Follow TV Tropes


Series / The Dropout

Go To
The Dropout is a Hulu miniseries about the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes, founder and CEO of Theranos, based on the ABC News podcast of the same name. The first three episodes dropped on March 3, 2022, with the remaining five episodes being released on a weekly fashion.

The story is told through flashbacks as Elizabeth Holmes is recorded during her testimony at a July 11, 2017 deposition. Holmes (Amanda Seyfried) is determined to follow her dream of becoming a billionaire. As a freshman in biomedical engineering at Stanford, she manages to get a spot in a graduate research group. She has an idea for an invention that will change the healthcare industry: a machine that can conduct blood tests using just one drop of blood.

The fact that it does not work does not prevent her from starting a company, hiring employees, and finding investors willing to put their money into it. Eventually, as more and more put her claims into doubt and as more of her lies become evident, the Theranos house of cards falls down.

See also Bad Blood and the 2019 Documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley for nonfiction portrayals of Holmes's story.

Also features Naveen Andrews as Sunny Balwani, her mentor and boyfriend.

Tropes present in this work:

    open/close all folders 
    # to D 
  • 0% Approval Rating: Except for Elizabeth herself, absolutely nobody at Theranos likes, respects, or understands the purpose of Sunny.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Both Amanda Seyfried and Naveen Andrews are much easier on the eyes than the real Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny Balwani, especially in the latter's case.
  • Adaptational Context Change: Tyler Shultz really did perform a song exalting Elizabeth for her 30th birthday party, but according to his account, he ended up playing it again because a guest showed up late. In the show, Elizabeth herself is the one who makes him play it again as an intimidation tactic after she realizes that Tyler is catching on to her lies.
  • Adaptation Name Change:
    • Theranos cofounder Shaunak Roy becomes Rakesh Madhava.
    • Lead engineer Tony Nugent becomes Brendan Morris.
    • Lab director Adam Rosendorff becomes Mark Roessler.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Sunny is about two decades older than Elizabeth is, with their actors having a similar age gap.
  • Aggressive Categorism: Played with: Elizabeth's ambition is so single-minded that the pervasive sexism of Silicon Valley never occurs to her as a potential problem. Only when she's already a cover-story billionaire does she start leaning on straw feminism when it suits her.
  • All for Nothing: In the end, all the lying, sacrifices, and intimidation were essentially pointless. Not only did the Edison machine not work, but it never could have. Billions of dollars were wasted on a project that didn't progress the cause of science in any significant way.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Elizabeth's ambition to make her mark leads her to make promises she is unable to deliver. She even conducts a trial of her blood-testing machine on actual cancer patients, despite the fact that the machine does not work.
  • Angry Dance: Elizabeth's father has lost his job at Enron. After returning from a humiliating visit at the neighbors' home, an angry Elizabeth dances in her bedroom, stopping for a second before a poster of Steve Jobs.
  • Appeal to Novelty: Dr. Jay sells Theranos to his colleagues by saying that they're old and out-of-touch and need to get on board with the new tech represented by Holmes and her company.
  • Arc Words:
    • After the trial on cancer patients in a Nashville clinic. "This is an inspiring step forward." It's the phrase that Elizabeth says out loud over and over again to practice her contralto. She uses it to justify the trials on cancer patients to both Edmond and Don Lucas. Also doubles as Madness Mantra.
    • Anytime Elizabeth or Sunny get a question and they canít answer it, they respond with "Thatís proprietary information."
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Elizabeth yells at Sunny for dropping by the engineering lab, claiming to be a consultant and asking questions. Sunny responds calmly, asking, "Do you want to talk about that, or the fact you're 10 years away from the promises you've made to the board?"
  • Army of Lawyers: Theranos falls back on legal intimidation as a silencing tactic as the Wall Street Journal begins to amass sources for its expose.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: At a point when Elizabeth is facing the shutdown of her labs, a federal ban from operating a new lab, a bad breakup with Sunny, the loss of her wealth and public adoration, possible jail time, a mass exodus of employees and board members, exposure as a liar and a fraudster whose great idea never worked, and the likelihood that nobody will ever invest in her again... Noel Holmes feels it necessary to add that she's "very angry" at her daughter.
  • Artistic License Ė History:
    • In the show, after Ian Gibbons commits suicide, a mass email is sent out to employees announcing in his death. In reality, no one in Theranos was told about his passing. One of his colleagues did later send around a memorial email, but it was not to the whole company and only contained information about his inventions.
    • The show depicts Elizabeth as having just about zero girlfriends, except for one unnamed girl who comes by her dorm room with a DVD and a bong. In fact, she was a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority at Stanford, and one good girlfriend of hers worked at Theranos for a time. Some of her former sisters even attended her trial in support, although others backed off.
    • In the show, Elizabeth only needs a few minutes and some well-placed Crocodile Tears to talk the board out of firing her as CEO. In real life, she spent two hours persuading them to let her stay on, and although she was reportedly contrite, there's no record of her crying.
    • It's inferred by the show that Holmes is able to persuade Ian Gibbons to come on-board because he urgently needs a healthcare plan after his cancer battle. In real life, Gibbons had already been working for Theranos for two years before he was diagnosed with cancer.
  • Atomic F-Bomb:
    • Elizabeth yells "Fuuuuuuuuck!" inside her car after being rejected by several venture capitalists.
    • Sunny, when a bank of testing machines fail, yet again.
  • Bad "Bad Acting": During Episode 6, Elizabeth is taking part in filming an advertisement for her company and she continually botches it with her robotic demeanor. She can't understand the simple direction of "Talk to the camera as if you are talking to a friend." Being The Unblinking does not help.
  • Bad Boss:
    • Sunny. In every sense.
    • Elizabeth doesn't share Sunny's habits of yelling, threatening, and throwing things. But she has no problem firing anyone who questions her too much on the spot, and she has zero consideration for her employees' personal lives or energy levels. She won't even let them take a birthday cake break if it means holding up work.
  • Being Watched: All of the Theranos whistleblowers begin to get followed around by some mysterious security detail in order to intimidate them into silence. It gets so bad that Mark deletes all the emails he was going to give to John and Tyler begins to sleep with a knife next to him since it makes him feel more safe.
  • Bittersweet Ending: For people like Tyler Shultz, Erika Cheung, John Carreyrou, Dr. Phyllis Gardner, and Richard Fuisz, their efforts finally pay off: Theranos is dissolved and Elizabeth and Sunny will rightly face serious legal consequences. Erika Cheung uses her experiences to create a nonprofit for ethics in entrepreneurship. However, there is plenty of "bitter" in there:
    • Dr. Gardner's prediction that Elizabeth's fraudulent actions would make things harder for women who wanted to start companies proves true. Fuisz's obsession to prove Elizabeth Holmes wrong ended up breaking up his marriage. Tyler Shultz did end up reconciling with his grandfather before the latter's death but he will never recover the lost time. Billions of dollars from investors have been thrown away. Anybody who worked for Theranos has a stain in their employment record. And nothing will bring back Ian Gibbons, or undo any harm done to actual people who relied on the inaccurate info from tests.
    • Elizabeth deserves whatever punishment is headed her way, but she did start out as a Wide-Eyed Idealist wanting to do good and trying to advance medical science. Her ambition and ego grow out of control and she fully completes a journey to becoming a villain. On top of that, whether through Selective Obliviousness or Lack of Empathy, she does not accept any responsibility, chalking it all up to "failure to deliver'', and mentally distances herself from her wrongdoings. To top it off, before Elizabeth was found guilty of several charges, she'd met a new partner, had a child, and was pregnant again towards the end of her trial. She was later sentenced to 11 years and 3 months in prison, meaning those children will be separated from their mother for years on end.
  • Blatant Lies: Elizabeth lies to everyone about the machine working when she does not even have a working prototype.
    • Elizabeth invoked crosses the line from stubbornly believing in her flawed, unworkable idea into outright fraud when she blatantly fakes a successful test result during a demonstration after the prototype suddenly stops working in Switzerland.
