The Dropout: The Dropout
April 6, 2022 2:44 AM - Season 1 (Full Season) - Subscribe

Based on a true story, in a tale of ambition and fame gone terribly wrong, Elizabeth Holmes develops healthcare technology that puts millions of patients at risk and loses everything in the blink of an eye.
posted by LizBoBiz (18 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for posting the roundup of links and previouslies on the blue. Interesting to look back at some of those early comments, before it was clear just how fucked-up the whole setup was; there was some doubt that Holmes would ever do time (and, since she hasn't actually been sentenced yet, she could still theoretically skate away).

I've watched most of this; the first episode, then I skipped ahead to #4 and watched the rest (I think that the last one drops today or tomorrow), and will probably go back and watch the second and third. I've already read Carreyrou's book, which is excellent (particularly in detailing the massive legal pressure put on the Wall Street Journal to back off), and seen the documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley on HBO Max, which is interesting as it interviews many of the principals portrayed by actors in this series. Of course, this series has many scenes that aren't in the book or documentary; it's apparently based largely on depositions that Holmes and her lover/main henchman Sunny Balwani made. It's a bit more sympathetic to Holmes in the beginning; aside from talking about her assault at Stanford, it also portrays her as someone who just didn't seem to have a lot of friends, and doesn't shy away from the more disturbing implications of her relationship with Balwani, who was literally more than twice her age when they met. But she also comes off as being completely ruthless when she wants to be; when Ian Gibbons, the conscience-wracked scientist who knows that they can't do the tests that they claim that they can with their equipment, commits suicide, her reaction is relief that he can't testify against her in a patent lawsuit.

The cast is stellar. I think that the last thing that I'd seen Stephen Fry in was the V for Vendetta adaptation, and he's great as Gibbons; ditto for William H. Macy as Richard Fuisz (who's got an amazing Wikipedia entry--the Theranos affair is almost a footnote), Kurtwood Smith as David Boies, Alan Ruck as one of the executives at Walgreens, and especially Laurie Metcalf as Phyllis Gardner, the Stanford professor who reluctantly teams up with Fuisz against Theranos. And Naveen Andrews and Amanda Seyfried are fantastic. I've seen some snarky comments to the effect that they're much better looking than the people that they portray, but they still get to the essence of the people; Andrews puts across Balwani's overweening ego, and Seyfried nails Holmes' deer-in-the-headlight look.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:07 AM on April 6, 2022 [5 favorites]

Yeah, I thought Stephen Fry was astonishingly good in this; very often when he's cast he brings too much of a "hey look that's Stephen Fry" halo -- for example his cameo role in the last Hobbit movie -- but here it felt like he entirely disappeared into Gibbons.

It's a bit more sympathetic to Holmes in the beginning

I think it was also very strongly suggesting that she's at least somewhere on the autism spectrum? A lot of practicing of social interactions.

Also notable: the soundtrack:
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:46 PM on April 6, 2022 [4 favorites]

I saw an interview with Amanda Seyfried in which she mentioned how she listened to the "Dropout" podcast and had her "judgy" moment at the time and moved on. So I find it interesting that her portrayal doesn't really seek to give you very much sympathy for Holmes. Which is fine with me, she's an awful person. I don't want to feel sorry for her.

On the edge of my seat for the final episode.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:12 PM on April 6, 2022

I have liked this series so far but I also listened to the podcast and watched more than one documentary about this story so I feel like I already know it pretty well.

Seyfried is incredible here. I don't like her Elizabeth but I also don't hate her. Naveen Andrews is perfect here as Sunny (I also hate him but still find him hot ... it's complicated and I think that's the point).

I have never quite figured out if Holmes knew she was a scammer or if she genuinely believed she was doing good until it was clear she wasn't and this show does not take sides. It does not make her look good, no, but it also doesn't make her specifically look bad. It found the right tone for her -- she's intriguing and terrible. I think she honestly believed the story she created for herself and even when it was falling apart, she was still going to believe.

