Photo: Beth Dubber/ HULU
We’ve arrived at the final of The Dropout. Last week’s episode teed things up for a showdown — with John Carreyrou publishing his Theranos expoé in The Wall Street Journal and Sunny Balwani leading all of Theranos in a chant of “Fuck you, Carreyrou!” So … how will things play out in the last episode of this miniseries?
Well, it’s less of a showdown than it is a gradual-yet-quickly-moving dissolution of Elizabeth’s house of fraudulent cards. Things jump from another Elizabeth 2017 deposition clip to the immediate aftermath of Carreyrou’s Wall Street Journal article in October 2015 to the CMS report on Theranos in February 2016 (which ordered a two-year lab shutdown) to more deposition stuff and the true end of Theranos and (via some title cards) the present day. Even though the timeline of the episode spans seven years in roughly 52 minutes, it takes its time ruminating on the human wreckage the Theranos fraud wrought — be it on the investors and their money, patients who received inaccurate test results, Theranos employees, or whistleblowers who knew (to varying degrees) that Elizabeth Holmes was doing something very wrong.
The Dropout is about Elizabeth Holmes, but it’s also about the people around her, and, at the tail end, that focus is really on Sunny Balwani, Tyler and George Shultz, John Carreyrou, Erika Cheung, and (briefly) Gary from CMS — who may not understand how to turn his voice-activated phone directions off but does understand government bureaucracy and red tape and how to see through Theranos’s bullshit and do his job. (Gary accomplishes what many before him could not — enough of a peek inside Theranos to let him know that all that glitters is not gold.)
Gary from CMS is tipped off by Erika Cheung, who sends a letter to this (in her words) “boring” government agency, because she’s smart enough to see what John Carreyrou also sees — the news cycle is moving too fast for anyone to care /actually do anything to stop Elizabeth Holmes from messing up people’s lives with inaccurate blood-test results. (It’s 2015, and Trump is officially running for president; there is a lot of news going on.) Erika is determined to stop Elizabeth, even bravely putting her own name on the CMS letter, which inspires Tyler to confess to his grandpa that he spoke with Carreyrou and is going to do so again (because Carreyrou, on his front, needs to “keep making news” to get more people to care and get some real heat on Elizabeth) — also using his name this time. George, sadly, still sides with Elizabeth, and he and Tyler have a tiff about the family name, its legacy, etc. In the end — the very end — George comes around, but, woof, it takes him long enough to see the light. Erika and Tyler (and Gary): You did good. You did really good.
“Lizzy” depicts the fall of Theranos but also the fall of Elizabeth and Sunny’s relationship. Over the course of the episode, it devolves into mistrust, secrecy, and almost-comical-until-it’s-not finger-pointing — including a particularly tense and well-acted scene where everything shifts:
Sunny: Yes, I called a lawyer. I have to protect myself.”
Elizabeth: From what? Do you think we did something wrong? Or did you do something that I didn’t know about?”
Sunny: “You think that I did things that you didn’t do?”
Elizabeth: Did you? I don’t know everything that you did… What did you do, Sunny?”
This exchange (which goes on longer than what I’ve excerpted above), combined with Elizabeth’s earlier blaming of Carreyrou’s reporting on “sexism” when she’s calling board members to shore up support — once again weaponizing a genuine problem to her advantage to distract from the real issue, which is that everything Carreyrou reported was true! — shows Elizabeth’s duplicitous, insidious side and that while The Dropout may want to humanize Eilzabeth, it isn’t at all interested in letting her off the hook for what she did with Theranos.
Elizabeth and Sunny try to out-chess-move each other multiple times throughout the episode, and she ultimately tells the board behind his back that he’s decided to step down. Then she leaves him — as he chases her and claims that she isn’t real, isn’t a person, and doesn’t have feelings. Harsh words from your lover and confidante of more than a decade. Elizabeth’s response? “Okay, bye.” (I admit: I chuckled.)
The Elizabeth we see for the rest of the episode does kind of seem like she has no feelings. Or, at least, The Dropout It seems to suggest that she is a person who is in deep, deep, deep denial about the harm she did with all her lies. She can’t muster the humanity, humility, and shame to apologize in a big interview as David Boies and Linda from legal advise her to. When her mother admits how angry she is with Elizabeth, Elizabeth brings up her mother’s advice after her assault in college — admitting, without admitting, how deep she has buried certain truths. And when Linda from legal, playing the “truth bomb” role Phyllis Gardner has played in previous episodes, calls Elizabeth out about whether or not she really believes that she was “trying to help people,” being in denial, and hurting people, Elizabeth runs away. She runs away! And she lets out a few primal screams on the sidewalk before almost eerily collecting herself into a mask of calm when her Uber driver arrives.
That mask of calm isn’t the only transformation Elizabeth undergoes. After the botched interview, Elizabeth undoes all of her CEO trappings. She takes her bun out, wipes her lipstick away, and takes her turtleneck off. When we see her at her 2017 deposition, she’s her old, disheveled, business-casual self again. Even later, she’s “Lizzy,” cooing in bed with her new boyfriend, Billy, and making plans to attend Burning Man. She’s reinvented once again. But as the end title cards make clear, this story isn’t over. Female entrepreneurs still have trouble getting funding in Silicon Valley post–Theranos scandal. Real people were hurt and misdiagnosed. Sunny’s trial starts soon. And Elizabeth is awaiting sentencing.
Kind of a bleak ending, but, hey, that’s what happened and is still happening. Traveling, it’s been a pleasure watching and recapping The Dropout with you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a hankering for green juice that simply must be satiated.
• Let’s pause a moment and appreciate Amanda Seyfried’s work in this show, because, while many of the other performances were also great, it wouldn’t have worked without someone giving them all to the Elizabeth Holmes at the center of it all. And Seyfried did.
• The overall scene is rife with tension and anger, but the fact that one of the papers Elizabeth is frantically stuffing into a box when Sunny confronts her in their bedroom is the eyeless mask of her face from her 30th-birthday party in “Iron Sisters ” is a nice bit of comedy.
• “Wow, you guys are suouch good liars,” Linda says about the fact that she never guessed Sunny and Elizabeth were romantically involved. It’s the funniest line in what is actually a pretty spot-on rant otherwise.
• It’s a neat callback to Elizabeth’s longtime Apple obsession — remember her omnipresent iPod? — that she hurriedly puts in AirPods to block out Linda from legal shouting “You hurt people!” at her after their final chat/confrontation in the empty Theranos offices.