  • Blunt "No": Gary Yamamoto from CMS is on a mission to check out the Theranos labs. This is his response when Sunny tries to show him a presentation as a distraction from his mission.
  • Boring, but Practical: This is why Erika decides to report Theranos to a minor government regulatory agency (vs. Tyler who thinks that the media is a better outlet); Erika reasons that Elizabeth can out-dazzle any news coverage but won't have any weapons against the boring motions of government bureaucracy.
  • Brick Joke: While still in college, Elizabeth presents her patent to Dr. Gardner, who tells her that it won't work. After she protests this and uses the famous "Do or do not, there is no try" quote from Star Wars, Dr. Gardner tells her to never quote Yoda ever again in that context. At the end of the third episode, one of Theranos' walls has been painted with that exact quote, seemingly as a giant middle finger to Elizabeth's old professor.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Deconstructed with Elizabeth. She is shown to legitimately be a very intelligent person who is able to do well in class, and believes that her talent can make her a billionaire through medical science. Best exemplified in her conversation with Phyllis Gardner, who points out that science is all about trying and effort, not just "doing it" as Elizabeth thinks. Unfortunately for all involved, Elizabeth's intelligence cannot overcome the fact that her idea is scientifically impossible to make work, which she might have discovered if she had kept putting in the effort at Stanford. She's also something of an inversion of this trope, believing she can overcome her lack of medical and scientific knowledge and the fact that her device simply doesn't work with sheer determination and realizing the limits of hard work.
  • Broken Pedestal: Several of Theranos' employees lose faith in Elizabeth as she gets deeper into fraud. The first is Edmond, who becomes disillusioned with the company after the Pfizer trial, and quits shortly after; Ana, who quite bluntly tells Elizabeth that she doesn't remember what she saw in her after finding out about said trial, and takes the entire design team with her; and Rakesh, who quits following Edmond's resignation.
    • In the early years of Theranos, Ian earnestly believed in Elizabeth and genuinely came to care for her, seeing her as a friend. However, when he learns that Elizabeth is trying to get the Edison out into stores and operate them on actual people, his faith in her shatters and he's clearly distraught by how far she's fallen.
  • Broken-System Dogmatist: Elizabeth becomes an embodiment of Silicon Valley's worst stereotypes: ambitious to the point of sociopathic, willing to tell bald-faced lies in pursuit of investment, always looking for ways to bypass established safeguards, ready to sacrifice her own relationships and health for the sake of her career. And she never sees anything wrong with any of this, not even after everyone else has.
  • Brutal Honesty:
    • Sunny pays a visit to the Theranos lab, without asking or even telling Elizabeth first. She is enraged that he did that, but he lays a couple of truths. Her employees don't respect her, and she is years away from delivering on what she has promised her board: "Elizabeth, you are in over your head. You are going to lose everything."
    • Richard Fuisz calls Phyllis Gardner to ask what she thinks about Elizabeth. Her response is brief and blunt: "She's a fraud, Richard. She's always been a fraud."
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Kevin on the Walgreens team is neurotic and is first shown anxiously hoarding plane snacks, earning a side-eye and reprimand from Dr. J. However, he is extremely competent and discerning, always seeing through Theranos's lies and smokescreens. Unfortunately, he's never taken seriously, not only due to Elizabeth's influence but also possibly because Dr. J thinks he's odd.
  • Call-Back: When Elizabeth is hurriedly putting her things in a box in the last episode as she's leaving Sunny's house, one of the things she packs is one of the creepy Elizabeth masks from the birthday party.
  • Cardboard Box of Unemployment: Brendan Morris is seen leaving the building with his stuff in a cardboard box, presumably after tendering his resignation.
    • Other examples include Edmond and Erika, as well as other employees without speaking lines, as they are escorted out.
    • Averted with Tyler, who just grabs his messenger bag and leaves Sunny's office after Sunny rejects his two weeks' notice.
  • Cassandra Truth:
    • Avie raises red flags about Theranos to Don Lucas, including warnings that Elizabeth is not qualified to be CEO and that there is no substance behind her financial projections. He's promptly fired.
    • Don Lucas himself eventually realizes that Elizabeth's been lying to him all along and initiates a vote of no confidence to have her removed. She torpedoes his efforts by bringing Sunny Balwani on board as COO.
    • Ian tells Channing (Elizabeth's former professor and board member) that the machine doesn't actually work and later tells Elizabeth that she doesn't understand the science behind the machine or the real-world implications of using an unreliable-at best- blood-testing machine on real people.
    • Walgreens sends four people to check out Theranos. They want to see the labs before committing but Sunny and Elizabeth keep stalling, distracting them from that, and giving evasive answers to direct questions. Kevin points out all the red flags. Wade appears to believe at first, but eventually Walgreens does pair with Theranos.
    • After quitting, Tyler tries telling the truth about the fraud to his grandfather. George Shultz refuses, because Elizabeth has him convinced that Tyler just does not understand the data.
    • Phyllis Gardner condemns Elizabeth for her actions and for claiming that the only reason people oppose her is sexism, saying that when she fails that women CEOs are going to have a hard time being taken seriously because of her actions. In the final episode, the epilogue states that female CEOs are having a hard time finding funding in Silicon Valley, with one woman being told to dye her hair to avoid looking like Elizabeth Holmes.
  • Cathartic Scream: Elizabeth does this (in addition to banging her iPhone on her desk until the screen breaks) after Don Lucas tells her that he is going to call for a vote of no confidence from the board of directors.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: While not without humor, the second half of the show is much more serious than the first half, showing just how scary and life-threatening it would be to attempt to expose a billion-dollar company willing to do anything to stop the truth from getting out and having the resources to do so.
  • Cheated Death, Died Anyway: When Elizabeth hears about Ian's suicide, she numbly states he had previously survived cancer. Her obvious thinking is that after Ian successfully (and repeatedly at that) bounced back from one of the deadliest ailments in the medical world, it was threats from partially her company that led to his death.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Erika discussing why she is filing a complaint on Theranos with the CMS. Tyler points out that she is swearing a lot and that he likes it.
    Erika: Underfunded and understaffed, but if they get a formal complaint, they have to investigate it. It's just this fucking boring fucking federal fucking regulatory agency that can shut her ass down.
  • Competition Freak: Elizabeth doesn't remember having any hobbies as a child. When she asks her mother about this, Noel reminds her that she ran track and climbed a mountain, and her brother recalls her reacting angrily to losing at Monopoly. Even then, even Elizabeth's fun required her to surpass other people.
  • Composite Character: Linda Tanner, of the entire Theranos in-house legal team. David Boies and his associates still appear in the show, however.
  • Confess to a Lesser Crime: When Linda from legal confronts Elizabeth on all the patients she lied to, employees she hurt and investors she defrauded, Elizabeth will only admit that she "failed to deliver," but denies that she committed any crimes.
  • Consistent Clothing Style: In the beginning, Elizabeth's work wardrobe consists of a lot of untucked button-down shirts, even when going out for presentations to venture capitalists. After her makeover, it mainly consists of black turtlenecks like the ones worn by Steve Jobs and matching slacks, or little black dresses for fancy occasions.
  • Control Freak: Sunny is very domineering in his relationship with Elizabeth. He's 20 years her senior, and is already a successful businessman while she is just a college student. He is upset when she wants to get her own car because he wants to drive her everywhere. He whines that she doesn't spend enough time with him despite the fact that she is the CEO of a company she is trying to get off the ground. Sunny even gets upset when she doesn't drink the green juice he got her, lamenting it cost him $12 despite him being independently wealthy. Eventually it leads to a physical confrontation between the two when Sunny believes she's not paying enough attention to him.
    • Things get worse when Sunny becomes COO of the company: employees are required to sign a pile of NDAs, prevented from talking to other employees, and closely and constantly monitored.
  • Convenient Replacement Character: None of Elizabeth's Always Female executive assistants last longer than one episode.
  • Cool Old Guy: Ian is decades older than most of his co-workers at Theranos but is beloved and looked up to as a mentor. He is always friendly, charming and encouraging, and sincerely tries to help Elizabeth achieve her goals. He's also played by Stephen Fry, which automatically makes him cool.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Do we really need to say it?