I don't think I have a lot of empathy for that, but I get it. I think this show, so far, illustrates that well. The whole thing got away from her but she still did it.
posted by edencosmic at 6:30 PM on April 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

I have never quite figured out if Holmes knew she was a scammer or if she genuinely believed she was doing good until it was clear she wasn't and this show does not take sides.

I think that she may have conned herself from the beginning, based on both her own desire to make enough money so that she and her family didn't need to worry about it any more and also to be known as Someone Who Did Something Great. She managed to fool herself into thinking that her device was possible in the first place by dropping out of school early, and maybe either hearing about a Piccolo Xpress or even just an ordinary blood glucose monitor of the type that diabetics use, and thinking, what if that, but for everything? I don't think that there's a real clear point at which it's plainly obvious that the Edison can't possibly work, although there does seem to be a point at which the emphasis switches from trying to make it work to letting slip the lawyers of war. (Probably about the time that they put the first trial machines in Walgreens in California and Arizona, even though they can't do even a fraction of the tests promised; maybe even earlier, when she claims that they're being used on the battlefields of Afghanistan.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:45 PM on April 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

I have never quite figured out if Holmes knew she was a scammer or if she genuinely believed she was doing good until it was clear she wasn't and this show does not take sides.

This is one of the big, baffling questions that's always mulled over whenever Holmes was discussed. Self delusion, or sheer evil, pathological fake-it-'til-you-make-it syndrome, somewhere in between? Did she think of if you just work hard enough and throw enough resources, it will be developed, regardless any outright limitations and impossibilities there may be? It all makes so little sense.

I'm a couple episodes in, and she really seems to be depicted as either autism spectrum or sociopath... you decide. Which I'm sure puts a lot of people in a weird position between sympathy and derision. She certainly reads to me as a very odd person. And apparently an apple fallen not far from the tree.

I was curious about the engineer bringing in an ez bake oven, to tinker with. What is there to tinker with? Weren't they just a box with a light bulb? And of course, the whole concept of the toy is completely alien to Holmes from top to bottom.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:18 PM on April 6, 2022 [3 favorites]

conned herself from the beginning

I think that's what the show's trying to depict. The scenes with Phyllis Gardner (the woman Stanford professor who told Holmes that her idea was not possible) were good, especially the "... as a woman" response.

"There are no shortcuts. ... they'll destroy you. And they'll be happy to do it."

My fascination with the fiasco is how did Holmes manage to raise the round of money after the friends&family. I found it implausible that Don Lucas (first outside funding cowboy hat guy) stuck so strongly with Theranos, as depicted, without leaving a lot of stuff out (possibly unknowable, and speculation could lead to libel).

My take from following the situation (I used to be part of that sector, and startup-involved at the time) is that Holmes was delusional and was hit with a particularly ugly Dunning-Kruger* stick.

If maybe she had taken 3rd year biochemistry, it'd be obvious to her that it is physically impossible to achieve her aims. She simply did not understand even the basics of molecular diagnostics.

Maybe it's just the specifics of incident that just hit a raw nerve for me as I once had a terrible boss who thought that detection limit of 1 copy/ mL of blood was possible and a legit specification (it isn't by the mathematical definition of the spec). Especially when the best (optimistic) specifications for products currently in market were something like 30 copies/ 5 mL.

The amount of blood from a fingerprick thing is a small fraction of 1 mL.

Not to mention, the vast majority of tests are from veinous blood, not fingertip capillary blood. There's a difference, when it come to what molecular tests are assaying. That no-one caught that that would be a huge validation endeavour, well.

But the show starts showing/ speculating how terrible Holmes behaved by ep3 (I'm only halfway through).

