Episode 2 of The Dropout begins by introducing us to a new character. Engineer Edmond Ku is at home with his family when Rakesh, Elizabeth’s former classmate, picks him up for work.
Elizabeth has hired Edmond and Rakesh, along with acclaimed chemist Ian Gibbons, to work on developing a machine for her idea, the RDX Metabolic Profiler.
After working for an indeterminate amount of time, they unveil the machine’s first prototype. Before testing it, Elizabeth gives an inspirational speech to her employees.
“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” She asks them. What they are doing is taking the first step to making health care accessible to everyone. She says they are going to change the world.
Everyone applauds, gearing up for the big reveal… but the first test of the prototype fails to give a reading.
“It’s fine,” Elizabeth assures them, just before the power cuts out–a result of being late to pay the electric bill.
Though Elizabeth raised $6 million, they are already almost out of money. The next step in their plan is to bring in pharmaceuticals, but companies will need a working prototype, and they can’t get an operational prototype without more money for research.
It’s now been two years since Elizabeth dropped out of Stanford. The fact that she never graduated from university doesn’t get her far with potential investors. Nearly all of them shoot her down. Don Lucas, however, reschedules her appointment.
One night, she and Ian experiment in the lab. She admits she doesn’t know what she’s doing; she’s not a chemist. But Ian says she had the vision. She has a rare gift.
He tells her he joined Theranos because he was poked with needles all the time when he had cancer. What she is trying to do would revolutionize treatment for people in similar situations.
The next day, Don Lucas arrives at Theranos unexpectedly. He wants to hear her pitch for the RDX Metabolic Profiler and see the prototype. But he’s unimpressed by their lack of an operational machine and goes to leave.
Suddenly inspired, Elizabeth stops him. She gives a rousing speech about how the blood testing industry is run by two companies with ancient methodology. She speaks his language, assuring Lucas that if he is on their side, they can give Americans more freedom and control over their healthcare.
She’s persuaded him by the end of her talk. He says he wants her to meet investor Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle Corporation.
The day Elizabeth meets with Larry, she also plans on introducing Sunny to her parents. Larry greets her on his boat and agrees to get her a meeting with a pharmaceutical company if she can get a demo ready.
However, he informs her that she doesn’t have what it takes to be a CEO unless she can be aggressive and take no nonsense.
While on the boat, she gets a call regarding her dad, who collapsed and is now in the hospital. She leaves to go see him and finds that Sunny met her parents without her and took care of the entire situation.
Her dad asks her why she left the boat. He tells her to go back to work. They invested all of her tuition money into this endeavour, and she needs to make use of every minute.
When Elizabeth gets back to Theranos, she finds the employees celebrating Edmond’s birthday. Remembering Larry’s advice, she reprimands them for taking a break from work. She’ll be cracking down on them from now on, requiring them to work nearly 24/7 until they achieve a working prototype.
After many gruelling hours, they finally get a reading from a drop of Rakesh’s blood. They all celebrate–now they have a demo to show Novartis in Switzerland.
But in the hotel room in Switzerland, the machine keeps getting error messages. Elizabeth and Rakesh video chat with Edmond (he has to miss a family outing, to his wife’s chagrin) and they test it over and over again without luck.
Edmond eventually signs off, and Elizabeth turns to Rakesh. She asks if they still have the saved reading from the time the machine worked. She has an idea.
When the time comes for Elizabeth to present the demo to the company heads, Rakesh looks visibly uncomfortable. She puts a drop of her own blood into the prototype, and a successful reading comes through. At least, that’s what it looks like to everyone else. Only Elizabeth and Rakesh know that they substituted the only successful saved reading to fool Novartis.
She returns to Silicon Valley, having closed a deal with Novartis at $165 million. Theranos employees celebrate, and Elizabeth gets messily drunk in front of everyone.
Meanwhile, a suspicious Edmond experiments with the prototype. When he realizes it doesn’t work, he confronts Rakesh, who assures him that no one will find out what they did.
Elizabeth’s secretary calls Sunny from her boss’s phone, thinking she’d need a ride home. But the CEO gets angry and fires her on the spot.
She admits to Sunny that they faked the demo. He says she must tell no one else. She tells him that she “doesn’t feel things the way other people feel things,” but that she loves him.
The episode ends with a drunk Elizabeth screaming from Sunny’s car that she is going to change the world.
The Episode Review
The ethics of Theranos make a steep decline in Elizabeth’s last-ditch grab for pharmaceutical investment in their product. The raw desperation in the fraudulent act is simultaneously horrific and understandable.
The show has so far built up Elizabeth to be an ambitious thinker who processes things in a straightforward manner as she tries to follow tried-and-true steps to success.
She’s a woman in a man’s world and thus has more obstacles on her path to victory. Interestingly, The Dropout frames the overt misogyny in the business world as a main cause of Elizabeth’s justification of her actions, inducing a mixture of sympathetic and judgmental responses.
The episode is more serious in tone than the premiere and gives a slower build-up, but it’s ultimately just as fascinating to watch unfold.
I’m nervous to see how Elizabeth is going to handle future obstacles. What further risks do you think she’s willing to take to keep Theranos going?