Thursday, March 24, 2022

REVIEW: 'The Dropout' - Tyler and Erika Grapple With the Unethical Demands of Working at Theranos in 'Iron Sisters'

Hulu's The Dropout - Episode 1.06 "Iron Sisters"

Fresh out of college and newly employed by Theranos, Tyler Shultz and Erika Cheung discover shocking truths about Elizabeth and the company. Richard and Phyllis work with John Carreyrou to build a case against Elizabeth.

"Iron Sisters" was written by Wei-Ning Yu and directed by Francesca Gregorini

Tyler got a job at Theranos because George Shultz is his grandfather. He is a nepotism hire. His skills didn't inform his ability to get this job. Instead, it was simply a kind way for Elizabeth to ingratiate himself with the former Secretary of State. She needed to make government connections. George provides that as a member of the board. In fact, many high-ranking former and current defense officials sign onto this company. They want to believe in its success. The product can revolutionize healthcare. These people see the potential to increase scale so effectively and efficiently. Tyler is on the ground. He sees how the company is actually run. He's not the person making the keen observations. He isn't asked to make compromising decisions. He simply has the benefit of being the sounding board for Erika as she grapples with the amoral choices she is asked to make. Tyler doesn't have to be promoted within the company. He doesn't have to be nurtured and appeased. His grandfather has that authority. He is the person of value in this situation. It's easy for Elizabeth to bend his ear and convince him of her greatness. Tyler and Erika don't have the facts to prove their claims. They are simply too young and inexperienced to know better. Tyler nearly flunked out of college during his final year. That had no impact on his ability to land a job in the fast-growing startup. His journey contrasts with Erika's in so many ways. She started from humble beginnings. She had to work so hard and feel like she belonged in order to achieve greatness. So many people wanted her to fail. She has the most to loss from voicing these concerns. And yet, she is always clear about the humanity involved. Real people are on the other side of the computer receiving these results. The company has a responsibility to be accurate. They can't simply be throwing out the results they don't like to juice the numbers. That's not ethical. Erika has access to the lab that reveals the truth of what the company is actually doing. Elizabeth and Sunny literally just put a sticker over another company's machine hoping no one would question the work they were doing. They are truly that blatant with the fraud. Even then, they can't come anywhere close to delivering the results they promise. Everyone wants to see the simplicity of the wellness centers in Walgreens. It's nothing but a fantasy. The equipment is so secretive. No one who works within Theranos can speak out. As such, it takes some truly courageous people to break their NDAs because it's the right thing to do.

All of this requires people in the outside world to listen and believe. Richard, Phyllis and Rochelle know Elizabeth is a fraud. Her entire company is a scam. It's astonishing she has accumulated such wealth and prestige. She doesn't deserve it. She is weaponizing their lack of support in her vision as well. She is the feminist icon. Anyone who disparages her wishes to condemn any young woman with an idea and willingness to lead her own company. That's not true especially when the facts are known. So much is cryptic though. Rochelle personally holds Elizabeth responsible for Ian's death. She knows the extent of the lies. She can't corroborate any of her claims. She has no documentation. She needs that evidence to convince John Carreyrou to publish a story. He is certainly intrigued. He only has one source willing to be used for background. It's not enough. Tyler and Erika's claims are damning though. They just have to be believed. They both lose their jobs. They both could be painted as disgruntled former employees. They quit because it was the moral thing to do. Sunny tries to beat them into submission. It's clear how the hiring process has pursued individuals who won't push back. The company is looking for those who will just go along with what Elizabeth and Sunny want. That can be evident in their personalities and demeanor. It can also be an exploitation of their social status. Erika can't loss this job. She can't be blacklisted in the industry. However, she feels that's the only thing she can do. She doesn't mean to suggest George is too old and out-of-touch to understand he is being misled. That's how he takes the accusations. It's all a personal assault. He refuses to listen. He shuts down and leaves the room. That's not the mature way to react. Erika found a way to survive and finish her education despite being assaulted. That same circumstance provided Elizabeth with the latitude to drop out of college. That became part of her story. It's a detail she never discloses. It doesn't match up with the fantasy she has always imagined. She wants that carefully crafted story. Erika can help bolster that visual. It's all built on a lie. Tyler and Erika call John to make sure the world knows it. But again, all of this can come at a great personal cost if the people involved don't take care of themselves. Richard flounders because his wife is leaving him over this obsession. He's not doing this for the altruistic reasons others wish to expose at Theranos. Even those taking a moral stand may be unfairly punished. That's just the frank nature of their reality and the amount of influence Elizabeth continues to wield.