Looking back, you should probably be concerned if your company’s CEO idolizes Mark Zuckerberg.
Taking the audience back to tech boom of the early 2000s, The Dropout tells the true story of Elizabeth Holmes (Amanda Seyfried), an impetuous young woman determined to become the world’s youngest CEO. After believing that she’d developed the technology to diagnose patients from a single drop of blood, she drops out of college to pursue her dream by changing the pharmaceutical industry forever. However, as her innovations become more fiction than fact, Holmes and her boyfriend, Sunny Balwani (Naveen Andrews) attempt to keep the company afloat by promising more but offering less.
While one can never be truly sure what the ‘facts’ of these dramatic representations of true life events may really be (see Anderson, Pamela), The Dropout definitely has the goods to make for entertaining television. Like the fable of Icarus, there’s still something compelling about watching a person fly so close to proverbial sun and Holmes’ story is no different. Led by showrunner Liz Meriwether and director Michael Showalter (The Big Sick), there’s an energy to the series that keeps it moving well. While it certainly isn’t comedic per se, there’s a liveliness to this story of Holmes and her fall from grace that gives it life.
Star Amanda Seyfried increasingly owns the role with each episode, fueling Holmes with a fearlessness that also reveals her immaturity. Here, Holmes is seen as a woman who struggles to let go of control and Seyfried turns in solid work as the wannabe millionaire. Although she wheels and deals for increasing financial backing, there’s a fragility behind her eyes that makes her somewhat unpredicatable. Having said this, it’s possible that the most welcome work in the series lies with veteran actor Naveen Andrews as Holme’s boyfriend and partner, Sunny Balwani. Best known perhaps for his role as Sayid Jarrah in ABC’s Lost, Andrews provides the necessary maturity and strength that counterbalances Seyfried’s often-erratic Holmes. While he is far from innocent in the fall of Theranos, he remains sympathetic throughout. (Also, can someone please pronounce Sam Waterston a national treasure? His presence simply makes almost anything better.)
As a woman in the tech industry, The Dropout acknowledges the incredible challenges that Holmes faces along the way. (There’s even an episode entitled, ‘Old White Men’.) As a young and impetuous CEO of a major tech company, her ability to break through the glass ceiling and its toxic masculinity is nothing short of remarkable.
But this is also what makes her fall so much more tragic.
Facing impossible odds by a male-dominated industry that refused to trust her, her drive to leave her mark on the world is admirable, but her willingness to compromise her integrity mars her legacy. Instead of becoming a model for future generations of young women to achieve the impossible, Holmes’ endless stream of lies becomes the story that others remember. This inability to be honest with herself, in addition to the falsehoods of the company as a whole, creates the destruction of an idea that had limitless potential. Nevertheless, rather than take the necessary time to really change the world, Holmes’ ego and self-delusion drive her forward recklessly and carelessly into her world of deception. With each small slide into complacency, her hard work falls further into the shadows of her many indiscretions.
Highlighting Holmes’ brilliance in the corporate world, there’s a certain level of admiration within the series for her ability to play the game. However, at the same time, Dropout never allows her to shirk responsibility for her actions. With each increasing compromise and falsehood, The Dropout reminds the viewer the tragic consequences that occur when we’re willing to sacrifice our integrity for the sake of maintaining ‘the Show’.
The first three episodes of The Dropout stream on Hulu and Star+ on Thursday, March 3rd, 2021 with new episodes following weekly.