  • Covering Up Your Grey: When Phyllis Gardner and Richard Fuisz go pay a visit to Rochelle Gibbons after her husband Ian's death by suicide, she greets them looking like a shell of her former self, complete with inch-long gray roots in her dark hair. As delicately as possible, they ask for her help in taking down Theranos. The next time we see the three of them in a planning session, Rochelle's roots are retouched to show that she has a new purpose: holding Theranos accountable.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Sunny is extraordinarily possessive of Elizabeth, but not because of a romantic rival. He recognizes that she's more devoted to Theranos than anything or anyone and lets her know how much he resents this. He doesn't even mind that she only brings him aboard as COO for his $20 million investment, as long as he gets to be at her side.
  • Creepy Monotone: Elizabeth's general speaking style, especially when trying to adopt her deeper voice. It makes her come across more like a malfunctioning robot than a person. In-universe, she terrifies a young female worker at the Apple store by telling her, in unblinking monotone, that the girl's life was meaningless and unimportant, scaring her so much so that the girl accidentally erases everything on Elizabeth's phone. She switches to a much more lively tone after the company collapses and she starts going by "Lizzie".
  • Cringe Comedy:
    • A good amount of the series' humor comes from Holmes' No Social Skills interactions with others.
    • The meeting between Theranos and Walgreens is rife with this, due to Elizabeth and Sunny's obvious attempts at stalling Kevin from seeing the labs.
    • At the event celebrating Walgreens as partnership with Theranos, Roland serenades Elizabeth with a ditty set to the tune of "What I Like About You":
      "What I like about blood
      You only need one drop!
      Put it in the box and then
      You got your results!"
    • Tyler performs a song he wrote extolling Elizabeth's greatness, literally called "Elizabeth the Great." It would probably be painful enough on its own, but it's even worse because by this point Tyler has realized Elizabeth's fraud but still has to perform it anyway. And when he finishes, Elizabeth (who is aware that Tyler knows what is going on) makes him play it a second time.
    • After her birthday party, Elizabeth and Sunny share an extremely awkward and bizarre dance together, with the masks of Elizabeth's face that they're wearing not helping.
  • Crocodile Tears: Elizabeth turns on the waterworks as part of her ploy to get the board to not fire her, before presenting her alternate proposal for funding that would allow her to stay as CEO.
  • Crowd Chant:
    • When they get a complete reading on a test for sepsis, Rakesh, Edmond and Ian burst into Elizabeth's office (where she sleeps) to let her know. They start jumping up and down in celebration: "We have sepsis! We have sepsis!"
    • After the Wall Street Journal article gets published, Sunny leads the Theranos employees into a rousing chant of "Fuck you, Carreyrou!"
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Elizabeth is smart, determined, cunning, capable of picking up concepts pretty quickly, and persuasive. She probably could've done great things had it not been for her stubborn naivete, loose sense of ethics, and compulsive lying.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • As played by Stephen Fry, Ian Gibbons gets to show off his British Humour. In Episode 2, "Satori", shortly after being hired, he tells Elizabeth that he believes in her vision. Right after that:
    Ian: Although, uh, just out of curiosity, um, when will we run out of money? Just so I know so when to, you know, run off to find another job— (He chuckles.) —for the health insurance, because I do have this tendency to occasionally get cancer, you know.
    • Brendan joins in with Ian as the company becomes increasingly secretive and siloed.
    Daniel: We are going to need you all to stay in the labs, unless you are specifically told you can leave.
    Brendan: What if we have to pee-pee? Or poo-poo?
    Daniel: Just for a few hours, okay? Oh, and tacos for dinner tonight.
    Ian: Tacos? Oh, tacos make everything better!
  • Department of Redundancy Department: How Erika describes the CMS regulatory agency when talking to Tyler:
    Erika: My god, even the name's boring. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. It-it's just, like, so boring that I can't even say it without being bored.
  • Destructive Romance: Elizabeth and Sunny, full stop. Just starting with the fact that Sunny is 20 years older than Elizabeth, he met her while she was a teenager and they were both on a college trip where she initially thought he was a professor. Once they get back, Sunny obsessively calls her to try and insert himself into her life. Sunny tries to control every aspect of Elizabeth's life, even whining when she tries to get her own car because he wants to drive her everywhere. Sunny also constantly belittles and insults Elizabeth, calling her a child when she starts to spiral. Despite all their proclamations of love, when faced with serious consequences for misleading the public, Elizabeth coldly hints to Sunny that she'd have no problem throwing him under the bus to save herself, which she eventually does.
  • The Determinator: Deconstructed with Elizabeth. It's routinely pointed out that medical science is not something you can just push or fake your way through, as there are people's lives at stake.
    • Played straight with Erika, who managed to end up in college despite a disadvantageous background and insists in letting the truth be known, despite Theranos trying to intimidate her into shutting up.
  • Didn't See That Coming: A major issue with Theranos.
    • Elizabeth founded the company with the notion that with sheer determination, they should be able to make the impossible possible. She doesn't ever seem to catch onto the fact that what she is asking for simply cannot be done, and there is no way around it.
    • Theranos has gotten used to pulling the wool over everyone's eyes with flashy presentations, or intimidating others into silence by the use of bullying tactics and coercion. But when they go up against the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), they find that they can't simply razzle-dazzle them, or go over their heads; they have to comply. This is ultimately what ends up destroying the company.
    • After spending so much time following Erika and Tyler, it certainly is a surprise to audiences that Mark Roessler comes to Richard Fuisz. Roessler had spent so much of the episode being a downtrodden Punch-Clock Villain that you would easily be forgiven for assuming that's all there is to him. Turns out, Everyone Has Standards.
    • Sunny believed he was one in control of the relationship, molding Elizabeth into the ideal CEO and being the wise council she needed. He had no idea she was callously using him the same way she did everyone else, and had no problem throwing him to the side if it meant saving herself.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Richard Fuisz, a friend of Elizabeth's parents, patent-trolls Theranos in an attempt to get a cut of her money, apparently because he was offended she didn't come to him for advice. Neither Elizabeth nor her parents can believe Richard would be that petty.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Elizabeth seems to take Theranos' implosion, and all the harm that she did to people, remarkably in stride. Lampshaded when Linda Tanner asks "Is there something wrong with you?"
  • Double Standard: When Ana and Elizabeth meet, Ana tells her that she needs to dress more formally so that investors will take her more seriously. Elizabeth replies that she met Mark Zuckerberg at a conference and he was wearing shorts and sandals. Ana says that that won't work for her, since Elizabeth is a woman and has to work twice as hard to be taken seriously in Silicon Valley as a man would.
  • Dramedy: While most of the show is pretty serious in nature, it also mines a surprising amount of humor from the many absurdities that happened behind-the-scenes at Theranos and Elizabeth's eccentricities.
  • Dramatic Irony: Throughout the series, Sunny continually belittles Elizabeth for acting like child and urges her to grow up and face their problems. However, when Elizabeth breaks up with him and fires him from the company, essentially pinning all the blame on him, Sunny breaks down, lamenting that he never knew who Elizabeth was at all.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: Elizabeth is called out multiple times for misrepresenting the results on the Edison device. Edmond tries to tell Elizabeth how faking the test on the Edison is immoral, only for her to tell him that people lie during trials all the time. Ian tries to express to Elizabeth later on how their technology is not ready for implementation in stores, only to be rebuffed and fired. In both instances, Elizabeth seems incapable of acknowledging the fact that while lying in software trials is a thing, it doesn't endanger anyone; these are medical trials involving human beings, and what they are doing could put people's lives at serious risk.
  • Driven to Suicide: Poor Ian Gibbons. His job is stressful enough and he is staying merely for the health insurance. Then he is subpoenaed for the Fuisz/Theranos lawsuit, but he is in an impossible position. If he testifies, he would violate the NDA he signed and Theranos would sue him. The only other option his lawyer can see, is for him to fabricate a drinking problem, so that he can be declared unfit for testifying due to alcoholism, but this also will likely mean that he will never be able to work as a chemist again. It all becomes too much.
