The Hulu Original Mini-Series, “The Dropout,” is the story of losing the reins of your conscience and scurrying towards what you perceive as your ambition. The series has been directed by Michael Showalter, Francesca Gregorini, and Erica Watson.
Amanda Seyfried plays the wide-eyed Elizabeth Anne Holmes, the biotechnology prodigy who became the youngest self-made female billionaire in America.
The first episode of “The Dropout” begins with the testimony of Elizabeth Holmes, CEO, and founder of Theranos, on 7th July 2017, who had been accused of violating federal security laws. Elizabeth Holmes, CEO, and founder of Theranos, once claimed that her company had the technology through which they could run more than 70 types of blood tests, using only a drop of blood. But the best part was that they didn’t use a syringe but a kind of lancet that you could use to prick your fingertips and obtain the blood.
Elizabeth Holmes rekindled a new hope and shattered the brittle stereotypes of patriarchal society. She was proving a point that you didn’t have to be a guy wearing a gray t-shirt and flip-flops to be an entrepreneur. You could be female, but if you fight for your vision, then the world will have no choice but to acknowledge you. But how did the billionaire land in such a mess? Let’s cut out the chase and plunge into this saga of ambition, obsession, and deception.
‘The Dropout’ Episode One: Recap
Elizabeth Holmes is somebody who is extremely competitive. Even if she knows that she might not win, she is someone who would not abandon the race. Her father, Chris Holmes, loses his job, and they are forced to ask for help from the Fuisz family. Lorraine Fuisz was a good friend of Noel Holmes, Elizabeth’s mother. It kills Chris to ask Lorraine’s husband, Richard Fuisz, for help, but he has no other option. Chris Holmes used to work in a company called Enron, but due to financial fraud, the company went bankrupt. Richard was somewhat of a narcissistic and shrewd man (at least that is how Elizabeth perceived him to be). He had no problem providing help to the family, but he was the kind of guy who would want the other person to ask for it so that he could satisfy his ego with a sense of superiority. Elizabeth declares that though she wants to be a billionaire, it is not only about having money, but having a sense of purpose. She naively asks Richard if his company files medical patents so that other companies have to buy him out. Her tone is such that Richard feels that his credibility as an entrepreneur is being questioned. His ego gets bruised, and the gathering ends on an awkward note.
The fact that her father has to still take money from Richard eats Elizabeth up. When she sees her father break down in front of her, she understands the exigency of getting things done. Elizabeth attends a college immersion program where she meets Ramesh Balwani. It was unusual for a guy of his age to come to a college immersion program, but he said he had come to learn Mandarin, as it was the need of the hour. They struck a chord, and one of the main reasons behind a dedicated Elizabeth getting impressed by a guy who was twice her age was the fact that he owned a software company, which he had sold for 40 million dollars. Elizabeth had a strong affinity towards entrepreneurs, and this was the closest she had gotten to one. They continue talking even after the program ends.
Elizabeth pleads with Professor Channing Robertson to let her be a part of a graduate-level research group. He gets baffled by her intelligence when she gives him a solution to his experiment that was not working despite his concerted effort. It was enough to get her through the research group. Elizabeth finally comes up with an idea. She invites Professor Robertson to join her to-be incorporated company as a founding member. Robertson asks her to meet Phyllis Gardner, a celebrated physician. Phyllis dismisses her idea quite ruthlessly, which sends a raging Elizabeth into her cocoon. She was sexually abused during that period, which added to the agony. But a girl who woke up to a poster of Steve Jobs in her room was not going to give up so easily. She drops out of college and returns with the idea of developing a blood-testing machine that would make healthcare more accessible, and henceforth, the foundation of Theranos was laid.
‘The Dropout’ Episode Two: Recap
The blueprint was prepared, people like Ian Gibbon, the British biochemist who taught at Stanford, were taken on board, but the hunt for potential investors didn’t seem like it would ever end. There was no doubt that the ideation had some merit, but it had to be backed up by a working prototype. To put it in layman’s terms, Elizabeth needed to show the investors a demo of her machine, but the problem was that it was still not ready.
