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‘The Dropout’: an absorbing character analysis of Elizabeth Holmes

| Monday, March 28, 2022

Christina Sayut
Image source: Variety

“The Dropout” is a docuseries detailing the true story of Elizabeth Holmes and her company, Theranos. The show is streaming on Hulu, with six out of eight episodes currently available. The last two episodes will be released over the next two weeks.

Elizabeth Holmes founded Theranos in 2003. Holmes claimed that she and her employees were developing blood testing technology through which one drop of blood would allow an individual to see all kinds of important medical information: cancer results, the presence of opiates and glucose levels, to name a few of her testing machines’ alleged capabilities. After becoming a multi-billion dollar company with many hopeful customers and investors (such as Walgreens), yet lacking proper FDA regulation, the results of Theranos blood tests were found to be completely inaccurate. Theranos has since been shut down, and Holmes has been charged with fraud.

“The Dropout” stars Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes, and follows Holmes’s journey from Stanford student to optimistic dropout to corrupt executive. One of the places where I think “The Dropout” really succeeds is in its portrayal of Elizabeth Holmes. If you have ever watched or read an interview with the ‘real life’ Holmes, you will know that she often seems almost inhuman in her serious, somewhat robotic nature. In the show, this side of her is portrayed to potential investors, employees and interviewers. The B-roll footage recreating Holmes’s interviews after Theranos’s fraud was discovered is especially strong in this regard. Seyfried is barely recognizable in these moments, and she delivers a strong performance as the strictly-business side of Holmes.

However, in certain moments viewers also get to see the more human version of the CEO. When she is driving to investment meetings or alone in her office, there are times when Holmes listens and dances (quite awkwardly) to hype-up songs. In these moments, viewers see Holmes as the hopeful, excited, anxious, young girl rather than the heartless, strict businesswoman she is otherwise.

In the show’s third episode, Holmes’s ‘human side’ is also shown when she must repeat the following phrase — “this is an inspiring step forward”— to herself in the mirror after her product fails multiple tests. While this human side does not necessarily cause viewers to sympathize with Holmes, it does suggest that she did not go into the development of Theranos with evil intentions. On the contrary, the Holmes we see in “The Dropout” is constantly trying to convince herself that she is doing the right thing. In this way, the show strikes a delicate balance of humanization and villainization of the once-innocent, eventually-corrupt Elizabeth Holmes. Amanda Seyfried’s performance in this regard — and in general — is extremely powerful and engrossing.

The only real criticism I have for this show is its repetitiveness. By the third episode, I think viewers understand Theranos and its problems pretty well. Because of this, I am not sure if the series needs to be eight episodes in total. I think it might flow better as a five-episode series, or even a movie. With that being said, I think the character-driven aspect of the show keeps viewers interested in it, despite the general redundancy of the plot. I also think that the length of the show may be less of a problem for viewers who do not already know about Holmes or Theranos before watching.

All in all, “The Dropout” is certainly worth your time. The show is captivating in its representation of innocence and corruption, and, while repetitive, it excellently depicts the complexity of Elizabeth Holmes as a person and as an executive.


Title: “The Dropout”

Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Naveen Andrews

Director: Michael Showalter

If you Like: “The Social Network,” “Imposters,” “Inventing Anna”

Shamrocks: 4/5

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About Maggie Clark

Maggie is a freshman from Cleveland, Ohio (go Browns!) majoring in English. She loves Taylor Swift, cheesecake, and her dog, Molly.

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