‘The Dropout’ chronicles the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes



Carol Chen

“The Dropout,” created by Elizabeth Meriwether, premiered its first three episodes on Hulu on March 3. The miniseries will debut the subsequent five episodes on a weekly basis.

Based on a true story, this miniseries documents the rise and fall of a fraudulent Silicon Valley startup. Amanda Seyfried stars as Elizabeth Holmes, the main character and founder of Theranos.

The real Elizabeth Holmes was found guilty of four counts of fraud in January of this year, which is not the ending she had in mind when she founded her company in 2003 after dropping out of Stanford University. Holmes had envisioned a revolutionary blood testing device that could detect a multitude of diseases with just one drop of blood.

After acquiring billions of dollars from investors, Theranos was still having difficulty producing a device that promised accurate results. For over a decade, Holmes continued to fraud investors and clients. “The Dropout” details Holmes’s journey from a determined young woman to a multi-billionaire criminal.

Seyfried played Holmes accurately with her deepened voice, intense gaze and ambitious nature. Her co–star, Naveen Andrews, played Sunny Balwani, the business partner-in-crime and lover of Holmes. The show also features a diverse cast which includes Nicky Endres, Utkarsh Ambudkar and James Hiroyuki Liao, who play Holmes’s employees.

The show moves at a quick pace, but the plot is easy to keep up with, as the scenes flow well together. The show also depicts the details of Holmes’s life accurately. In the first episode alone, viewers gained an insight of Holmes’s fear of needles, determination to learn Chinese and dreams of becoming a billionaire.

The show also makes sure to stick to the time period of the scene. Viewers are taken back to the early 2000s: a time when people used CDs for music, called cab companies and waited in excitement for the first iPhone. It is a reminder that Holmes wanted to follow the steps of tech entrepreneurs who were about to change the world during that time.

Because Holmes is the protagonist, it is easy to sympathize with her. At certain points, viewers may even find themselves rooting for Holmes to prove her doubters wrong.

In addition, it can be noted that Holmes was a victim of misogyny. She was a young woman being challenged in a world of male CEOs, software developers and scientists. The show also mentions her sexual assault at Stanford and portrayed the abusive behavior she faced from Balwani, who was significantly older than her and controlled aspects of Theranos as well.

While these were the challenges that Holmes faced as a woman, some say this does not excuse her of the privileges she had as a wealthy white woman.

“I don’t want to feel sorry for Holmes,” Scaachi Koul, a Buzzfeed News reporter, said. “I don’t really want to spend more time understanding why she did what she did. I already know why she did it: It’s always a predictable mix of greed, ego, and usually some institutional wealth.

Koul makes a good point: “The Dropout” should be careful to not glamorize a real-life villain. After all, Holmes did hurt thousands of patients with false results and overworked her employees. Her financial support and initial trust would most likely not have been granted if she were not wealthy and white.

Perhaps the show will be able to turn the narrative away from pitying Holmes. So far, there have been some scenes where the mistreatment of her employees and lies to cancer patients have made viewers question Holmes’s integrity. Gradually, her character shifts from being an aspiring CEO to a controlling egomaniac.

Overall, “The Dropout” does an accurate job of retelling Holmes’s story. The show should be careful to emphasize the consequences of valuing money over human lives. It is a lesson of owning up to mistakes and admitting one’s flaws.