(Spoilers for Hulu’s The Dropout will be found below.)
If that name doesn’t sound familiar, perhaps the company she created will ring a bell. Holmes, who dropped out of Stanford’s School of Engineering during her sophomore year, founded the consumer healthcare tech company called Theranos, which promised investors an at-home machine capable of analyzing and detecting abnormalities in a patient’s DNA with just a few drops of blood. Holmes would go on to receive backing from some of the biggest names in tech and beyond — think Rupert Murdoch, Betsy DeVos, former Secretary of State George Shultz, and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper — but her sweeping claims about Theranos’ mysterious tech would eventually earn scrutiny from the media … and the U.S. government.
Before Hulu’s look at the doomed CEO drops on the streaming platform this month, refresh yourself on the unbelievable plot and characters of this real-life disaster story.
What Is The Dropout About?
Hulu’s limited series kicks off by focusing on Holmes’ early years. A driven and ambitious young woman, Holmes had a desire to change the world which is why she decided to attend Stanford. Her hope to have a career that mirrored her icon’s — Apple inventor Steve Jobs — pushed her to create Theranos, a company that promised to “democratize healthcare” by making it possible for patients to test their blood at home. The show, written by New Girl creator Elizabeth Merriwether and directed by Michael Showalter, follows Holmes as she goes from wide-eyed college co-ed to brilliant, in-over-her-head CEO of a multi-million dollar company. As investors begin to press her for proof that her machines work, Holmes makes some ethically reprehensible decisions, all in the name of progress.
Who Are The Main Characters Of The Dropout?
Elizabeth Holmes (played by Amanda Seyfried)
Amanda Seyfried transforms herself to play tech titan Elizabeth Holmes in Hulu’s limited series. The Mamma Mia star mimicks Holmes’ deep baritone — which may or may not have been fake — and, over the course of the show’s eight episodes, slowly morphs Holmes from a schlubby, stressed college student to a turtleneck donning power player. Seyfried leans into Holmes’ neurotic tendencies, amplifying how “other” she felt compared to her peers at school and her investors in the boardroom — mostly older men with decades more experience in running an actual company. Though she launches Theranos with good intentions, the pressure to succeed as a young, female CEO of a promising startup soon pushes Holmes to make decisions that are not only dangerous but criminal.
Sunny Balwani (played by Naveen Andrews)
Another major player in the rise (and fall) of Theranos is American businessman Sunny Balwani, played by Lost star Naveen Andrews in the Hulu biopic. Balwani had worked for companies like Microsoft and Lotus Software before founding his own software development business. He eventually sold it to a competitor, netting a multi-million dollar profit. When Holmes was a senior in high school, she met the 37-year-old entrepreneur and a short time later, the two began a romantic relationship. In the show, they bond over their shared love of Mandarin on an overseas trip as Balwani quickly becomes a mentor for the young undergrad. Andrews plays him as brash, uncompromising, and totally devoted to Holmes at the beginning of the series, but their relationship quickly changes when Seyfried’s character turns to him for help in duping her investors. As things slowly start to go sour between Holmes, her board members, and her employees, Balwani becomes even more paranoid, constantly accusing people of corporate espionage and tightly controlling Holmes’ every move.
Richard Fuisz (played by William H. Macy)
Richard Fuisz is one of the main antagonists in Holmes’ bid for tech glory. Played as a bitter, sensitive, narcissistic businessman by William H. Macy, Fuisz was a neighbor of the Holmes family for years before Elizabeth started her company. In the show, he fumes over the idea that she would start a medical tech business without asking him for advice — he built his fortune off of patenting all kinds of inventions, including medical devices, so that larger companies would have to pay him for their use. Whether that was his true motivation or not, Fuisz actively tries to thwart Holmes’ success, first by obtaining a patent for a mechanical process she’ll need to make her blood-testing machines work, then by connecting a disgruntled employee with the Wall Street Journal reporter who would later expose Theranos’ bad dealings.
Ian Gibbons (played by Stephen Fry)
Ian Gibbons was an experienced biochemist and the chief scientist of Theranos before the company went under. Another mentor to Holmes in those early days, Gibbons was constantly trying to maintain a high level of quality and accuracy in the machines that Theranos was building. Played by Stephen Fry, Gibbons was a staunch supporter of Holmes until he began to suspect she was cutting corners to keep up with the hype from investors. Sadly, Gibbons committed suicide before he was set to be deposed in the lawsuit Theranos filed against Fuisz.
When Will The Dropout Premiere?
The show will drop its first three episodes on Hulu on March 3rd with episodes airing weekly after that. The series has planned for eight episodes to tackle Holmes’ life, the creation of Theranos, and, presumably, her arrest and conviction on charges of criminal fraud during a trial that happened earlier this year.