“Heroes” is the penultimate episode of this miniseries, and it is not messing around. Immediately after a montage (set to David Bowie’s “Heroes”) of Elizabeth crushin’ it in 2015 (attending a Time 100 event, jogging, Sunny’s fancy cars and their big house, lots of green juice, compliments from former president Bill Clinton and then-Vice-President Joe Biden), we get to catch up with The Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou, who is going hard on his Theranos expose. His summary to his editor Judith (LisaGay Hamilton) about all the doctors and patients he’s spoken to so far is a necessary and grounding reminder of the real, human cost of all Elizabeth-slash-Theranos’s lies. The episode’s tone is set; we may be having fun watching The Dropout, but let’s not forget that Elizabeth and those in the know at Theranos endangered people’s lives and lied about it to the public’s faces the whole time. In real life.
This whole episode, in fact, is about the juxtaposition of Elizabeth and Theranos’s major public successes, and what she and Sunny and the Theranos powers that be will do to protect it, with the effects of their lies, fraud, and threatening scare tactics as Carreyrou’s Wall Street Journal investigation heats up. Once Theranos gets wind of the piece — because Carreyrou has to, journalistically, reach out to them for comment — Elizabeth and Sunny spin out, asking David Boies to “sue everyone.” Boies instead deploys his Weinstein special: suppressing negative stories by bullying sources (done here by Linda from legal, played by Michaela Watkins, and Sunny) and destroying their credibility.
This means we get scenes like Elizabeth calmly telling Charlie Rose about her lifelong calling to change the world while lab director Mark calls Carreyrou to frantically report that he’s being followed and watched. Elizabeth talks about doing anything for someone you love while Erika (who was assaulted in college, mind you) spies someone watching her in her new workplace’s dark, empty parking lot. Despite a pep talk from Carreyrou (“They wouldn’t make it scary if they weren’t scared, and they’re scared because they know that they’re wrong and you’re right.”), Mark deletes the Theranos emails he stole! WTF, Mark! (Also, this is the last we see of Mark in the episode, so, uh, hope he’s okay.) This, plus Sunny coercing almost all the Arizona doctor sources to back off with threats about their Yelp reviews, has Carreyrou stressing.
It means we also get scenes like Elizabeth and the Theranos employees cheering and dancing about the fact that they “got herpes!” just after Tyler gets ambushed by his dear ol’ grandpa and Linda from legal. The Shultz family (go Charlotte!) comes together to protect their own in the moment, but Tyler and George are still at odds because of George’s inability to see or admit he’s wrong about Elizabeth. Harsh words fly. Ah, nothing like a healthy dose of family drama to up the ante even more in an already dramatic situation. Even though Elizabeth and Sunny are also starting to fight — because Walgreens is unhappy and Sunny has replaced Mark with a dermatologist as lab director — the wildly celebratory herpes scene is another tidy juxtaposition of Theranos as it appears on the surface and the real Theranos underneath (case in point: Linda from legal is in both scenes, coldly trying to sue and strong-arm Tyler one minute and cheering and clapping and dancing about the success of the herpes test the next).
Another juxtaposition? The Wall Street Journal “Opinion” section publishing an op-ed by Elizabeth while one of their reporters is still working hard to expose her as a fraud. Classic Wall Street Journal opinion versus news! It turns out Rupert Murdoch — who owns NewsCorp, the parent company of The Wall Street Journal — is also investing big money in Theranos. How fun for all involved! Just kidding.
All of this juxtaposition comes to a head in a tense meeting between David Boies, Linda from legal and assorted Theranos lawyers, Judith, Carreyrou, and The Wall Street Journal counsel. It’s filled with legalese and tough talk and bravado and questions about the app store, and the crux of it is when David Boies (who says he respects journalists, okay, sure) asks this: “Do you really believe that all the recognition by the academic, scientific, and health-care communities of Theranos achievements … is wrong? That every previously published report about Theranos — including in the Journal itself — has been the result of misleading manipulation by the company?” The Theranos front-slash-façade of success is strong. But, to use Boies’s own words against him, “none of it is true.” And John Carreyrou knows it. When Boies and some of the other lawyers slip up a little, they abruptly end the meeting, but Judith and Carreyrou know they’ve stabbed their fish. They celebrate and prepare to publish the piece (it’s a nice moment, but I’d also like to see Judith doing more Sicilian-style fishing).
Before it publishes, Elizabeth goes to George to reinforce his support. Amazingly, he still seems to view her as a perfect angel, despite his incredulity that she would ask Rupert to kill the story (“He says his hands are tied”), and suggests that she might not have the right people around her, specifically pointing the finger at Sunny. This leads to a tense moment between Elizabeth and Sunny, wherein we learn that he picks out her clothes, and they trade not-so-subtle threats about who knows what and the possibility of turning on one another before cheerily saying they’ll miss each other while she’s away at a Harvard Medical School event.
At the event, Elizabeth gets a talking to from Dr. Phyllis Gardner, who, referencing a major theme from “Iron Sisters,” asks Elizabeth what she thinks will happen to all the other women who want to start companies once Theranos blows up into the scandal it is. Because “it’s not just you.” Phyllis has been a bit of a one-note character who often speaks in tight bons mots, but she speaks the truth, nonetheless, and I appreciate that. Plus, this confrontation was a long time coming. The article is published, and Elizabeth’s phone starts blowing up with notifications, and I am once again forced to ask, “Why she doesn’t put that thing on vibrate?” C’mon!
The article is making a splash, but of course, as The Dropout heads into its finale, Elizabeth, Sunny, and all of Theranos are doubling — Tripling? Quadrupling, at this point? — down, complete with some “them versus us” spin and a company-wide chant of “Fuck you, Carreyrou!” It feels very Lord of the Flies but does its job of pumping me up … for next week’s final episode.
Spare Drops of Blood
• Elizabeth now loves green juice so much she licks the inside of her plastic cup to get every last drop. How far she’s come since episode three. And Amanda Seyfried is so game as an actress, really going after that cup with gusto.
• John Carreyrou craving the crackers that come with his boss’s Hale and Hearty soup is a very “2015 midtown New York City” detail that I appreciate.
• Elizabeth dismissing Tyler as a source because “he’s a kid” is particularly rich considering he’s older than she was when she dropped out of school and started Theranos. Does she actually believe her bullshit, do you think?
• Richard … still sucks.