  • Drowning His Sorrows: Locked into a meaningless, do-nothing job and unable to quit, Ian Gibbons increasingly retreats into a bottle.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: How the Walgreens execs react to Dr. J's attempt to make a joke of Wade's recent DUI.
    E to L 
  • Establishing Character Moment: When we first meet Elizabeth as a teenager, she's struggling to finish a race at a track meet while all of her other classmates have finished and are impatiently waiting for her to be done. This establishes Elizabeth's tenacity and her headstrong nature while also establishing how she is blind to the needs of others and literally lags behind others who are far more talented than her.
  • Every Man Has His Price: A recurring theme in the series is how many brilliant minds from business, government, and tech become Elizabeth's allies against all better judgment—at least until it becomes clear that Theranos is a fraud that won't keep making money.
  • Eviler than Thou: "Evil" is a strong word, but in the finale Elizabeth proves herself to be far more callous than Sunny, casually tossing him aside and trying to pin the blame entirely on him. Sunny is completely blindsided by how easily Elizabeth throws him under the bus and cuts all ties with him.
  • Evil Minions: Daniel Young, Sunny's "enforcer."
  • Explosive Results: One stack of malfunctioning Theranos machines literally starts sparking and blows up in Sunny's face.
  • Failure Montage: Elizabeth makes the rounds at several venture capitalists' offices, presenting her concept. None of them show interest, as she has no working prototype, has yet to meet with pharmaceutical companies, and she dropped out of Stanford.
  • Fanboy: Elizabeth is a huge fan of Steve Jobs. She dances to a poster of him, name-drops him several times, hires one of his closest associates as one of her board members and his chief designer to design the Edison, mentions feeling a deep connection to him despite having never even met him, and begins wearing black turtlenecks like he did in order to be taken more seriously. This idolization of Steve Jobs was very common in Silicon Valley at the time.
  • Family Versus Career: Discussed: Larry Ellison warns Elizabeth that she'll have to sacrifice having a marriage and children if she wants to be a CEO, and he seems mildly amused when he points out that he didn't have to make that choice.
  • Foil: Elizabeth Holmes and Erika Cheung. Both are women who had a desire to enter the field of medicine, who dealt with sexual trauma, but refused to let it ruin their life's purpose. But Elizabeth is a wealthy child of privilege who is driven more by a desire for attention and success than to truly help others, who actually knows very little medical science, and relies on other people's money to finance her efforts. Erika, on the other hand, is from a poor background, having to make her own way through college, and has an honest desire to help others. Episode 6 basically reinforces how the two women are diametrically opposed in practically every way.
    • It's more subtle but Elizabeth also has one in Phyllis Gardner. Both are women who know full well the difficulties of trying to succeed in a male-dominated profession. But whereas Phyllis is a professional with decades of experience in her field who understands and accepts the limitations of medical science, Elizabeth is a college dropout whose technical and medical knowledge is minimal and who believes she can get by with charisma and determination. And while Elizabeth has almost no life outside her work, has a deeply unhealthy relationship with Sunny and is extremely awkward and antisocial, Phyllis is happily married and has a regular life outside her career and is much friendlier and more easygoing.
    • Elizabeth and Tyler, surprisingly. Both are smart and privileged, but while Elizabeth repeatedly denies her advantages — she's young, white and attractive; even with her father's humiliating end at Enron, she still was a daughter of wealthy parents; she's an Ivy League student; and she had enough tuition money to fund a startup investment — Tyler recognizes how easy his own life has been, is morally opposed to Theranos's lies, and leverages his connections to help give Erika a voice; he even shields her by taking the fall after being confronted by Sunny and puts himself at risk by lying to his grandfather and contacting Carreyrou.
  • Foregone Conclusion: We already know that Elizabeth lied about her blood testing machine, that Theranos went bankrupt and, as of February 2022, that she was found guilty of four counts of defrauding investors.
  • Forgot to Pay the Bill: After the first failed test of the machine, the lights go out at Theranos. Elizabeth is able to pass this off as the machine tripping the breakers when it shorted out, but she has to put the power bill on a credit card other than the one she was using.
  • Framing Device: The show is framed by Elizabeth Holmes's deposition in her eventual fraud trial.
  • Freudian Excuse: Elizabeth herself implies this when she reminds Noel of the advice she gave Elizabeth after the latter was sexually assaulted; to just forget about it and not think about it. The implication is that this is how Elizabeth learned to deal with anything that she didn't want to accept or acknowledge.
  • Fuzz Therapy: The Siberian Husky Elizabeth gets as part of her plan, along with a younger boyfriend, to relax and have fun. It also serves as a distraction from facing the consequences of the fraud (bankruptcy, possible prison time).
  • Get Out!: One that's not a demand, but a warning: Tyler Shultz arrives for his first day of work at Theranos. At the lobby, he sees everybody is heading toward the same direction. Confused, he turns toward the first person he sees, Brendan, seemingly oblivious to the Cardboard Box of Unemployment that Brendan carries:
    Tyler: Hey do you know what is going on? Sorry, it's my first day and I don't really know what Iím supposed to do.
    Brendan: Get. Out.
  • Good Stepmother: Step-grandmother, in this case. Charlotte Shultz tries to play peacemaker between Tyler and George and generally treats Tyler kindly and sympathetically.
  • Gratuitous Animal Sidekick: Elizabeth gets a Siberian husky, possibly trying to invoke Heroes Love Dogs.
  • Great Accomplishment, Weak Credibility: In "Iron Sisters", Erika Cheung and Tyler Shultz send an e-mail to Elizabeth about the company's falsified blood tests, with Tyler making Erika take her name off the e-mail so she doesn't get fired. When both Tyler and Erika are called to Sunny's office over this action, Tyler tries to take full responsibility for the e-mail, but Sunny doesn't buy it for a second because of Tyler's average-at-best intelligence.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: It's strongly hinted that Elizabeth is motivated solely by her desire for financial success. Truth in Television, the real Elizabeth Holmes stated that her biggest desire was to be a billionaire.
  • Hard-Work Montage: Just before Elizabeth is to present the machine to Novartis in Switzerland, the prototype does not work. She and her team work through the night trying everything to fix it, with everybody contributing blood samples. Finally, she has Rakesh rig the demo so that they call up the good reading they did get in the lab.
  • Hidden Depths:
    • Elizabeth really likes dancing when she is alone. It's pretty much the only time when she drops her serious persona.
    • Mark Roessler seems like a meaningless peon in Theranos. Then he is the first to assist Fuisz in his quest to bring down Theranos, he states that he took the Hippocratic oath.
  • Historical Beauty Update: Likely to happen to any woman played by Amanda Seyfried.
  • Honor Thy Abuser: Elizabeth and Sunny's relationship hits a serious low point, marked by a fight that nearly becomes physical, around the time the board begins to doubt her leadership. She feels she has no choice but to stay with Sunny and bring him (along with his $20 million) into the company for the sake of her own position.
  • Hope Spot: The first version of what would become the Edison device does work as intended after a ton of trial and error, in time for the Novartis meeting in Switzerland. It stops working right after the team arrives, and no later version seems to work more often than it fails.
  • Hypocrisy Nod: When Linda Tanner chews out Elizabeth in the finale, she acknowledges her own complicity in the Theranos scandal, but is appalled that Elizabeth is trying to brush it all aside without even acknowledging the gravity of her actions.
  • Ignored Expert: Elizabeth goes to Phyllis Gardner while in her first year at Stanford to discuss her idea about what would become the Edison device. However, Dr. Gardner politely but soundly dismisses her idea by pointing out that there is simply no realistic way for it to work. Elizabeth tries to pursue the point, even quoting Yoda's "There is no try" speech to show her determination, only for Dr. Gardner to shut her down entirely. After Elizabeth founds Theranos, she posts Yoda's speech in the front lobby as a sort of Take That! to her old professor.
