This review contains spoilers
Hulu’s critically acclaimed miniseries “The Dropout,” which chronicles the rise and fall of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, is a scathing adaptation of the eponymous podcast. An incredibly gripping take on a true story and top tier performances from Amanda Seyfried and Naveen Andrews make “The Dropout” one of the best shows of the year thus far.
Theranos was founded by Holmes in 2003 after she dropped out of Stanford University. By 2013, the company — which claimed to run hundreds of blood tests on only a few drops of blood — was valued at $9 billion. By 2015, scandal plagued the company with a Wall Street Journal article by journalist John Carreyrou accusing Holmes of misleading investors by running fraudulent tests with wildly inaccurate results. In 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged Holmes as well as former business and romantic partner Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani with “massive fraud,” according to CNN.
While the concept of fictionalizing real-life scandals isn’t novel, as we’ve seen with Netflix’s “Inventing Anna” and Hulu’s “The Girl from Plainville,” Amanda Seyfried’s performance takes the show to the next level by mastering Holmes’ fake baritone and icy stare, all the while giving her a level of humanity, like Holmes’ persona as an outcast, that the world hasn’t seen before.
I felt truly sorry for Holmes until she began to lie about everything involving Theranos. Her parents, brother and peers didn’t get her, and, moreover, they didn’t understand her ambition. Holmes wanted to change the world, and “The Dropout” illustrates Theranos as a means for her to do just that. The show also emphasizes the struggles of maintaining a startup and that with the budget in the red, Holmes needed to tell a white lie about their prototype in order to get funding and to keep her dream alive.
Of course, this white lie spiraled into disaster, but I still wanted her to succeed. The shortcomings of Theranos and Holmes herself worked in tandem with Holmes’ changing image; the stark red lipstick, continuously dropping voice and unblinking face perpetuate the feeling that what’s happening isn’t right. We even get to see Holmes practicing her deep voice in the mirror, with an oddly dark “Here at Theranos …” repeated over and over.
The sad and manipulative relationship between Holmes and Balwani, who served as chief executive officer at Theranos, is executed to perfection by Seyfried and Andrews. The toxicity is elevated at the realization that both Holmes and Balwani are master manipulators who will stop at nothing to succeed. They work together to prop up Theranos until the company is drowning so severely that they turn on one another, with Holmes even going so far as to resign on behalf of Balwani without his knowledge.
The show is chock full of drama, tension and pure shock value, and although it’s hard to believe that it could be true, everyone in the show is based on a real person. While inaccuracies aren’t unavoidable (like the timeline of Ian Gibbons’ death being sped up), “The Dropout” luckily doesn’t have a disclaimer like the heavily criticized one in Netflix’s “Inventing Anna,” another based-on-a-true-story miniseries, which stated “This whole story is completely true. Except for the parts that are totally made up.”
Even if “The Dropout” isn’t without a doubt 100% factually accurate, having a qualifier which negates any integrity right out of the gate is a lazy — if not brazen — move, which is why I was utterly relieved not to see one in the opening credits. If anything, small inaccuracies only serve to help move the plot forward and do not change much about the story itself, because the story doesn’t need all that much changing.
The limited fictionalization of “The Dropout” gives Seyfried and Andrews a place to showcase their extraordinary talents and shine an even bigger light on the wrongdoings of Elizabeth Holmes. A shockingly true account of the dramatics in medical innovation, journalism and working with your boyfriend, “The Dropout” is a show that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Emma Trevino is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @itsemmatr
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