There were anomalies that the renowned engineer duo of Rakesh Madhava and Edmond Ku, who were hired by Elizabeth Holmes, was not able to fix. But Elizabeth had to get investors since they didn’t have enough resources to carry on with the trials. She somehow manages to bring Don Lucas on board, who makes her meet Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle. Larry tells her that he will get her a meeting with the pharmaceutical behemoth Novartis and that if she can demo her product, she will have him and Don Lucas on board.
Greed was slowly overpowering the young entrepreneur. Meeting the big guns was like experiencing gluttony. Even when your stomach couldn’t take more, you still wanted more. Elizabeth fakes the demo in the meeting with Novartis and misrepresents the results. She was able to bring 165 million dollars in funding. But her confidence was constantly dwindling. She knew that if she didn’t have a working prototype, then all this would go in vain. With 165 million dollars by her side, the lioness had already tasted blood. And such is the peculiarity of materialistic lust that the person who has experienced it, most of the times cannot return to not wanting it.
‘The Dropout’ Episode Three: Recap
With people like Ana Ariola, the fabled product designer of Apple, and Avie Tevanian, a software engineer also from Apple, by her side, Elizabeth’s company, Theranos, was gaining momentum. The contract with Novartis hadn’t gone as she had expected, and they were trying to get a deal with Pfizer. Pfizer planned to make final decisions based on the results. Avie warns Don Lucas about misrepresenting the facts to the board. Don doesn’t agree and ends up firing him. Elizabeth hired another engineer to develop a completely different prototype that was not aligned to the idea that was promising something unique to the world. Richard Fuisz had filed a competing patent that added to the troubles that Elizabeth was already facing.
Ana Ariola and her team also resign, and Don decides to take matters into his own hands. He comes to the conclusion that Elizabeth needs adult supervision. Till the time they found someone else, Tom, one of the board of directors, was unanimously chosen to be the acting CEO.
That is when Elizabeth plays a masterstroke. Sunny Balwani, whom she was dating, always wanted to be a part of the plan. Elizabeth never meddled in her professional and personal life. She didn’t want him to be a part of her entrepreneurial journey, as she feared that somewhere, people would take away her credit if they found out that she was backed up by a wealthy male counterpart. But in the board meeting, she wasn’t left with much of an option. In an astute manner, Elizabeth plays along. She accepted in front of the board that she also knew that she needed adult supervision. So she told them that an investor was willing to put $20 million into the company if she remained CEO. Sunny Balwani becomes the COO of the company and gets what he had always wanted. Elizabeth retains her position as the CEO and inches towards the next step.
Was Elizabeth Holmes Wrong In Being Ambitious?
The people who still had their consciences alive left Theranos. Elizabeth Holmes was adamant about bringing her product to the market with or without the certifications and approvals. She pitched an idea to create a retail space for the company. She described herself as a girl who wanted to change the world by doing good for mankind. But, hidden behind this philanthropic behavior were deep and dark desires of opportunism.
Elizabeth could not be blamed for being ambitious. She could not be blamed for firing people who did not align with her ideologies. The problem was that she not only crossed the ethical boundaries but mocked them with utter disregard. When she went to Nashville to conduct the trial, she knew that it was the lives of the people that she was playing with. Edmond Ku warned her, but she had a very different picture playing in her mind. She had this image of what an entrepreneur should be. She wanted to be a flag bearer of change and revolution, just like her idol, Steve Jobs. Instead of fixing the problem, she started finding diversions.
Somewhere down the line, she stopped acting on her intuitions and started catering to this larger-than-life persona that she desperately wanted people to acknowledge.
“The Dropout” is a 2022 Biopic Crime Drama mini-series created by Elizabeth Meriwether. The series follows the life of biotechnology prodigy Elizabeth Anne Holmes.