The Dropout allows Amanda Seyfried to give a career best performance in her portrayal of Elizabeth Holmes, the controversial former CEO of Theranos.
Elizabeth Holmes, former CEO of Theranos, was one of the first female self made millionaires. She founded a company that was to combine both diagnosis and therapy when testing blood. It was supposed to help millions of people live longer lives, but the product never actually worked. Both Holmes and the corporate leadership for Theranos were able to lie their way through a lot of formalities in order to keep making money while the product was still in development. Eventually, the lies caught up to her, Theranos was shut down, and she was tried on numerous accounts of fraud. How was this company able to get away with such unethical behavior? Why didn’t Holmes and Theranos get caught sooner? Is Elizabeth Holmes a monster? The Dropout attempts to answer all of these questions from a fairly objective point of view and is able to properly highlight how so many different people and hegemonic systems contributed to a truly stranger than fiction case.
The Dropout tells the story of Elizabeth Holmes (Amanda Seyfried of Mank) from the time that she first got accepted into Stanford to the eventual and turbulent fall of Theranos, the company that she was CEO of for over a decade. Throughout the series, Holmes experiences romance, manipulation, greed, and tragedy, all of which makes her into the person that she is today. What makes this story so fascinating is the fact that most of these events, especially towards the end of the series, just happened. This was one of the biggest events to happen in the business world within the last few years, and having it almost immediately being portrayed on the small screen is extremely effective. Because the majority of the events throughout this series have only occurred a few years ago, each episode has a modern feel to it which makes the show more accessible, which is important since the plot discusses both business and biomedical issues.
It would be impossible to say anything positive about The Dropout without mentioning the utter brilliance that Amanda Seyfried is as Elizabeth Holmes. Since this series chronicles Holmes’ life from when she was nothing until she was worth 400 billion dollars, we see her ambition lead into what can only be described as her being engulfed by corporate masculinity. There is so much that Seyfried has to deal with throughout the show, and she experiences almost every emotion on the human scale, but almost all of these emotions are hidden under her overtly professional performance that she needs to put on in the business world. What makes her performance so brilliant is the fact that we get to see this transition so clearly as the series progresses. We see how she pushes back gender norms, only to succumb to them as she moves up the corporate world. We see her voice and mannerisms change and evolve into the business leader that we all knew her as before the downfall. Seyfried is able to capture everything about Elizabeth Holmes: her physicality, her spirit, and her ambition, and this makes this one of the best biopic performances in years. Given the physical resemblance between Seyfried and Holmes, Seyfried’s believability as Holmes is all due to the powerful acting showcase that she brings to this character.
Even though this show is mainly about Theranos and how toxic of a company it was, The Dropout is able to capture so much more, as the show spans across Elizabeth Holmes’ personal relationships, the lives of her employees, and the journalists who broke the story of Theranos back in 2015. Telling this story from these different points of view really provides the emotional core that is essential to tell this story properly. At times, when Holmes really starts to lose her humanity due to the rise of her company, it is really up to the supporting cast to keep the story grounded in reality. Dylan Minnette, Camryn Mi-young Kim, and Stephen Fry in particular give stellar supporting performances as some of scientists that work for Teranos and have a lot of the legal perspective towards the end of the series. Their performances allow viewers to understand some of the emotional damage of being a part of such an immoral company.
One of the most fascinating parts of the series is how it shows the effects of toxic corporate masculinity and how it engulfs Elizabeth Holmes’ seemingly good intentions and turns her into an almost emotionally unpresent leader. Even though Elizabeth Holmes is so very clearly in the wrong, she did not act alone, and this show properly represents that she was a product of a much bigger issue surrounding old white men in business, which is cleverly referenced in episode four, “Old White Men.” From what the show portrays, even though it was a woman led company, it was still run by almost all men, having all men on the board and a man as the Chief Operations Officer and as a product, the company still took part in a toxic work culture. Theranos was not nearly as inclusive or welcoming as people might have thought prior to Teranos’ shutdown just because a woman was CEO.
Along these lines, the series also mentions how bad of a precedent Holmes has set for female entrepreneurship. Holmes was known as one of the first female self made millionaires, and since she made most of her money through either illegal or immoral ways, she sets a stereotype of women that want to pursue entrepreneurship. This is seen in the end more than any other part of the series when a female entrepreneur is asked to dye her hair to look less like Holmes. Having the implications of her actions included makes the show feel like more than just a piece of entertainment. It seems as if it is a statement about corporate culture and a warning tale of toxic masculinity in the business world.
Even though The Dropout has plenty worth praising, it isn’t perfect. At times, it feels a little too formulaic in the typical rise and fall narrative, which leads to some of the middle episodes getting repetitive. On top of this, there are so many perspectives and characters to explore in this story, and while the series mainly does a good job of balancing everyone, it doesn’t seem like all of the supporting characters get the spotlight they deserve. Michaela Watkins in particular has a lot to work with emotionally, as she plays one of the main corporate lawyers, but we barely get to see how some of the company’s immoralities affect her, except for one of the final scenes.
One final aspect of this story that The Dropout does so effectively is show audiences that bad people are still people. Even though Elizabeth Holmes made terrible decisions and will rightfully pay for those actions, she still is just someone who had a dream and fought to pursue it. Throughout the show, there are scenes that really add a lot more context to her and make her a fully formed person instead of just a character who wants to make a lot of money. Even though in the majority of the series, Holmes is emotionally resilient, due to Seyfried’s performance we get these small moments of humanity that remind us that she does have a heart and is not just this monster, even though she made a lot of immoral choices. These small scenes are the best in the series, and they are vital to almost any biopic because they show that there is more than just the story that we all know and came to see.
With that being said, The Dropout is truly one hell of a show. With a pitch perfect tone, an astounding leading performance, and a genuinely fascinating tale to tell there is so much to praise about this show. It takes what could have been a pretty dry on screen adaptation of a story, which is really just about the business world, and makes it something both educational and fascinating to watch. As someone who didn’t know much about Elizabeth Holmes prior to this series, it blew my mind many times when I was reminded that it was based on a true story. If you are looking for a true crime show that isn’t necessarily about murder or kidnapping, but still had a harrowing effect on thousands of people, look no further because The Dropout has a story for you.
The Dropout is now available to watch on Hulu.
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