In “The Dropout’s” second episode, Theranos is really heating up, and we even get to see the fraud begin in earnest! Exciting because of the show’s dramatic plot; sad because of the real-life ramifications. I’m not a fan of Elizabeth’s 2017 deposition interview framing technique, but it’s used sparingly in this episode and sets up the major action of “Satori,” which is the construction of Theranos’ first prototype and Elizabeth’s fundraising hunt.
So far, “The Dropout” has stuck to the premise that Elizabeth Holmes began with good intentions and turned crooked when she was forced into a corner by the difficulty (some may argue “medical and technical impossibility”) of bringing her noble intents and ambitions to fruition. Whether you believe that in real life or not, it appears to be the reality of the show’s dramatized universe, and when we join them in 2006, the Theranos staff is all-in on Elizabeth’s “transform the world” ambition. The episode’s unspoken subtext is that everyone at Theranos is so passionate about their work that they are willing to offer their blood for it. Many of them still believe they are making a difference in the realm of healthcare accessibility.
Elizabeth, on the other hand, will require more than her team of scientists, her parents and family friends, and Professor Robertson to be fully committed. She’ll need aid from the pharma-slash-money crowd to pay for the research. The pharma companies, on the other hand, will not meet with her until she has a functional prototype, which she won’t be able to build until she has more money. That’s a pickle, to be sure. One thing Robertson recommends her to address by pursuing Silicon Valley venture capital funding.
Despite building herself up in the van with Missy Elliott songs — listen, I want an Emmy for Amanda Seyfried for her portrayal of Elizabeth Holmes’ dancing, which has shown in both episodes so far and is nothing short of brilliant — Elizabeth’s pitches around town do not go well. She convinces Don Lucas (Michael Ironside) to come to Theranos, nearly loses him when the prototype fails, then concocts a pitch out of thin air and lands a meeting with Larry Ellison (of Oracle). Larry Ellison (Hart Bochner) and his boat and hype person are the essences of tech-bro douchery, but Elizabeth goes away with a promise from Ellison that he’ll arrange her a meeting with Novartis and that if she can show them a functioning prototype, he and Don Lucas will be in.
Which takes me to the design concept. We now know that the prototype, which Elizabeth was selling, was unreliable. Finally, this is definitely a major issue, as it resulted in Holmes cheating investors and providing patients with bogus medical information, putting their lives in jeopardy. It’s just part of the scientific process at this point, and for most of the show.
“Science is slow,” Ian Gibbons (Stephen Fry), the head of chemistry at Theranos, warns Elizabeth, who has his own painful medical-testing experience. But, as we all know, Elizabeth is pressed for time. Her father’s insistence that she leave his hospital bedside and return to work reveals her stressed mentality, and the rest, I suppose, is just a desire to make money and change the world — not atypical motivators, to be sure, but also a little… wide. But, as I mentioned at the beginning of these recaps, this is a dramatization, not a docuseries, and it isn’t a tell-all by Elizabeth Holmes, so “make money” and “change the world” it is.
Rakesh, Elizabeth’s old TA, Gibbons, and electrical engineer Edmond Ku (James Hiroyuki Liao) and his crew, who are hard at work on the prototype, are primarily responsible for the slow science. I’ll save you the embarrassment of me attempting to explain the science and instead point out that during the first lab demonstration, the prototype crashes and a drop of blood drips from the slot where the sample card goes in, turning the slot into a vampire’s mouth after a particularly juicy snack. The show, your imagery is fantastic. It’s fantastic.
Otherwise, all we need to know is that the prototype doesn’t work for a time before it starts working! Just once! (For the record, Rakesh does not have sepsis.) But it stops working after the team arrives in Switzerland to meet with Novartis, despite Elizabeth milking a sales team member and herself for blood samples and Edmond spending the entire day and night on a video chat (ignoring his family), and it even catches fire at one point.
But! This is where the con starts! Elizabeth, with the help of one of the lab guys back in Palo Alto and Rakesh as an unhappy collaborator, fakes the Novartis demo, using the data from the one sepsis test that worked.
“What would you try if you knew you couldn’t fail?” is a question Elizabeth asks several times in “Satori,” even having her aide put the words on a paperweight, and there are two ways to understand it: The first refers to the egocentric assurance that you cannot fail because you are impervious to failure, while the second refers to the drive that drives someone who knows that failure is not an option for them because of the consequences of failure. It’s still unclear which group Elizabeth belongs to, but we do know what she’ll do to avoid failing: She’ll lie, and she’ll justify it by claiming that she is confident that the prototype can and will function.
She seemed to be a little remorseful about it, getting too tipsy at the Theranos Christmas party (after securing $165 million in series B funding) and disclosing the truth to Sunny. While Edmond has discovered the demo fraud and confronted Rakesh about it, Elizabeth and Sunny are cruising down the street in his Lamborghini, and she appears to be free of guilt once more, after sharing it with Sunny and telling him that she loves him (he responds, “I know,” which isn’t always a good sign).
Sunny and Elizabeth’s relationship is updated in “Satori,” which she is keeping a secret from everyone at Theranos (the condoms on the coffee table and making out in front of open office curtains are, like, very obvious), though her parents are aware of it. Sunny continues to juggle the roles of lover, cheerleader, and older protector, as well as secret-keeper and post-event accomplice. The “after-the-fact” element appears to be crucial – he doesn’t criticize Elizabeth for it and seems weirdly eager to be the sole person she confides in, but she made the bogus demo call on her own.
Elizabeth has now strayed into the fraud area, and at least four individuals are aware of it. Something tells me that the one who’s uneasy (Edmond) isn’t going to last long in Theranos’ universe. To keep him company, he has his family and the foresight to realize that his kids should not be baking in a real, adult-size oven.