  • Incompetence, Inc.: Theranos is portrayed as a company lead by an egomaniac with an unfeasible vision creating a product that was doomed from the start and held together solely by Holmes' superficial charm and ability to talk up investors.
  • Insistent Terminology: Whenever Sunny wants to try and control Elizabeth's behavior, he tells her she's acting like a child.
  • Intrepid Reporter: John Carreyrou, and to a lesser extent his boss Judith, refuse to give up on the Theranos expose even as their sources diminish and when Theranos sends their Army of Lawyers to intimidate them.
  • I Reject Your Reality: Elizabeth, to a truly staggering degree. She seems legitimately incapable of processing any information she doesn't want to hear, whether about the investigations or investors or the fact that the Edison simply isn't going to work in the time she has boasted about. Even at the end, after she has lost everything and is facing the very real prospect of spending the next twenty years in prison, she still can't fully grasp her circumstances, speaking as though she is simply about to take an extended vacation from her work and as though Theranos was just a normal failed Silicon Valley venture like any other and the only reason for that was bad timing and a timid tech community rather than a company whose unethical and illegal practices did serious damage to real people. It's to the point that you wonder if she is genuinely delusional.
  • It's All About Me: As time goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that Elizabeth is more focused on her own success and being seen as a visionary instead of legitimately wanting the Edison machine to work.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Some of the venture capitalists Elizabeth contacts early on are fairly rude and dismissive towards her, particularly when they find out she has no real medical or engineering training. In another story they might be seen as villains stifling the spirit of a determined young woman (and Elizabeth clearly thinks they are), but they're eventually proved to be right not to have put their money behind her.
    • The Theranos board is frequently shown to give sexist and ageist comments towards Elizabeth, but they are also obviously right when they move to dismiss her by saying that she's in over her head and floundering.
    • Richard Fuisz may be arrogant, but he's correct in how it is odd that despite the fact that he founded a medical technology company that Elizabeth wouldn't come to him for help. Especially after her family came to him for financial help, and definitely after he invents a system that would be essential for the Edison device to operate. Special note goes to when he points out how odd it is for his wife Lorraine to call Noel Holmes "Mrs. Holmes" in deference, despite the pair supposedly being friends.
    • When Richard, Phyllis Gardner and Rochelle Gibbons are trying to figure out how to expose Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, Phyllis and Rochelle wonder how she is able to get away with it all. Richard points out that she's young, attractive and blonde. Phyllis retorts that she is actually very skilled at manipulating others, but Richard reiterates that it helps she's a very attractive young woman which helps her pull the wool over other people's eyes.
  • Justice by Other Legal Means: After realizing that Carreyrou can't bring Theranos down on his own, Erika executes the Batman Gambit of writing to the CMS, hoping they'll take her warning seriously enough to spring a surprise mandatory inspection on Elizabeth. It works.
  • Last Episode, New Character: Billy Evans, Elizabeth's current partner and rumored husband with whom she eventually had a child, appears in the final episode. The episode's title, "Lizzy", refers to the nickname he calls her by.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Once it finally dawns on Elizabeth that Theranos is falling apart, she releases her hair from her trademark bun, looking like her younger and much less corrupt self.
  • Logical Weakness: This is ultimately what destroys Theranos. While Elizabeth can dazzle investors with nice words and intimidate journalists with lawsuits and bad press, she can't do a thing to stop government organizations from inspecting the company nor can she distract them with anything but the raw data. When they do, it destroys the company almost instantly.
  • Lost Pet Grievance: Inverted: Ian's dogs whine in despair at the locked bathroom door, sensing he's dying in there.
  • Lousy Lovers Are Losers: When we see Elizabeth sleeps with her boyfriend at Stanford, it's boring and rhythmic sex, while she stares blankly at the ceiling, clearly not enjoying it, all while the boyfriend ironically sings along "Rock Your Body" and doesn't notice her disinterest.
  • Loved by All: Ian is so beloved by his colleagues that after he gets fired, his entire department threatens to resign unless he gets his job back.
  • Loving a Shadow: During the argument that ends their relationship, Sunny accuses of Elizabeth of being a "ghost" that he "invented." She's not the highly competent CEO he tried to mold her into, nor is she the loving and compliant girlfriend he wanted.

    M to R 
  • Manchild: Elizabeth. She's clearly far more immature than she pretends to be, having an almost naïve and childlike attitude towards the world at time. She quotes Yoda, plays with finger puppets and a diorama-like a dollhouse, and tries to seduce Sunny by awkwardly lip-syncing a rap song. As the series goes on and her deception becomes more serious and she shows her callous side, she goes into the other side of this trope.
  • Married to the Job: Elizabeth. Before moving in with Sunny, she slept in her office, spends nearly her entire time at Theranos, and at one point has to cancel a date with Sunny due to having to take a work call. She also doesn't seem to understand that her employees have lives outside of work.
  • Mean Boss:
    • At the company's holiday party, Elizabeth gets drunk and her assistant Miriam calls Sunny (Elizabeth's boyfriend) to pick her up. Elizabeth rewards Miriam by firing her just before Sunny takes her home.
    • Once Sunny becomes chief operating officer, he runs the company with an iron fist: guards in the lobby to prevent employees from talking to each other, virtually locking the chemists in their laboratories, and suddenly and secretly firing staff, which the other employees refer to as "disappearing".
  • Mood Whiplash: David Bowie's "Heroes" plays as Elizabeth rises to the halls of power and begins amassing praise and honors... then the music abruptly stops as a doctor bluntly explains how Theranos endangered her patients' lives.
  • Morton's Fork: After Ian gets subpoenaed, he has three outcomes which are equally terrible: he testifies and tells the truth, in which he'd be violating his NDA and get sued by Theranos, which he can't financially recover from; he testifies and lies, which would be perjury; or he gets a doctor's note saying he's unwell, but it's highly unlikely he'd ever work again if he did that. So, he takes the only way out he can think of and commits suicide.
  • Mysterious Informant: Mark, the lab director, meets after dark in Richard Fuisz's car. He says outright that he will not be a whistleblower, but he does point Richard in the right direction.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Multiple times over the series. Notably George Shultz and Linda Tanner in the finale.
  • My Rules Are Not Your Rules: Elizabeth always looks for ways to bypass any rule, regulation, or review process that might hinder operations at Theranos. Leaning on her connections, her financial arguments, or her moral arguments works in a few cases—until CMS forces her to abide by the one rule she can't get around.
  • Nepotism:
    • By 2013, Theranos has hired Elizabeth's brother in a vague position, leading to resentment from the other employees.
    • George Shultz uses his influence as a board member to get his grandson Tyler a job at Theranos.
  • The New '10s: The second half of the show takes place in the early-to-mid 2010s, from the Walgreens deal to Theranos' downfall. "Old White Men", which takes place in 2011, mentions Katy Perry's song "Firework", Angry Birds, and Uber back when it was still known as UberCab and just starting out.
  • Nice Guy: Ian is polite, easygoing, and gets along very well with his colleagues, knowing all of their names, and is close friends with several of the people in his department. This makes the Trauma Conga Line he eventually goes through all the more tragic.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Before the meeting with Theranos lawyers in "Heroes", John Carreyrou and his editor Judith Baker don't have enough to publish the article due to the efforts of Theranos to intimidate the witnesses into silence. During the tense meeting—where both sides agree to record the events for protection—a member of Theranos admits that they were using Siemens machines in their trials, which gives John and Judith the confirmation they needed to publish the article that would seal Theranos' doom.
    • George Shultz is firmly on the side of Theranos despite his grandson Tyler's objections, and has basically all but convinced his grandson to recant his story. However, when Linda Tanner—the Theranos lawyer—pulls a fast one and tries to get Tyler to sign a new, more restrictive NDA, it causes George to step in and settle things on Tyler's behalf, negotiation being what George Shultz is best known for. George's intervention allows enough time for Tyler's new step grandmother to get him in touch with their lawyer, who advises them not to sign anything.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Ian is shown to be friendly to receptionists and assistants and remembers their names; this shocks one, who admits that she's usually only ever referred to as Elizabeth's new subordinate.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: In "Old White Men", Ian, the Head of Chemistry, tries to make Channing Robertson aware that Elizabeth wants to put the machines in stores even though the technology is not ready. Channing calls Elizabeth, who fires Ian unceremoniously. He does get re-hired, but gets Reassigned to Antarctica.
