“The Dropout’s” fourth episode marks the halfway point of the miniseries, and by this point, Elizabeth has gone completely off the deep end of fraud, and things at Theranos have become almost comically secretive and strange (like the 3:30 p.m. dinner reservation with the code name “Project Beta” — I chuckled). Employees are more compartmentalized than ever before, thanks to a slew of front-desk security guards. Every room has a camera that blinks. NDAs flow freely as if they were water in a stream. Employees are also instructed not to leave the lab during key meetings.
It’s all gimmicks and gimmicks designed to obscure critical information (such as the fact that blood test technology is still years away from being fully functional) and bring in more money, this time through a 2010 arrangement with Walgreens. This episode is chock-full of old white males, as the title suggests. They’re all over the place. Some of them are well-known (e.g., British head of chemistry Ian Gibbons), while others are played by such well-known actors (hello, Alan Ruck!) that it’s easy to keep track of them all.
In this episode, Elizabeth — completely wearing her new CEO armor and character from “Green Juice,” deeper voice and all — has three discussions with an old white man that perfectly capture the episode and the state of scammers at Theranos in 2010. They are as follows:
Did you know [Kevin] used to work at Quest Diagnostics? said Elizabeth.
Walgreens’ Dr. Jay Rosan: That is exactly why we recruited him.
Elizabeth: Well, we have proof that Quest is attempting to duplicate our technology for their own gain.
Dr. Jay: No way! What proof do you have?
Elizabeth: I’m afraid I’m not allowed to say anything about it; I’m sure you understand.
This exchange made me laugh because Seyfried and Ruck’s delivery and comedic chemistry are fantastic, but it also shows just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how far Elizabeth will go to prevent Walgreens’ hired lab expert, Kevin Hunter (Rich Sommer), from seeing Theranos’ lab and destroying the brewing deal by discovering the technology isn’t yet working. She also tries to divert Walgreens’ attention with a gift of a signed American flag from a battle zone in Afghanistan. What the fuck is going on?!
Dr. Jay, fortunately for her, is easily wowed by Silicon Valley’s buzzy start-up culture and money, and believes Theranos’ tight security indicates they must have something huge. Meanwhile, Kevin believes that all of Theranos’ security and secrecy indicate that the company is paranoid and deserving of suspicion. Kevin is entirely correct.
Elizabeth: You have no idea what you’re talking about…
Ian: And you’re clueless about science!
[blank look] from Elizabeth.
This tense scenario finishes with Ian being fired and escorted out by security, much to his surprise and amazement, and via his fevered attempts to persuade Elizabeth that actual individuals cannot be tested with the Edison gadget in Walgreens shops (or “wellness centers”). After numerous lab employees say they’ll have to be dismissed if Ian is fired, he’s rehired, but he’s put in an open-plan workstation far from his lab, looking extremely dejected. What will he do with the information he has gleaned regarding Elizabeth’s plans?
George Shultz: Are you looking for an elderly gentleman? I’m a 90-year-old man.
Elizabeth: Mr. Shultz, you are a force of nature, and simply being in your presence inspires me.
George Shultz: I’m George Shultz, and I’m I must say, Ms. Holmes, I’ve never met anyone exactly like you.
This scene, which occurs near the end of the episode, establishes where Elizabeth intends to go from here — using her government connections to smooth the regulatory path for Theranos — as well as the power of her persuasion at this point, particularly when flattering and schmoozing an elderly white man to join her cause.
In “Old White Men,” Seyfried uses some incredible blank expressions, taken off guard by Walgreens’ demand to “verify” the facility and technology before agreeing to a transaction, as well as Ian’s concerns that she doesn’t comprehend the science or the repercussions of what she’s doing (with Walgreens). Despite this, Elizabeth always manages to pivot (often with Sunny — who has a sleeping bag in his office? — by her side) and tell another fib or deceitful move that gives her what she wants: more money.
Sunny’s $20 million from 2008 had gone out by 2010, and Theranos needed additional money (for Ian’s research, as Elizabeth explains when they fight, but…?!). By the end of the episode, Theranos had obtained millions in financing from Walgreens and Safeway thanks to a lot of lying, including what was most likely a total sham of Sunny and Elizabeth leaving for a flight to Boston.
However, the number of people who are suspicious of Elizabeth and Theranos is growing all the time. Kevin Hunter is leading the skeptical-club assault by sniffing around the Edison at the Walgreens and Theranos collaboration celebration, and Ian senses that something is wrong in Palo Alto. For the time being, he may be rehired, but he knows what’s going on, and his faith in Elizabeth and her initial vision has definitely been shaken. (By the way, Ian is also perplexed by the turtlenecks and the new voice.) Brendan Morris, the new engineer from “Green Juice,” is clearly fed up with the secrecy at work, and Professor Robertson, despite having tipped Elizabeth off to Ian, has at least heard the head of chemistry declare the Edison doesn’t work. We’ll see what he does with that information as a board member, and what any of these people do with their growing misgivings.
Things are starting to heat up. Elizabeth, on the other hand, shows no signs of backing down anytime soon. What about her plan to “transform the world”? Well, we don’t get much insight into her headspace in this episode, but her actions telegraph that she’s very much aware she’s lying her butt off to secure this new funding whether or not she’s still justifying it to herself as part of her mission to change health care for the better.