I’m in a Hurry
Episode 1 of The Dropout begins with a recorded interview of Elizabeth Holmes as she complies with an investigation into violations within her health technology company, Theranos. But the situation needs a little more context.
We flash back to before it all started; Elizabeth is in high school and has big dreams of changing the world with an original invention. Fortunately, she has been accepted to Stanford to pursue this goal.
Her dad, Chris, was recently fired after his company was discovered to be a fraud. This leads them to (grudgingly) seek financial help from their friends Richard and Lorraine.
Richard started a medical training company he sold for $50 million. He offers them assistance, even though he doesn’t like Elizabeth’s attitude towards him.
And Elizabeth thinks they don’t need him. She implores her father not to take his money. It won’t be necessary because she’s going to make something great of herself.
That summer, after high school graduation, Elizabeth travels to Beijing for an immersion Mandarin program. There, she meets Sunny Balwani, an older man who started and sold a software company for $40 million.
They become extremely close over the course of the program. When Elizabeth goes to Stanford in 2002, they talk on the phone regularly.
Elizabeth loves college. Despite being only a freshman, she gets into a graduate level research group with Professor Channing Robertson.
When she comes back for her sophomore year, she presents to Dr. Robertson an idea she had for a medical invention: a small patch that could provide people with both diagnosis and therapy within the comfort of their own homes. She wants Robertson to invest in it.
He is curious, but he first sends her to Dr. Phyllis Gardner, who says the invention will never work. She tells Elizabeth not to skip any steps to reach her goals. She says that, for now, she should just try to be 19.
So Elizabeth tries to have fun for a night and go to a party. Afterwards, however, we see her curled up in bed. Her roommates gossip that she says she’s been raped, but they’re not sure if they believe her.
Sunny calls her while she’s in bed. She tells him it’s weird that he’s so obsessed with a 19-year-old and demands that he not call her again.
Later, her mom holds her hand at the police station. Authorities tell Elizabeth that she doesn’t have enough evidence against her alleged assaulter. He remains unnamed.
Her mother promises that she believes her. Men will take from her, she says–and she has to decide if she’ll let that hold her back.
Elizabeth decides to keep moving forward. In March 2004, she returns to Professor Robertson with a redesign. Instead of a patch, her invention is a box the size of an iPod. And it doesn’t administer medicine, but it tests your blood in your own home, using just a drop of blood.
With Robertson’s support, Elizabeth rents an office in a dangerous part of town. She drops out of Stanford, and her parents invest her tuition money into her new company: Theranos (“Therapy” + “Diagnosis”).
Lorraine meanwhile gossips to Richard about Elizabeth’s decision. He becomes irate, believing Elizabeth should have called him and asked for his advice. “They think they’re better than us,” he says about the Holmes family.
One day, when Elizabeth gets into her car outside her new office, a stray bullet shatters her window. In a panic, she calls Sunny. When he arrives, she hugs him, and he promises to protect her.
The end of the episode flashes forward to an investigator questioning Elizabeth. He asks if she ever told anyone that her invention was not operational, that her technology was endangering lives.
She calls these things “mistakes,” but she says she thought she was doing the right thing by moving forward.
The Episode Review
Although the motives and character of the real Elizabeth Holmes remain largely a mystery, The Dropout regardless dramatizes her unique story to create an immediately likeable and compelling protagonist.
Amanda Seyfried’s performance beautifully captures the nuances of Holmes’ personality, from her changing voice from her social ineptitude. She’s someone with big dreams, and it looks like she’ll stop at nothing to achieve them–But is that necessarily a good thing?
This drama miniseries delivers a strong opener to invest us not so much in the technological information, but in the goals and flaws of an extraordinary young woman.
The Dropout ultimately poses one question: Was Elizabeth Holmes nothing more than a manipulative con artist, or was she a well-meaning entrepreneur who made a mistake? Even knowing her unfortunate fate, we’re compelled to stay along for the ride for the answer.