  • No-Sell: Gary Yamamoto from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) does not allow himself to be distracted from his objective by the prospect of Sunny's presentation, or to be intimidated by Sunny or Linda, the Theranos attorney.
  • No Social Skills: Elizabeth, in spades.
    • Elizabeth sees an Easy-Bake Oven in Edmond's work area that belongs to his daughter and wonders why the kid does not just play with the real oven instead. He has to tell her that real ovens are not safe for children.
    • She also has serious difficulty socializing with others, to the point that she is seen practicing stock responses to banter at a party.
    • While it would ordinarily be commendable that she takes her immersion seriously when studying abroad in China, she comes off as so abrasive and overly serious to the other students that it's no wonder the only friend she makes is Sunny.
    • Though her charisma improves as the series goes on, as evidenced by her winning over lots of investors, she remains friendless and alone; when her 30th birthday arrives, she invites mostly rich guests she knows through work, and struggles to find any actual friends to invite.
    • During an interview, when asked to keep her tone and responses formal and casual, as if "speaking to a friend," she seriously struggles and doesn't seem to know what to do.
  • Nothing but Hits: Every episode is packed with hits, either indie rock or pop, from the year it's set in, e.g. Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Y Control" and Justin Timberlake's "Rock Your Body" in 2003, Feist's "1234" and Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black" in 2007, etc.
  • Now What?: "That's done." Those are the last words from Fuisz in his last appearance in the series, just before it sinks in his obsessive mission with bringing down Elizabeth out of petty anger has cost him his marriage. All he can do now is sit alone in his empty bedroom, surrounded by nothing but binders of (now useless) records and facts.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Brendan's expression when he sees a model of the miniLab device, which is less than two feet wide on any side but requires him to fit an entire blood-testing mechanism into it.
    • David and Linda's expressions when they realize they just admitted to Carreyrou that Theranos lied to the public about its tech.
  • Only Sane Man: Kevin is the only person in the Walgreens team who doesn't trust Elizabeth and is suspicious of her from the beginning. Dr. J is an Extreme Doormat who is easily won over by Elizabeth, Roland mostly just seems to be along for the ride, and Wade shares Kevin's suspicions at first (and was the one responsible for hiring Kevin to begin with), though Elizabeth manages to successfully prey on his insecurities too.
    • Both Erika Cheung and Tyler Shultz become this during their time with Theranos, becoming increasingly aware of how dangerous the company is.
    • Gary Yamamoto, the CMS inspector who finally takes down the company, which is why Erika and Tyler contacted him. Unlike journalists and investors who are dazzled by Elizabeth's rhetoric and lofty promises or threats of defamation suits, he is focused only on the actual labs and data and can't be distracted by anything else.
  • Original Position Fallacy: Despite having spent much of the series at her side and seeing how callous she can be, Sunny is still genuinely blindsided when Elizabeth tosses him aside as well, clearly never imagining she would do to him what she did to others.
  • Out-Gambitted: Sunny finds himself completely played by Elizabeth, who pins all the blame on him while he was setting up an out behind her back to protect himself from any fallout.
  • Outside-Context Problem: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Unlike investors and reporters, Theranos can't pull the wool over their eyes with fancy presentations and empty promises, nor can Sunny go over anyone's heads to intimidate them into silence or compliance. All they want is to see the labs, and won't go anywhere until they do.
  • Papa Wolf: Despite initially refusing to believe him and even lashing out at him at first, George Shultz proves himself as this for his grandson Tyler, stepping in on his behalf and preventing him from signing an NDA Theranos' counsel tries to pressure him into.
  • Pass the Popcorn: When Elizabeth throws Wade's argument against Theranos back at his face, the camera sometimes cuts to Dr. J and Roland listening in, clearly amused at what's going on.
  • Penny Among Diamonds: New lab worker Erika Cheung comes from a lower-middle class background, making her perspective unique compared to the well-off professors, board members, and nepotism hires around Theranos. It also raises the stakes when she notices all the improprieties going on; her colleague Tyler Shultz can afford to Resign in Protest, but she really needs her job.
  • Percussive Therapy: Elizabeth gets out her stress by smashing her iPhone into her desk until it's thoroughly destroyed.
  • Precious Puppy: In the final episode, when Linda and Elizabeth are at Theranos taking care of some loose ends, while the former is talking about Elizabeth filing for bankruptcy, the latter is paying more attention to her new dog, an adorable Siberian Husky.
  • Precision F-Strike: After a doctor gives Carreyrou a fairly technical medical explanation of how Theranos endangered her patient:
    John Carreyrou: Would you go on the record with this?
    Doctor: Abso-fucking-lutely.
  • Professional Voice Dissonance: Elizabeth puts on a fake contralto voice to sound more professional and authoritative in public, in contrast to her higher sounding natural voice.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: Elizabeth starts out as a misguided but well-intentioned young woman who just wants to help others and change the world. However, as she gets deeper and deeper into the lies she's built her company on, she becomes more ruthless and aggressive, shaping into the fraudster she is today.
  • Pun-Based Title: Elizabeth dropped out of college trying to create something that could make something out of a single drop of blood.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: David Boies as Theranos's top attorney. He has worked on cases for the greater good and for LGBT rights, and he is seemingly aware of Theranos's fraud. That doesn't stop him from protecting the company with gusto and intimidating Theranos's targets.
  • Put on a Bus: A lot of the people who break ties with Theranos or warn of its dangers are never seen again in the narrative. Tropes Are Tools here, as it was to establish the long term problems with the company and how people were constantly being dismissed and experts ignored. Fuisz's final scene also carries impact with this in mind, as now that Elizabeth is on her way down, he has nothing left to contribute, in-universe or out. Even Sunny, who is arguably the antagonist deuteragonist of the series, isn't seen again after halfway into the final episode, as Elizabeth has thrown him under the bus and cut him out of her life.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Unlike everyone else who trying to take Theranos down to hold Elizabeth and Sunny morally responsible for their reprehensible actions, Fuisz was doing so out of petty revenge, after feeling he had been slighted and humiliated by Elizabeth. After receiving a call from Carreyrou, about how the article concerning Theranos and Elizabeth will be published, he viciously laughs, only for him to realize that his wife and family has left him and he has lost everything in his obsession with Elizabeth.
  • Rape Discretion Shot: At a frat party, Elizabeth is shown in her Little Black Dress, practicing a flirtatious laughter. The next shot shows her glassy-eyed and with mussed hair, leaving the party by herself in a daze.
  • The Reason You Suck:
    • Elizabeth bumps into Dr. Phyllis Gardner at a dinner. The latter dismisses Elizabeth's awkward attempt at small talk and jumps right in about the upcoming Wall Street Journal article on Theranos:
      Phyllis: And when this becomes a scandal, because it will become a scandal, what do you think happens to all of the other women who want to start companies? Who do they go to? Who's going to trust them? Because it's not just you. It's never just you.
    • Tyler loves and respects his grandfather too much to give him a proper RYS speech, although he comes close a few times. Ultimately George gives one to himself during his meeting with Carreyrou.
    • Linda Tanner gives one to Elizabeth in the finale, calling her out for her actions and condemning her for hurting people. This is all while Elizabeth is running away from her.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: After being fired and rehired, Ian is about to go to his lab. But then a security guard shows up to escort him to his new workstation, right in the middle of an open floor plan, next to Elizabeth's assistant Cynthia, without access to his lab.
  • Refuge in Audacity: The board lets Elizabeth know that they have voted in favor of no confidence on her as CEO and appointed an interim CEO. In response, Elizabeth repeats what the girl fixing her broken iPhone said at the store ("I am sorry! I followed all the steps!") but claims she has an old friend coming in with expertise and $20 million to invest. It is true, it's just that she has not asked him yet. Sunny figures this out when Elizabeth asks him to come work with her and agrees to invest $12 million, which quickly becomes $20 million anyway when Elizabeth offers him the position of COO.
