Old White Men
Episode 4 of The Dropout begins in March 2010, with Dr. Jay Rosan on his way to a meeting with the Walgreens board. Elizabeth pitches Theranos to Jay, who is Walgreens’ Medical Director. She sells him with a concept of a wellness centre that would utilize her blood testing technology.
A few months later, Walgreens’ Executive Vice President Wade Miquelon allows Jay to visit Theranos’ headquarters as long as he brings lab expert Kevin Hunter to check out their labs.
Before this visit, lab workers are told to stay in the lab unless instructed to leave. This upsets Ian, who is already frustrated about several changes in the company since Sunny became COO.
He goes to Sunny to complain about the firing of one of the lab workers and catches the name “Project Beta” on his desk. Sunny acts secretively when Ian mentions it.
When the Walgreens executives arrive, it shocks Elizabeth to learn that Kevin came to look at their labs. She and Sunny put him off, which makes Kevin extremely suspicious–even more so than he already was when he learned that they had not yet gained FDA approval.
Ian does some of his own snooping. He soon finds out that Project Beta is about partnering with Walgreens or another store to get Theranos’ product on the market. Ian is horrified to learn the plan, knowing the device isn’t ready to be tested on people.
He goes to Professor Channing Robertson to tell him what he discovered, only to learn that he already knew. Robertson’s explanation is that the technology is “almost there” and Elizabeth just needs to fast track the business process. Ian knows the technology will still be years in the making, however.
Elizabeth later gets a call from Robertson about Ian, so she leaves a meeting with Walgreens to surprise Ian in the lab.
He confronts her about her heartless plan to test the machine on people. She claims he doesn’t understand the business, but he levels that she doesn’t understand the science. She responds by firing him.
However, Theranos employees stand up for Ian the next day. If he is fired, they’ll have to be fired too. So, Sunny calls Ian and offers him a job. He just won’t tell him what the job is until he gets to the office.
Elizabeth had promised Walgreens they could come see their labs the next morning. But when the Walgreens execs arrive, they catch her in a meeting with Safeway.
In a high-stakes bluff, Elizabeth makes Walgreens wait over an hour, only to turn both Walgreens and Safeway down. She hurriedly gets ready to leave, implying that she’s heading to CVS to close on a deal with them.
CVS is Walgreens’ biggest competitor, and Walgreens has been having trouble keeping up with the pharmacy. Wade thinks Elizabeth might be bluffing, but Jay talks him into making her an offer. Kevin insists that would be foolish without first seeing their labs, but Jay succeeds in persuading him.
Later that day, Ian returns to the office. To his surprise, they have given him a new workspace at a desk. Disappointed, he looks up to see Elizabeth and Sunny celebrating in a meeting room.
A few months later, Elizabeth meets with businessman George Schultz. She discloses that both Walgreens and Safeway have decided to invest millions into Theranos. It would mean everything, she says, to have George Schultz on their side as well.
The Episode Review
Episode 4 takes a turn in the story by focusing mainly on characters we have no attachments to. Although there is humour in the lack of synergy between these “old white men,” their overall storyline is uninteresting.
However, one fascinating (and maybe even necessary) aspect of this approach is that we can look at Theranos and Elizabeth with a more objective view. Without such an intimate depiction of Elizabeth’s life, her actions suddenly seem a lot more despicable–which they certainly are.
The whiplash suffered from the change in perspective, while jarring, served an impressive purpose of causing us as viewers to evaluate this story from all sides.
After having watched this episode, do you feel any empathy for Elizabeth? Do you think she’s someone we should try to empathize with?