If Elizabeth took her first major step into scammery during the Novartis demo in episode two, “Green Juice” ups the ante significantly. The show’s third episode sees a lot of things rise, and it’s both a slow burn and a whirlwind – it’s a bit unclear for much of the hour, but the reward is huge. By the end, Elizabeth has transformed into the Elizabeth Holmes we’re all familiar with: black suit and turtleneck, red lipstick, low bun, black eyeliner, the even deeper timbre of voice, and a green juice in hand (possibly a reference to Elizabeth’s real-life testimony that Sunny wanted to create a “new Elizabeth” during their relationship). Despite the fact that she had previously stated that she “hated” green juice earlier in the show. So, how is she going to get there?
Well, Elizabeth is the CEO of a buzzy Silicon Valley start-up with a lot of momentum and VC money backing it in the summer of 2007, and with that comes more attention (like being named to Inc.’s “30 Under 30” alongside Mark Zuckerberg, he of the soccer sandals) — which means it’s time to deal with the fact that Elizabeth is a young woman swimming in the sharky Silicon Valley boys’ club.
“The Dropout” understands this fact and admits how it may make things more difficult for Elizabeth and Theranos, but it also rejects (so far) portraying Elizabeth as a feminist hero as a result of it. Being a young woman in the male-dominated tech world presents challenges, from Don Lucas’s comments about her weight to the “just for fun” revenge scheme family friend Richard Fuisz concocts to delusionally teach Elizabeth a lesson, and perhaps that was part of her motivation to follow Larry Ellison’s advice to be a more aggressive leader (act more stereotypically male) and choose fraud as the wand. It clearly pushes her in “Green Juice,” as she receives both praises and advice from poached Apple designer Ana Arriola (Nicky Endres) for her young woman CEO status, and exhibits a hyperawareness of the tightrope she’s treading. She’s especially careful not to give the impression that she requires her boyfriend’s assistance (never mind that no one knows Sunny is her boyfriend, though they live together by this point).
However, in “Green Juice,” the show manages to accept that truth without letting Elizabeth off the hook. She spends the episode grappling with the realization that she can’t afford one slip-up, that her often disheveled appearance, youth, and womanhood (and the combination; see: Zuck’s aforementioned soccer sandals) mean an uphill battle in terms of gaining respect in the boardroom and industry… while also getting herself deeper and deeper in lies.
Theranos still lacks a working prototype and has yet to secure any pharmaceutical contracts. Despite this, she lies about these difficulties to Avie Tevanian (Amir Arison) and the rest of the board, pursuing a Pfizer validity trial (with fatal cancer patients!) Despite the fact that she knows the technology will fail, she puts her engineers against one another and begins spying on and siloing Theranos staff in numerous ways. The board eventually asks for a vote of no confidence in Elizabeth as CEO when Avie resigns and urges Don Lucas to “start asking questions.”
The fact that the board informs Elizabeth she requires adult supervision may appear patronizing, and the fact that they’re all middle-aged white men (until Avie leaves) further adds to that impression. We can also tell that she is drowning and clinging to lies and deception as life preservers. Is it, therefore, patronizing? Is it possible that any board would reach the same conclusion? Or are both true and inextricably linked in this case? Anyway, Elizabeth sobs and apologizes, admitting she’s in over her head and that they’re correct; she does require assistance. Then she proposes her preferred solution: hire “an old friend” who will bring in $20 million and serve as COO as long as she is CEO; “he’s” already had the notion to break into medicine and carve out their own niche in retail.
This struck me as a planned maneuver, a play on the old men’s feelings for the young woman standing in front of them, grieving for her dream and pleading for assistance (perhaps inspired by the Genius Bar colleague who cried after unintentionally erasing Elizabeth’s phone). It also works! The board is persuaded. When Elizabeth returns home and pitches the plan to Sunny, who hasn’t heard it yet, it appears as if Elizabeth knew it would, or at the very least that it was her best, last-ditch try to keep her company (though she told the board he was already in). They smile at one other, forgetting about their previous relationship problems (which became physical and ended with both of them in tears). Sunny is in, after spending the entire episode languishing and feeling ignored – by both the racist airport security officers and Elizabeth.
The idea is that there might be two truths at play: Elizabeth could have been a trailblazing and innovative young woman tech CEO who had to break into a boys’ club and fight with sexist, ageist attitudes while building her firm and a fraudulent fraudster. And I’m glad the program isn’t claiming it’s all one or all the other because ignoring one or the other doesn’t help the show tell a complete tale.
The episode ends with Theranos moving into a new office (with new engineer Brendan Morris, played by Bashir Salahuddin, and his new prototype, the Edison); a cut of Elizabeth’s 2017 interview confirming that Sunny came on board as COO by the end of 2008, and she bought back some shares and had a controlling stake in the company; Richard being served papers; and Rakesh and Edmond, who are no longer employed by Theranos, hanging out. Let’s hope Edmond’s daughter cooked them some delicious Easy-Bake Oven treats to cheer them up. It’s the very least they are due.