Can’t Miss Episode of the Week: ‘The Dropout’ Ramps Up in Penultimate Episode
Welcome to our weekly column Can’t Miss Episode of the Week! Every Saturday we’ll be spotlighting a different episode of television from that week that we thought was exceptional and a must-see. Check back to see if your favorite show got the nod — or to learn about a new one! Spoilers ahead.
The Dropout has been a slow descent. A dramatization of the Elizabeth Holmes saga, every episode of the Hulu series shows how Holmes’ struggling blood-testing company Theranos took increasingly desperate steps that led them deeper and deeper into fraud. But in the penultimate episode of the limited series, which aired on March 31, that downward spiral finally reached the part viewers have all been waiting for: Theranos’ fall. This episode has its foot on the gas, and does not let up for even a moment.
As The Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) gears up to finally publish his exposé, Theranos does everything they can to kill the story. This battle kicks off with the heart-pounding scene where lab director Mark Roessler (The Big Bang Theory’s Kevin Sussman) races to download all of his work emails onto his private drive and make it out of the building, all while security alerts immediately go off and COO Sunny Balwani (Naveen Andrews) chases him, screaming about their NDA. The tense action clearly lays out the risk these whistleblowers are taking by talking to a reporter.
While we know the article eventually gets published, that doesn’t mean Theranos can’t do a lot of damage to sources before that happens, which makes for thrillingly high stakes this episode. “He should be more careful. These questions make it obvious who his sources are,” says Elizabeth (Amanda Seyfried) with a smug smile in her voice.
And so it begins. Former Theranos employee Erika Cheung (Camryn Mi-Young Kim) encounters a suspicious car staking out her new place of work. Mark is driven to hiding in his car to avoid being followed, and describes the constant calls he gets from Sunny and others at Theranos threatening to sue him. Sunny flies to Arizona to intimidate the doctors who have gone on record. It’s genuinely chilling. One by one, John starts to lose many of his sources, including the emails Mark promised him. In one anxious moment, Mark deletes them all–the grip of fear overpowers his desire to help save lives.
Another harrowing scene involves Tyler Shultz (Dylan Minnette, 13 Reasons Why), grandson of George Shultz (Sam Waterston), who’s on Theranos’ board and enthralled by Elizabeth, being ambushed by Theranos lawyer Linda Tanner (Michaela Watkins) at his grandfather’s house. It’s teeth-gritting as they pressure him to sign paperwork that would perjure himself, and we know that Tyler is the key to John’s article. We wait with bated breath as Tyler wisely continues to lie through his teeth about having spoken to the reporter, and refuses to sign. Perhaps the funniest part in the whole scene is when George decides to act as an intermediary negotiator between Tyler and Linda, and responds to Linda’s objections with: “It was good enough for Gorbachev, and it will be good enough for you.”
As everyone’s under stress, the scene stealer of the episode is LisaGay Hamilton as Judith Butler, John’s editor. Judith exudes a sense of professional calm about the whole matter. When John panics about the story falling apart, Judith, in what’s probably the entire series’ best scene, tells a story of how fishermen in Sicily wait very still for hours until the fish have developed a false sense of security and wander to the surface. And then the fisherman strike. Her fish parable is both soothing and hilarious as she yells “bam!” with hand motions to describe the fishermen killing the fish. And when legal heavyweight David Boies (Kurtwood Smith) shows up to go to bat for Theranos, Judith tells John, “Sometimes the fish can take you to court, and then you have to let them go. So, say it back to me, you have to let the fish go.” She gives John the fortitude to go in there and do what he needs to, which is to calmly, repeatedly insist that David answer his questions. Endeavoring to answer them with anything other than a no-comment winds up being Theranos’ downfall.
Perhaps the most satisfying character of the whole episode is Elizabeth’s nemesis Richard Fuisz, played with manic energy by William H. Macy. He’s practically pulling his hair out as he reads an opinion piece by Elizabeth in The Wall Street Journal, and calls up John to yell at him about it. He paces around his hotel room littered with empty take-out containers, living and dying with every new development. He’s fully gone down the rabbit hole of how deep this fraud goes, embodying the outrage many viewers probably feel watching it. He also gets to be the one to boisterously celebrate the article, whooping when John tells him it’s running. It’s also incredibly sad when a moment later he looks around the room and realizes: now what? He’s wrecked his marriage, his entire life, in this pursuit.
The episode is an amalgamation of Theranos’ highest highs and lowest lows, opening with a montage of Elizabeth being honored on national stages by past and current presidents. And it ends with Elizabeth at an event for Harvard Medical School, where she has just been added to its board of directors. It’s fantastic irony that that’s where she is when the article goes live. Right before it does, she runs into an old foe, Professor Phyllis Gardner (Laurie Metcalf–this show really does have amazing guest stars), who reminds Elizabeth of the real-life consequences to her actions. “When this becomes a scandal, because it will become a scandal, what do you think happens to all of the other women who want to start companies? Who do they go to? Who’s going to trust them?” she says to Elizabeth, and leaves her sitting there with the truth ringing in the air. The article is officially out. On deck for next week’s finale: The fallout.
Other observations we thought made this episode stand out:
- While the show does an excellent job focusing on the employees impacted by this fraud, this episode has some of the only descriptions of the terrible ways in which false Theranos lab results have harmed patients.
- A quick line of dialogue from Sunny of how Elizabeth should wear the outfit he’s picked out for her to the Harvard event once again ominously implies the toxic, controlling nature of their relationship.
The Dropout, Thursdays, Hulu