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‘The Dropout’ Finally Shows Some Promise in its Eleventh Hour (REVIEW)

After struggling to cement its tone, The Dropout finally finds its footing in its past two episodes, ‘Iron Sisters’ and, most recently, ‘Heroes.’ Despite my many gripes about there not being a need for yet another version of the Theranos chronicle, these past two weeks have made me enjoy what happens when this over-told story is infused with the humor it desperately needs.

In ‘Iron Sisters,’ some genre-bending happens that makes the show more like an enjoyable ride – instead of a show that feels like it needs to check all of the boxes. There’s more trust built up among the show and its viewers, and it gives way for the show to incorporate elements of genuine suspense and some thrills — nothing too intense, but about as intense as I was anticipating when I began a show about one of the most notorious scammers of our time. It’s fun to watch new blood (pardon the pun), Tyler (Dylan Minnette), and Erika (Camryn Mi-young Kim) sneak around labs after hours and discover that Theranos isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Adding the touch of medical thrills and suspense does so much for a show treading water the past few weeks.

Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes and Naveen Andrews as Sunny Balwani in The Dropout (COURTESY: Hulu)

It’s also fun to watch how Elizabeth (Amanda Seyfried) allows Theranos to become so intrinsically linked with herself. Her descent into madness is played by Seyfried so delicately, careful not to veer too far over into farcical or melodramatic territory. While all of these stories do carve out some space for the viewer to empathize with the titular antihero, something so purposefully stiff and cold about Seyfried’s performance makes it impossible to feel sorry for Elizabeth fully. At her 30th birthday party, there’s a moment where all attendees don paper masks of Elizabeth’s face, and it’s genuinely jarring—not even for the moment itself, but for Elizabeth’s reaction of unbridled joy. It’s a real challenge even to want to feel for much of what Elizabeth goes through, with Seyfried’s performance doing much of the work to make those feelings real.

It’s in the show’s most recent episode, ‘Heroes,’ where the pace picks up. We see what happens when Elizabeth and Sunny (Naveen Andrews) finally recognize the threat of the hot water they’ve been in instead of treating it like a jacuzzi in their sprawling mansion. Echoes of All the President’s Men color the story of Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou (Ebon Moss-Bacharach) as he runs up against Theranos’s legal team, sicced on them by Sunny and Elizabeth. The thrills of a journalist running up against potential scoops and deadlines paired with some good ol’ deposition drama are great. It helps everything move along at a nice pace, and once we learn that Carreyrou’s exposé is ready for print, it’s off to the races.

Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes and Naveen Andrews as Sunny Balwani in The Dropout (COURTESY: Hulu)

While it’s interesting to watch Sunny and Elizabeth continue to act like gods, believing they’re above the law, at this point, I’m more interested in watching their fall from grace. They’ve behaved recklessly enough to earn the comeuppance that’s sure to come. That’s what makes it so fun to see Elizabeth approach Dr. Phyllis Gardner (Laurie Metcalf) at the Harvard Medical School event, where Elizabeth has been misplaced on Harvard Medical School’s Board of Fellows. In one swift takedown, Dr. Gardner not only puts Elizabeth in her place but warns her of the storm to come. Although the character of Dr. Gardner doesn’t seem to serve much more of a purpose other than delivering biting little quips about Elizabeth and the more significant impact she and her lies will have on women as a whole, she always seems to arrive just in time to force Elizabeth to think about her actions. Just as Elizabeth is forced to contemplate what she’s actually doing, she turns to her phone, where the fallout from the Wall Street Journal article has arrived in the form of push notifications. It’s exciting enough to get me ready for the finale next week.

As The Dropout draws to a close, Hulu has rolled out the (what I can only assume is green) carpet for yet another prestige miniseries based on a true story, The Girl from Plainville. Before The Dropout, there was Pam & Tommy. It’s become more evident that if you make a miniseries, it needs to do something memorable if you want it to have staying power. I still think The Dropout can go out on a really high note. Its star has only been ascending since its premiere (even if that starting point of ascension wasn’t very high up, to begin with), and the final demise of Elizabeth Holmes feels like it’ll be a fun one to watch. I wish the entire ride had been fun instead of stalling out for the first two-thirds of the show.

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