Hulu’s The Dropout continues to enthrall us and make us cringe at the same time. It’s been said before, but it’s worth saying again…this entire story is like watching a car crash in slow motion, and not being able to look away. This episode was no exception. If anything, ‘Old White Men’ further cemented why this show is the perfect venue to tell this story that had real implications for real people, outside of the sensationalized news headlines.
Amanda Seyfried continues to shine as Elizabeth Holmes, the woman once hailed as technology’s newest wonderkid. She’s gotten the iconic voice down pat, and with it an attitude of invincibility that is obvious in every scene. There’s a darkness in this character, as she dismisses professionals and their advice based on experience, and ruthlessly fires those who thought they were her friends. Seyfried plays Holmes as a kind of puppet-master, knowing exactly who to pit against whom to achieve her ultimate goals.
As The Dropout continues, Naveen Andrews continues to have us glued to the screen. Everything is in the details, like following the Walgreens representative nearly into a bathroom. It’s a tribute to Andrews’ talent that he’s able to create an almost claustrophobic feeling in each scene, and makes it seem like every other character is being watched by him personally. He’s unsettling in every scene he’s in, and it’s such an effective way to let us as the audience know that something is very, very off not only with this character, but with the entire operation.
Stephen Fry was by far the heart and soul of this episode in his role as Ian Gibbons. Fry plays a man who has the purest of intentions-to further science to help as many people as possible. His pleas with Holmes come from a place of genuine concern that their technology is years away from being able to be used on actual human beings. His firing and subsequent re-hiring is heartbreaking. It’s clear that he’s deeply respected and loved by his co-workers, which only makes his entire situation all the more gut-wrenching.
The introduction of Walgreens provided an additional layer to this already incredibly messy situation. It gave viewers a closer look at exactly how Holmes essentially played everyone around her. Jay Rosan (Alan Ruck) in particular provided an interesting case study in how a seemingly ordinary, professional man went all-in on what Holmes was selling. Even when his colleagues around him are trying to get him to see reason, his fear of mortality, or perhaps simply irrelevance, makes him completely buy in to Theranos’ mission. This character is a stand-in for everyone that had such hope in this project from the beginning. This character is a stand-in for all of the ordinary people in particular who were captivated by Holmes and her idea.
This episode also did a fantastic job of showing the contrast between those seemingly under a spell with Holmes’ fantastical promises, and those who could see through them. In the end, all but one of the Walgreens representatives were converts to the Theranos gospel. Internally, the firing of Ian Gibbons was a catalyst revealing a deep divide within the company. Those who challenged any aspect of Holmes’ vision were intimidated into silence, which was a telling response.
The Theranos’ building itself has become a character in the show. The open floor plan is a deceptive decoy. The outward façade is an all-too familiar tactic to give the false impression of openness, comfort, and just being a stand-up place to work. The building is a symbol of Theranos as a company, with a beautiful and captivating outward appearance, but an interior characterized by crumbling stalwarts and supports.
This episode also distilled the secrecy and paranoia that characterized this entire operation from its earliest days. NDAs were a constant in this episode. The smoke and mirrors Holmes used to create the illusion of success were never quite enough to conceal the truth. The egregious security measures, including having people leave the main building at staggered intervals, gave the sense that Holmes was always hiding something, not that she was on the verge of a genius breakthrough that needed protecting.
Finally, this episode introduced us to Sam Waterson as former US Secretary of State George Schultz. When we meet him, he’s regaling Holmes with a story of a refusenik, a Soviet Jewish woman who was unable to emigrate to Israel. It was an interesting comparison, having Schultz see the same courage of this woman in another woman who would ruin the lives of so many. Perhaps it’s a testament of the power Holmes’ story was, and a clue into how so many wanted to believe the lie, in spite of all the evidence that there was never anything there.
We’re now at the halfway point of The Dropout and it’s still incredibly compelling television. It seems as though the character of Elizabeth Holmes is being given more of a back seat, since there’s not much more to explore from an ethical perspective. It’s even more compelling to get closer looks at everyone else who was involved, and what ultimately drove them to stay in for the long haul or abandon ship.
The Dropout looks like it has plenty more to come, and we’re here along for the ride.
- Dr Jay Rosen jamming out to Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’ was a look, and he should never apologize for enjoying what he does. I’m not sure I would base an entire business decision or strategy on the song’s message alone, but that’s maybe just me.
- ‘Suddenly I See’ by KT Tunstall continues to be a bop. Enough said.
- RIP Angry Birds, you were a real one.
- UberCab being Uber’s first name should have been proof from the beginning that they were always going to be trash.
What did you think of The Dropout 1×04, “Old White Men”? Let us know in the comments below!
The Dropout airs Thursdays on Hulu.
Read All Of THE DROPOUT Reviews –
- ‘The Dropout’ 1×01 Review: “I’m in a Hurry”
- ‘The Dropout’ 1×02 Review: “Satori”
- ‘The Dropout’ 1×03 Review: “Green Juice”
- ‘The Dropout’ 1×04 Review: “Old White Men”
- ‘The Dropout’ 1×05 Review: “Flower of Life”
- ‘The Dropout’ 1×06 Review: “Iron Sisters”
- ‘The Dropout’ 1×07 Review: “Heroes”
- ‘The Dropout’ 1×08 Review: “Lizzy”