The Dropout Season 1 Review – A compelling adaptation of the Theranos scandal

Season 1

The Dropout Episode Guide

I’m in a Hurry -| Review Score – 4/5
Satori -| Review Score – 4/5
Green Juice -| Review Score – 3/5
Old White Men -| Review Score – 3/5
Flower of Life -| Review Score – 3/5
Iron Sisters -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Heroes -| Review Score – 2/5
Lizzy -| Review Score – 5/5


The Dropout: Just Another Scammer Story?

When Hulu announced The Dropout, a limited series based on the true story of Elizabeth Holmes’ health-care start-up and multi-million-dollar scam, many raised the question of the ethics of such an adaptation. Can a dramatization of Holmes’ crimes shed any valuable light on the true events? Will it create undue sympathy for someone who scammed innocent people?

There’s a fine to walk when exploring why Holmes deceived people without glorifying what she did. However, when it comes to scammer stories–and there are many out there right now–creator Liz Meriwether’s The Dropout accomplishes many others are unable to.

Elizabeth Holmes: The Beginnings

The narrative drama chronicles the endeavors of Elizabeth Holmes (chillingly portrayed by Amanda Seyfried) to create the health technology company, Theranos (therapy + diagnosis). When Elizabeth’s dreams to invent revolutionary blood-testing technology don’t go according to plan, risky improvisations are made. With her lover and business partner Sunny Balwani (Naveen Andrews) at her side, Elizabeth will do whatever it takes to keep Theranos afloat–even if it means compromising the health of thousands of patients.

From episode 1, Elizabeth is immediately likable. She’s socially awkward and fiercely intelligent. But her defining quality is her ambition.

The show starts off strong, with an intense focus on Elizabeth, her noble dreams, her motivations. In the beginning, she’s framed as a small fish in a big pond. A lone, struggling female in a sea of Silicon Valley’s powerful and privileged men.

While we’ll never know for sure the real woman’s incentives in creating Theranos, the initial intentions of Seyfried’s character are mostly pure. She’s an underdog, desiring to make health care attainable and show men that women can excel in the business world.

The dissonance between this stirring depiction and the reality of Elizabeth’s deception provides the show’s hook. How can someone with such an inspiring motive take such a dark turn? 

Just as red flags start to crop up regarding the series’ sympathetic portrayal of Elizabeth, The Dropout puts a clever spin on its presentation. Although, this shift in the method of storytelling comes at a cost.

A Fuller Picture of the Theranos Story

By episode 4, The Dropout distances itself from Elizabeth to focus on a wealth of other characters. From Walgreens executives to lab researchers, a multitude of new perspectives help unravel the story of the Theranos scandal.

It’s a jarring transition to wrench the spotlight from Elizabeth and make so many others share it. And the constant addition of new characters slows the drama and makes it difficult to care about whoever the protagonist-of-the-moment is.

Still, there were so many players in the true story of the Theranos fraud, so The Dropout couldn’t very well ignore their important roles. This decision to represent all of these voices, in fact, lends a lot more credibility to the series.

Additionally–and most importantly–it provides a greater sense of objectivity to the fictional adaptation. The Dropout started with a close-up view of Elizabeth and her more sympathetic motivations. Yet, the greater distance we achieve from her character, the fuller picture of the Theranos scandal we are able to see. And Elizabeth’s actions take a more sinister form. 

Elizabeth Holmes’ Faux Feminism

As the series progresses, Seyfried’s portrayal of Holmes becomes more disquieting and thought-provoking. Elizabeth is incredible at putting on an act: faking her voice to appear the competent leader, pretending love to keep people by her side, deceiving herself into believing she is a feminist icon and noble trailblazer.

Elizabeth’s faux feminism is a prominent theme, which The Dropout skilfully navigates. Rather than trailblazing a path for other women in business, she weaponizes her own privilege to play the male-dominated system–leaving behind an even greater minefield of obstacles in Silicon Valley that female entrepreneurs still struggle to navigate.

The Dropout never excuses Elizabeth’s actions, but it acknowledges the influence of her environment on her motivations. In many ways, the Valley’s corrupt start-up culture is equally indicted. The realest tragedy of this true-story-inspired series goes beyond one woman’s dangerous deception to highlight entire systems. The FDA, Walgreens, big investors: these are all significant players who bypassed safe and routine investigations for the sake of money and power–and thus risked people’s lives. According to The Dropout, when it comes to Theranos’ fraud, the crime belonged to many.

If a crime drama based on a true story piques your interest, The Dropout should be your first stop. Despite its dragging middle, it makes it worth sticking around to experience a compelling rendering of the Elizabeth Holmes/Theranos scandal.

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  • Verdict - 8/10

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