It was supposed to revolutionize healthcare around the world. Elizabeth Holmes’ idea for bloodwork that only required a single drop of blood was going to make healthcare accessible to everyone. She had plans to use it in military helicopters, the Walgreens down the street, and even people’s homes. Too bad it was all a lie.
Hulu’s The Dropout is about the most important years in the life of Holmes (Amanda Seyfried), a Silicon Valley con artist. It begins in 2004, when she dropped out of Stanford and follows her journey to becoming the youngest self-made female billionaire and owner of Theranos, only to see it all crumble around her in 2017. Holmes isn’t unique in her desire to upend an entire sector of the economy, and the broken American healthcare system could certainly use an overhaul, but she didn’t stand a chance. At Stanford, Holmes first came up with the idea of the Edison, a small device that could run thousands of blood tests with just a drop of blood. She took the idea to her advisor and professor of Medicine at Stanford, Phyllis Gardner (Laurie Metcalf), who immediately shot down the idea, saying it was simply impossible given the state of technology. Entirely undeterred, Holmes dropped out and began Theranos on her own.
Unlike other series and movies centered on complicated people, The Dropout does not attempt to apologize for Holmes’ actions. It asks “how.” How did this happen? How did Holmes charm so many people in such positions of power to take a massive chance with no proof of function? At the time of Walgreens’ $140 million deal with Theranos, the Edison machine was not approved by the FDA and no one from Walgreens had been able to tour the Theranos labs. The story of Holmes and Theranos is a critical look at the culture of Silicon Valley and how, like so many before her, Holmes subsited on myth. She used copious NDAs, trendy green juices, overbearing security procedures, and a variety of other assets to make it seem like Theranos had everything going for it. Instead, it was a house of cards that Holmes believed she could make real if she just had more time and that nothing she was saying was a lie because it would probably be true soon.
For those who only recall Seyfried from her airheaded performance in Mean Girls, she might not seem like a likely choice to play Holmes. Her take on Holmes, though, is reason enough to come back week after week. Seyfried manages to take the Silicon Valley eccentricities Holmes used to cultivate her air of mystery (a comically deep fake voice, a penchant for Star Wars and Steve Jobs, etc.) and ground them. While the series doesn’t want to garner sympathy for Holmes, it’s interested in plotting out how exactly someone could get away with pulling the wool over the eyes of companies, generals, politicians, and her employees.
So far, the series has released five episodes. They begin with her childhood in Houston, Texas, where the audience learns that her father was laid off at Enron for a scandal similar to the one that would later befall Theranos. Holmes meets future Theranos COO Sunny Balwani (Naveen Andrews) on a study-abroad trip in China, and we see her drop out of Stanford and begin the journey of Theranos. The Dropout also includes snippets of Holmes’ 2017 deposition, so it seems likely that the series will wrap up around that time in her life.
The Dropout does not exist to prove Holmes’ innocence or argue that she deserves to be reevaluated. Similar to Hulu’s other original series, Dopesick, it’s an unsympathetic look at the distinctly American Dream and the shortcuts people take to get there.
New episodes come out every Thursday on Hulu.