  • Resign in Protest:
    • Designer Ana Arriola goes to work at Elizabeth Holmes's company. Excited to work for a female CEO, she soon starts catching on to Elizabethís ways. The trial on cancer patients, even though the machine doesn't work, is the last straw. Elizabeth dismisses Ana's concerns by saying it was just a trial. In disgust, Ana quits on the spot, taking her whole design team with her.
    • Head of chemistry Ian Gibbons is fired for discussing his concerns about Elizabeth with a board member and personal friend. The next day, engineer Brendan and all employees under him threaten to quit in protest. Ian is rehired, but he is Reassigned to Antarctica.
  • Right Hand Versus Left Hand: While Carreyrou is working on a Wall Street Journal article exposing Theranos, Elizabeth goes to the Wall Street Journal opinion section and has them publish an editorial promoting Theranos.

    S to Z 
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!:
    • Elizabeth and Sunny are used to getting their way by dazzling people with what amounts to good marketing—none of which means anything to Gary Yamamoto, the CMS inspector, whose only job is to inspect the lab.
    • Quietly and surprisingly revealed to be a driving factor for Mark Roessler who takes seriously the Hippocratic oath and cannot live with his deception.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!:
    • Brendan had threatened to Resign in Protest after Ian Gibbons was fired but stayed after Ian returned to work. However, after Ian's death by suicide, Brendan writes a heartfelt eulogy that he sends to everyone and leaves the company, armed with his Cardboard Box of Unemployment.
    • Elizabeth's group of lawyers bails following her disastrous interview.
  • Shoot the Messenger: Avie tells Don Lucas about Elizabeth not being ready to be CEO and that there is not a single contract to back up her projections. In response, Don tells him that he wants Avie's resignation. Avie leaves but yells at Don, "Fine! Just start asking questions. She's lying to you!" Don does start asking questions and eventually realizes Avie was right.
  • Significant Wardrobe Shift: Ana suggests to Elizabeth that she should dress more like a CEO, but Elizabeth is not interested in spending energy in her appearance. By the end of the "Green Juice" episode, after convincing Sunny to join the company, Elizabeth has gone from untucked button-down shirts and baggy sweaters to a female version of Steve Jobs in black turtlenecks and slacks, complemented by red lipstick.
  • Sinister Surveillance: Both employees and visitors to Theranos are bothered by the increasing amount of security and cameras in the building. Tyler advises new hire Erika to put tape over her computer's webcam so they can't spy on her.
  • Skewed Priorities: Multiple examples.
    • When called in front of the board of directors, Elizabeth is more concerned that she will be fired from her own company than she is by the fact that her machine doesn't work, and is in fact decades away from even remotely close to being possible.
    • Elizabeth is spending time focusing on marketing and a new logo design at a time when Walgreens has given her a firm deadline to have her machine ready and the machine still doesn't work.
    • When she learns Ian killed himself, Elizabeth is more focused on how he can no longer testify in Richard Fuisz's lawsuit than she is in grieving for her friend, something that takes even Sunny by surprise.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Sunny did make millions from the sale of a dot-com company he cofounded, but he's not exactly considered a major player in Silicon Valley. Even Elizabeth sniffs at his accomplishments once hers start surpassing his. Nonetheless he expects everyone, especially her, to defer to him at all times.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Gary Yamamoto, a minor bureaucrat from a minor agency, shows up late in the series to do an inspection. He's a small, dull man who can't seem to figure out his phone. His report completely destroys Theranos.
  • The Sociopath: A drunk Elizabeth tells Sunny about faking a working prototype for Novartis's demonstration, "I donít feel things the way other people feel things." She also dismisses Edmond's concerns about trying out the machine with actual patients by saying it's just a trial. Her lack of concern for others leads Ana and the design team to quit.
    • She bluntly tells a young woman fixing her phone at the Apple Genius Bar that the woman will never be important and nothing she does will ever matter. She even sounds outright envious of her and probably thought she was paying her a compliment.
    • After learning Ian killed himself, Elizabeth goes back to the meeting she was just having. Sunny tries to get her to take a moment to grieve, but Elizabeth focuses on the fact that with Ian dead, he can no longer testify against her and therefore Richard Fuisz has to settle by default. She is later seen playing with the wellness center diorama like a child playing with a doll house.
    • Sunny, himself a pretty terrible person, finally picks up on this in the last episode when Elizabeth has fired him from Theranos and plainly is going to blame him for everything. Without saying the word "sociopath" he pretty much describes the trope.
    Sunny: Thereís nothing inside you. I invented you inside my head, I made you up, youíre not real. You donít have feelings. You arenít a person. Youíre a ghost. Youíre nothing.
  • Speaking Like Totally Teen: Dr. Jay is desperate to sound down with the youths at all times.
  • Start of Darkness: There are two main ones for Elizabeth:
    • The first, lower-key one is her meeting with Larry Ellison, who encourages her to take on the more radical, risk-taking ethos of Silicon Valley and to stop seeing her employees as her friends. This leads to her becoming an even colder and more impersonal boss than she already was, setting up a competing design team within Theranos, and falsifying test results in order to get investors on-board.
    • The second, more major instance is her nearly getting fired as CEO of Theranos, which forces her to bring in Sunny to save her position. Sunny's arrival completely changes the culture of the company, and Elizabeth's approach to running it, for the worse.
  • Straw Misogynist: Invoked: Elizabeth accuses several of her critics, most notably Carreyrou, of giving her a tough time only because she's a woman in tech.
  • Sucks at Dancing:
    • Watching Sunny dance at the celebration for the approval of herpes tests is just painful.
    • Elizabeth often dances alone in her bedroom, office, or car to release pent-up frustrations, and she looks absolutely ridiculous every time.
  • Take a Third Option: A dark, tragic example. Ian Gibbons is subpoenaed to testify in Richard Fuisz's lawsuit. He either testifies truthfully, at which point he will not only be fired but will also lose his health insurance coverage and face lawsuits from Theranos itself which he cannot stave off, or he lies on the witness stand, in which case someone as vindictive as Fuisz would almost certainly make sure he was convicted of perjury, which would leave Gibbons out of a job (since Theranos would have to cut him loose to make sure they didn't appear to be complicit in his lies) and with a criminal record. Theranos' lawyers come up with a way to avoid having him testify at all by having him sign an affidavit that says he has a drinking problem, which means he will never be able to practice chemistry again. Ian instead takes a fourth option and decides to commit suicide.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Dr. Phyllis Gardner teams up with Richard Fuisz to try and reveal Elizabeth's fraud, but it's very clear that she does not like him much at all. His response after she talks about the sexism she has had to face in her field:
    Fuisz (awkwardly): Well, it must be hard to be a woman.
    Gardner: I can't believe you're the person I have to talk to about any of this.
  • There Is No Try: Invoked literally by Elizabeth. She has a Yoda sticker in her idea notebook. As a sophomore in Stanford, she tries to convince Dr. Phyllis Gardner to work with her by quoting the famous line "Do or do not. There is no try." Dr. Gardner points out that "science is trying" and advises her to never use lines from Yoda again when she is trying to convince others.
  • They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!: At a dinner for the Harvard Medical School Board of Fellows, Elizabeth bumps into Phyllis Gardner. Dr. Gardner knows about the Wall Street Journal article and gives a "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Elizabeth. Elizabeth tries to slip away with a lame "It was good to see you, Phyllis."
    Dr. Gardner: Don't call me Phyllis. I'm not Phyllis to you. I'm Dr. Gardner.
  • Too Broken to Break: After 12 years of Sunny's Hair-Trigger Temper, control freakery, and verbal and near-physical abuse, Elizabeth barely flinches when he reacts to her abrupt breakup by grabbing a box out of her arms and dumping its contents on the ground.
