"Elizabeth believed she could do anything and clung to that reality even as the world around her collapsed"FLICKR/@TECHCRUNCH

Looking over the plot summary of the Disney+ miniseries The Dropout (2022), it’s somewhat easy to brush it off as the latest instalment in TV’s recent fixation with scammers. It focuses on the rise and fall of ‘Theranos’, a medical start-up founded with the promise of heralding in a new age of cheap at-home blood testing, all done with just a few drops of blood. Amanda Seyfried takes centre stage as the company’s founder, Elizabeth Holmes. Once the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire, her fall from grace eventually ended in her conviction on four counts of criminal fraud. A 19-year-old Stanford dropout, she kept her company afloat for years through major investments, despite never producing its intended product.

Sound familiar? It’s easy to draw comparisons between Elizabeth Holmes and another scammer, Anna Delvey, and the recent Netflix drop, Inventing Anna (2022). Elizabeth and Anna both performed to investors and hid the truth about parts of themselves and their companies; in Anna’s case, in the pursuit of funding for her ‘Anna Delvey Foundation’. What marks the difference between the two is the scale at which they operated. Elizabeth wasn’t just securing funding, she was gaining the influence of powerful individuals, such as George Schultz, Henry Kissinger, and Rupert Murdoch. Inventing Anna arguably glamorised Anna’s ability to scam those around her, but there’s something different at play in The Dropout.

“The show captures an almost cult-like atmosphere created by Elizabeth”

While audiences might enjoy watching the wealthy elites be humiliated and conned out of their money, they invested in Theranos with good intentions. The show captures an almost cult-like atmosphere created by Elizabeth and those around her, as failure was never an option, holding onto the belief that their device might one day work.

Theranos may have been a medical startup, but the show presents it as the creation of a Silicon Valley mindset. Parallel to TV’s recent interest in scams, The Dropout was also released alongside a series of other biopic miniseries focused on the exploits and downfalls of overconfident startup CEOs, as portrayed in Apple TV’s WeCrashed (2022) on WeWork, and Showtime’s Super Pumped (2022) on Uber.

As with numerous other companies, Elizabeth and her Chief Operating Officer (and romantic partner) Sunny Balwani, played by Naveen Andrews, believed they could bend the rules of the game on their way to success. The series opens with a young Elizabeth declaring to her parents her goal of eventually becoming a billionaire. In episode two, in a search for potential investors Elizabeth approaches business investor Larry Ellison who asks her to hustle, lie, and “get the f***ing money”, on the way to success. Yet, in the world of healthcare, such tactics cannot be ethically imposed without putting patients’ lives at risk. Theranos repeatedly barred investors, journalists, and workers from their labs, on the basis that they were protecting company secrets, creating hype for a product that ultimately did not exist.

“Seyfried delivers a career highlight performance as Elizabeth”

Seyfried delivers a career highlight performance as Elizabeth, not only playing her but performing the character that Elizabeth displayed to the world. Showrunner Elizabeth Meriwether is excellent in showing the absurdity of the Theranos story, injecting some sense of comedy that draws on her previous work creating sitcoms such as New Girl (2011-18). Elizabeth is a somewhat bizarre character, awkwardly bumbling around with the voice of a 13-year-old boy who’s just started puberty.

In one notable scene, she stands in front of the mirror, modulating her voice to sound deeper in the hopes of sounding more masculine to her investors. Holmes was constantly lauded for her efforts as a female CEO in a male-dominated field, and this is what makes her fall from grace such a tragedy. As Phyllis Gardner, the Professor of Medicine at Stanford to whom Elizabeth first poised her invention, comments towards the end of the series, “What do you think happens to all the women who want to start companies…who’s going to trust them?”


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The Theranos story has not yet concluded. Already, the show, and the massive publicity around it, has complicated the jury selection for Sunny Balwani’s trial, as multiple jurors were dismissed after having been exposed to the show and its marketing material. Elizabeth currently walks free, facing a possible 20 years in prison as she awaits her sentencing. The Dropout succeeds in telling the Theranos story well, as it repeatedly shows the times Elizabeth could have quit while she was still ahead. Elizabeth believed she could do anything and clung to that reality even as the world around her collapsed. The tragedy was that it didn’t end sooner, as believers of the Theranos lie prolonged the company’s slow, yet inevitable, death.