*yes, the phenomenon has been shown to be much less strong than originally interpreted
posted by porpoise at 10:45 PM on April 6, 2022 [3 favorites]

I just finished the last episode of this. I've devoured this story from the start - I've read the book, listened to the podcast and watched the documentary. At first I didn't buy Amanda Seyfried as Holmes, as she's physically quite different from her, smaller and her eyes are green not blue. But as the story developed, and the black-suited, deep-voiced Holmes emerged, I really enjoyed the actor's performance.

Stupid old billionaires flattered by an attractive young woman are easily parted from their money when facing their own mortality, presented with bamboozling quasi-science that just might mean they could live a little longer. The scale of the fraud was massive, and Season 2 of The Dropout podcast which covers the trial goes into a lot of detail about the lies told to gain investment, particularly around re-badging reports from Pfizer and blatantly lying about the machines being in Medevac use by the US military in order to dupe Walgreens and Safeway. Definitely worth a listen.

I thought the supporting cast was excellent - not just great actors, but ones who bore great physical resemblances to their real-life counterparts. (I still kept waiting for "David Boies" to call someone a dumbass though ...)
posted by essexjan at 8:40 AM on April 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

Just finished it. I like Linda Holmes’ take.
posted by rewil at 10:02 AM on April 7, 2022 [3 favorites]

It does not make her look good, no, but it also doesn't make her specifically look bad.

i *way* got the sociopath vibe, not at all an autism one. it maxed out in the final episode where she's attempting to push liability onto balwani.

i had listened to the full Dropout/Carryrou podcast previously, and that surely affected my conman/player/sociopath vibe.

seyfried killed, especially her ability to project a specific energy at each age/experience level.

the balwani/holmes age diff? grown up men and women. at the end, balwani did not at all follow the campsite rule, so fuck him.
posted by j_curiouser at 7:45 AM on April 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

Watched the last episode, and it had (as I anticipated) some pretty gratifying moments: the arrival of the CMS surveyor, who comes off as a bit of a bumbler at first but quickly gets to his job; John Carreyrou's unfettered delight at the results of the wheels of bureaucracy grinding exceedingly fine; and the subsequent interview in which Holmes' usual line of bullshit is clearly no longer adequate.

A couple of things stuck out as variant from the already-known true story: the "Inside Elizabeth Holmes's Chilling Final Months at Theranos" link at the top detailed some of the weirdness around Holmes' dog (her insisting that the very obviously husky puppy was actually a wolf, letting him poop all over the carpets), and the attorney who breaks into truth-telling very late in the game seems to be based on Heather King, a (now-former) partner in David Boies' firm; she's about the only character in the series who is based on (rather than representing) a real person, and I'm guessing maybe because they wanted her to say things at the end that the real attorney didn't.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:07 PM on April 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

Also too, going back through some of the links in the links:

- This piece, which took me back through the start-up career that I never had, and included this could-be-a-reference-to-you-know-what bit:
A networking-addicted coworker scrolls through a website where people voluntarily post their own résumés. I spy. He clicks through to an engineer who works for an aggressively powerful start-up, one whose rapid expansion, relentless pursuit of domination, and absence of ethical boundaries scare the shit out of me. Under his current company, the engineer has written this job description: “This is a rocket ship, baby. Climb aboard.”
- BuzzFeed quiz! Answered the questions semi-randomly, and you will never guess who I got.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:02 PM on April 8, 2022

Finished and the presentation was more compelling than I had expected, having burnt out from the whole saga in realtime, from before the climax.

This is of course a dramatization.

Amanda Seyfried was unexpectedly great, but I thought that Naveen Andrews was even better.
posted by porpoise at 1:47 AM on April 9, 2022 [2 favorites]

My frame of reference was Carreyrou’s book Bad Blood, so I felt like the show rushed through events that could’ve benefited from being expanded upon. Still, it got the big stuff right and Amanda Seyfried and Naveen Andrews did great jobs. Amanda Seyfried brought an emotional weight to the proceedings that the book never had.
posted by Monochrome at 8:29 PM on April 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

It's funny that the parts I thought too entertaining to be "realistic" -- the patent troll and Stanford professor playing a role in the Theranos takedown -- were based on real actions from real people. I loved how the prof shot down the Yoda quote -- "science is all about trying" -- and that it had zero effect on Elizabeth Holmes, who understood that startup culture at least is all about being overtly try-hard.