    Elizabeth: Okay. Bye.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Even though she hates it the first time she tries it, Elizabeth's diet eventually consists of almost nothing but the green juice that Sunny prepares for her. By the end of the series, she's so used to drinking the juice all day that she's forgotten if she had a real favorite food before. She does maintain a fondness for chocolate-covered coffee beans, if only for the energy boost.
  • Trouble Entendre: One of Elizabeth and Sunny's final conversations is absolutely brimming over with this.
    Sunny: I was going back over emails, text messages.... It's romantic to look over old texts. (I'm building up an incriminating record of all our conversations.)
    Elizabeth: ...I don't know everything that you did. (I'm going to say I didn't know everything that you did.)
    Sunny: ...I worked for six years, day and night, to help you. This was your dream. Your passion. Not mine. (I'm going to say I was only following your orders.)
    Elizabeth: I know how hard it's going to be to transition out of the company. (I'm firing you to save myself.) ...You've known me since I was a girl. How old was I when I met you? I was barely 18. You've taught me everything I know. (And I'm going to position myself as a young naive girl under your sinister influence.)
    Sunny: I'm not leaving until we break even.... You need me until then. (I'll keep my mouth shut as long as you keep paying me.) ...But where will you live? The house is in my name. (But I'm throwing you out of our house.)
  • Turn of the Millennium: The first half of the show takes place in the 2000s, from Elizabeth's college days to Theranos becoming an up-and-coming Silicon Valley startup. A few things, such as a DVD of Vanilla Sky, Elizabeth constantly using her iPod, and the launch of the iPhone mark the time period.
  • The Unblinking: Just as in real life, Elizabeth avoids blinking as much as possible when talking to people.
  • Unequal Pairing: Never mind the gap in ages of almost 20 years. When they start out, Elizabeth is a freshman student and Sunny is a multi-millionaire after selling his company. As time goes on, he acts controlling both in private (the incident where she refuses to drink the expensive green juice he bought for her) and in her business (when he shows up uninvited to observe what the heck is going on at Theranos).
  • The Unfettered: Elizabeth never backs down from her position that she was only trying to help patients and would have succeeded if not for the system screwing her over. Yet when you consider the corners she was willing to cut in pursuit of becoming a billionaire inventor, was she really all that concerned with patients, or were they just a means to her end?
  • Unfocused During Intimacy: Elizabeth seems more bewildered than anything while having sex with her college boyfriend, staring up at him blankly while he sings along with Justin Timberlake.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: The Holmes family in spades.
    • When Elizabeth and her brother come home from school to find out their father has lost his job due to being involved in the Enron scandal, her brother's first instinct is to whine about not wanting to move from their luxurious home.
    • Despite her family relying on Richard Fuisz financially to help them out, Elizabeth avoids going to him for help in starting up her medical technology company. It makes no sense to Fuisz since he founded and sold off a medical technology company himself. Fuisz is so insulted he actually invents and patents a technology that would make dealing with him essential, only for Elizabeth and Theranos to sue him.
    • When Elizabeth leaves a meeting with Larry Ellison to see her father who's been hospitalized, he bluntly chastises her for it and demands that she "get back to work."
    • Edmond sacrifices time with his family to help get the initial Edison machine off the ground, even cutting into a family trip to help the team when they are pitching to overseas investors. But when he resigns after participating in a phony trial involving cancer patients, he's coldly led out of the company and not even allowed to keep any of the material he brought from home.
    • George Shultz accuses Erika of being this to Elizabeth by repaying the opportunity of working at Theranos with tales of falsified data.
  • Uncanny Valley: At the end of the sixth episode, when Elizabeth is giving an interview, the oddly-shaped lights reflecting in her eyes makes her look outright inhuman.
  • Unkempt Beauty: At least before her Significant Wardrobe Shift, Elizabeth wears untucked shirts that need ironing and messy ponytails. Even afterwards, her Messy Hair remains.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Two in the final episode.
    • Sunny completely breaks down once Elizabeth breaks up with him, fires him from the company and makes it clear she's pinning everything on him. He realizes that the woman he loved didn't exist, and she was using him this entire time.
    • After Theranos is dissolved and she gets called out by Linda, Elizabeth runs from the deserted building to get an Uber. While she's waiting, she screams in frustration about everything that happened, only to put on a smiling face once her ride arrives.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Ian and Brendan become these after some initial tension.
  • Was It All a Lie?: People's general reactions when they find out about how badly Elizabeth misled them.
    • In the final episode, Sunny asks this of Elizabeth after she breaks up with him, pins all the blame on him, and moves out of their house, wondering if she ever loved him at all or if she was just using him like everyone else.
  • Was It Really Worth It?: Fuisz gets the news about the article on Theranos coming out and takes a moment to celebrate. He looks around his empty, messy bedroom and realizes he drove his wife away with his obsession with Theranos.
  • Waxing Lyrical: Dr. Jay quotes Katy Perry's "Firework," which he had been listening to much earlier on, in an attempt to sell his colleagues on a Theranos partnership.
    These kids, they don't overthink, they don't get bogged down in the way things always used to be done. They don't want review committees, bureaucracy. They want to get things done now. We're old, Wade. We're dinosaurs. It's just like that song. Do you ever feel like a plastic bag drifting through the wind wanting to start again?
  • What, Exactly, Is His Job?:
    • Elizabeth's younger brother, Christian, is "Associate Director of Strategic Initiatives." Judging by the glares of his co-workers, no one knows exactly what that means.
    • Sunny holds the title of Chief Operating Officer, but since he has zero medical, chemical, or engineering experience, nobody knows what he's meant to do, short of enforcing Elizabeth's orders.
    • Elizabeth herself has very little involvement with the company's products or processes after completing her initial schematics of the device. Mostly she just travels around wooing investors and shooting commercials.
  • Wham Line:
    • Ian to Elizabeth:
    Elizabeth: You don't understand the business.
    Ian: And you don't understand the science!
    • From the CMS report, and in all caps:
    • Elizabeth to Sunny:
    Sunny: You're not a person! You're a ghost! You're not real!
    Elizabeth: And you're a mediocre software engineer.
  • What Could Have Been: An in-universe example. At the end of the second episode, Elizabeth sees a group of young men and woman partying at a bar, and remarks that she would have been graduating around this time. The clear emphasis placed on this is that Elizabeth's life may have got in a different, and almost certainly better, direction had she stayed in education to refine her skills and find new places to focus her ambitions and intelligence towards.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: According to the finale, Elizabeth has been indicted and awaits sentencing. She and her new partner are now parents. Also featured in the epilogue are Sunny (jury selection started on March 2022), Tyler (George Shultz praised his integrity before dying in 2021), and Erika (cofounded a nonprofit for ethics in entrepreneurship).
  • While Rome Burns: As Theranos collapses, forced to declare bankruptcy and hemorrhaging employees, Elizabeth is more concerned with relaxing and having fun with her younger boyfriend and new Siberian husky.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Early on, Elizabeth seems to genuinely believe that her idea for a new form of blood-testing is possible. This fades as she dives headfirst into outright fraud, blatantly lying to her staff, investors, board members, and even cancer patients, and even Sunny calls her out on the fact that she's a decade of work away from delivering on anything she promised the board was already happening.
    • Tyler Shultz and Erika Cheung start out like this. It fades gradually for both: Tyler thinks just telling his grandfather about the fake tests will be enough, but George Shultz refuses to believe him. Erika is surprised when she is told to erase data from tests and later is told explicitly to not ask questions.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Elizabeth firmly believes she's the heroine of an inspiring story about a prodigy who built up a multi-billion dollar company and pushed against Silicon Valley's entrenched sexism with her bluffing eventually going to make a great origin story and sign of her determination and ingenuity. In reality, she's the villain in a story about a borderline con artist who lied about her product to investors and took them for billions and had a ridiculously misplaced sense of confidence that ended up bringing her down and whose poor product seriously damaged people's lives.
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks: To save costs, Elizabeth opens the first office for Theranos in a questionable neighborhood. Sure enough, when parking her car, a stray bullet shatters her window and misses her head by inches. She is so spooked that she calls Sunny despite having broken up with him.