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The Inventor: Biggest Reveals from HBO's Theranos Documentary

The Inventor HBO

Theranos’ Walgreens Launch Raised $400 Million Based on Rumored Technology

Midway through The Inventor, Gibney shifts his attention to Theranos’ secretive blood analysis machine called The Edison. A journalist recalls Holmes’ vague description of the groundbreaking technology, and former employees admit on camera that they were actually using traditional blood test machines. In addition, The Edison is dubbed “totally unpractical” in The Inventor by a former Theranos employee. In 2013, biochemist Ian Gibbons committed suicide after being notified about an impending deposition involving his work at Theranos, a dark truth that is only briefly addressed in HBO's documentary.

In 2013, Walgreens partnered with Theranos, but without testing Holmes' technology. According to The Inventor, the Walgreens launch ultimately raised $400 million, but it did so without the existence of a fully-functional Edison machine. Theranos' former CCO describes how the company rebranded itself by using the words “simple,” “human,” and “optimistic.” Meanwhile, iconic documentarian Errol Morris was hired to film a Theranos commercial, which is featured throughout The Inventor and highlights revealing interview clips with Holmes.

Rather than using finger pricks for tests, it’s revealed in The Inventor that Theranos was using regular needles, which negates the very premise that Holmes discusses in interviews. In addition, comparative blood analysis showed wildly different results. Theranos continued to project a certain image to the public, all the while creating an unhealthy internal environment.

Paranoia Permeated Throughout Theranos 

The Inventor HBO

During The Inventor’s final act, a journalist recalls approaching Holmes about conflicting data, and former Theranos employees discuss the company’s internal surveillance (keystroke watching and intense Non-Disclosure Agreements). In addition, Theranos Whistleblower Erika Cheung talks about Holmes’ public image and the reality of what happened behind the scenes. Cheung remembers thinking “it’s all a show.

When Theranos hired power lawyer David Boies (who was later hired by Harvey Weinstein), Cheung remembers being especially scared, along with fellow whistle blower Tyler Schultz - the grandson of the aforementioned Theranos investor, George P. Shultz. Cheung describes how Theranos “snowballed” into a crazy lie, and Gibney shows Holmes’ reinvigorated spirit upon finally receiving FDA approval for one Theranos test.

The Inventor Mostly Doesn’t Judge Elizabeth Holmes

The Inventor HBO

Overall, The Inventor doesn’t fully condemn Holmes, nor does it attempt to fully psychoanalyze her behavior. Gibney's documentary makes it painfully clear that Theranos’ founder believed in her vision, and that she used powerful men to secure money, but that doesn’t necessarily make her a manipulative maniac. Instead, the power moves suggest that she understood how Silicon Valley worked and how she needed to present herself to potential investors and employees.

So, it’s somewhat disappointing that The Inventor doesn't shed more light on Holmes’ formative years, or even her college years. What did fellow students think of Holmes? And did she manipulate people in her personal life? In The Inventor, both the interviewed journalists and former Theranos employees seem to agree that Holmes didn't act maliciously, and that she was probably trying to protect a less than stable working environment in order to sustain a larger goal. But Gibney merely hints at the idea that Holmes might’ve had mental health issues.

Based on the evidence presented in The Inventor, Holmes lied in public even when Theranos seemed to be falling apart. When The Wall Street Journal published a damning investigative report, Holmes continued to make claims that Theranos employees knew weren’t true. So, why? Is Holmes a genius who merely failed to execute her vision, or does she have psychological issues that affected her perception of reality while building Theranos? The Inventor presents the basic facts about Holmes but mostly plays it safe.

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