founder Elizabeth Holmes who dropped out of Stanford at the beginning of her sophomore year to pursue her dream of obtaining multiple diagnoses from a single finger prick of blood. Although Alex Gibney’s documentary “The Inventor” is not credited, a glimpse of Holmes in that movie leaves an indelible impression.

The Dropout

After some establishing shots of her home life in the DC area – her father was let go by Enron – “Dropout” traces Holmes’ rise from her leaving Stanford at nineteen, having convinced herself, and others, that her finger prick technology was going to revolutionize medicine in the United States. Yet, she had not done a single piece of the groundwork. She used her tuition money to start Theranos, and people flocked to the new Silicon Valley startup. This included the patronage of the rich and the famous, which explains, in part, why her reign lasted an incredible thirteen years from 2002 to 2015.

Why they did it is a mystery. One of the beauties of the series is that it maintains the mystery of Elizabeth Holmes and does not attempt to find any easy answers.Part of what makes her story so addictive is that the equipment at Theranos never worked. The device that analyzed a pinprick of blood may have generated a few “correct” numbers on a random basis, and the initial ruse at Theranos was implemented to gain some time until they could replicate what they thought was genuine data. But these numbers were simply stochastic events, and when they had to give their first demo to investors, they faked it. After that moment, every lab result they released was either fabricated or obtained with larger volumes of blood using the same machines (hidden) that their major competitors, Quest and LabCorp, use daily.

The Dropout

Amanda Seyfried is simply amazing. She nails Holmes’s uncomfortable stare and, gradually, that otherworldly voice. But she also gives us a natural person, something many may not have thought possible. Holmes’ complex relationship with her mom and dad and her long-term romance with Sunny Balwani is beautifully handled. Balwani, expertly played by Naveen Andrews, was a Silicon Valley businessman whom Holmes made COO of Theranos in return for his donation of twenty million dollars. Seyfried’s portrait of Holmes is of an isolated individual who could be cruel and have no sense of loyalty. Yet she is also vulnerable, and there are times when you feel sorry for her. There were a few scenes in which, against all odds, I was rooting for her.

The Dropout

Then there is the fantastic supporting cast, many playing famous men and women. In addition to Andrews, special mention must go to: James Hiroyuki Liao plays Dr. Edmond Ku, one of the first employees who begins to feel something is amiss at Theranos. William H. Macy’s inspired turn as grumpy inventor Richard Fuisz, who sued and was then countersued by Holmes over a patent. Laurie Metcalf gives another classic performance as no-nonsense Stanford professor Phyllis Gardner, who picked Holms for a fake the first time they met. She delivers a blistering critique, which revolves around Yoda, our beloved Star Wars character (Elizabeth was a huge fan), one of the series’s best moments. Stephen Fry as Ian Gibbons, Theranos’ head of chemistry, who committed suicide before being called to testify on a patent issue. Holmes had put her name on every Theranos-generated patent, although she had not worked on a single piece of scientific data. Kudos also to Sam Waterston as George Schultz, who was on the board of Theranos and a prominent defender of Holmes, Kurtwood Smith, as uber-attorney David Boies, whose laid-back manner concealed a ruthless cross-examiner, Michaela Watkins as the head of Theranos’ legal team, Amir Arison as investor Avie Tevanian, Mary Lynn Raiskub as Lorraine Fuisz, Richard’s wife, and Kate Burton, superb as Rochelle Gibbons, Ian’s wife.

“The Dropout” is a magnificent package and essential viewing.


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