I thought this was very good! I'm not sure there's anything I can say better than Linda Holmes did, but I will add that I liked that it's not told in an overly dramatic way. Frankly, they explained the big failures around Theranos developed naturally: Theranos got staffed because there are a lot of workers in Silicon Valley who want to become rich, Theranos got funded because there are a lot of rich people looking to become obscenely rich, Theranos got marketplace access because Walgreens thought making money off tech company things was more important than delivering reliable results, Theranos avoided bad press because they had an extremely aggressive legal strategy to silence critics, Theranos avoided oversight because (until Erika Cheung made a formal complaint) no one pulled the right lever to trigger an investigation from an organization with teeth. There can be gray areas between viable investments and scams -- though the fact that Theranos was testing people's blood with faulty technology puts this firmly into the scam camp for me -- but the ultimate explanation for why any obvious failure keeps growing is that people stand to make a lot of money if they can all keep insisting that something isn't a failure.

The Dropout also reminds us that James Mattis was on the Theranos board. In any other administration, that would've been a career-destroyer, but we everyone in America agreed not to talk about it because we were too worried that Trump would pick someone worse. Ah, nostalgia.
posted by grandiloquiet at 12:19 PM on April 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

Wow. Just finished, binged the last three episodes. Amanda Seyfried was amazing. But there were a whole lot of actors who were really amazing in this! Michaela Watkins was really good. Kurtwood Smith very believably oily. William H. Macy made me feel some minor sympathy for Fuisz while still keeping him very, very hateable. Sam Waterston was great as the elder statesman who's become foolish in his old age. Like, he was legitimately hard to watch because it hit too close to home w/r/t my own older family members.

I liked how it was very unsettling, and more than most of this sort of miniseries that I've seen, it gives you multiple points of view, and no clear heroes. But it really showed how these people were all craven in different ways and motivated by different wants and desires, all playing off each other.

Loved Carreyrou falling in love with bureaucracy ... it's a steamroller, it moves slowly, but it crushes flat when it gets there. Loved the weird jagged energy Seyfriend brought to the role. Loved how effectively lighting was used to turn those worshipful Silicon Valley photo portraits of intense-gazed founders into a sort of dehumanizing horror-show mask, the way they made the lights reflect in her eyes so she seemed almost reptilian, so it was hard to locate the pupil and see where she was looking. I thought there were a lot of really good and effective visual storytelling moments. And also a lot of really good and effective use of very mundane details to illuminate the lies and fraud. I once worked on a patent litigation where the scientists being sued answered "I don't remember" to everything about their patents, things they had published papers on for 20 years, things they taught in university courses, things they'd been paid millions of dollars for, but "I don't remember," "I don't recall," "I can't tell you how that works" in these depositions, over and over. Watching the last episode brought that memory back to me physically, sitting in the cube farm highlighting depositions.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:13 PM on April 13, 2022 [3 favorites]

effectively lighting was used

Agreed, I was fascinated with the changes in Seyfried's hair styling. Fritzed/ smooth varied pretty close (correlated) to the mental state that the director wanted the character to portray.

in these depositions, over and over.

This boggles me. Does this strategy ever work, or can it be used to damn the defendant's case?
posted by porpoise at 9:10 PM on April 13, 2022

IANAL but I feel like the idea is that you don't want your defendant to imply knowledge of/confirm participation in any crimes, but you also don't want to risk them saying something that will be caught out as a lie. A prosecutor can't advance their case solely on your client's suspicious amnesia, but they can do a lot with some light perjury.
posted by grandiloquiet at 7:03 AM on April 14, 2022

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