The HBO documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, about disgraced blood testing entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes is finally here. The doc, which aired on Monday, is the latest effort to chronicle the Theranos founder, who was indicted last year on federal fraud charges after it was found that her revolutionary blood-testing devices, well, didn’t work. Since then, her alleged crimes and baffling behaviors (including allegedly changing her voice) have been dissected in John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood book, the addictive podcast The Dropout, and countless news stories, but the documentary still managed to provide even more insight into who she really is. It also included some truly bizarre moments we can’t get out of our minds. Here are a few of them.
Elizabeth Holmes just doesn’t blink … until she’s asked to tell a secret.
The first glimpse we get of Elizabeth Holmes is of her looking right into the camera as she’s being asked some direct questions. (This interview seems to have been filmed long before the indictment and for something other than the documentary). When asked, “Can you tell us a secret?” Holmes looks down and blinks repeatedly before eventually saying, “I don’t have many secrets.” This wouldn’t be out of the ordinary — blinking is normal — except that several people in the film bring up the fact that Holmes has a penetrating stare and appears to never blink. Once it’s mentioned, it’s impossible not to notice that the only time she does blink seems to be when asked what, pre-indictment, could have seemed like a playful interview question.
Holmes’s closet was filled with the same clothes that she’d wear every day — like Steve Jobs.
Holmes typically wore black turtlenecks and black pants during her Theranos days. At one point in the film, she explains her sartorial decision to New Yorker writer Ken Auletta, and we hear her say in the audio recording of their interview: “In line with designing my life to be able to give every bit of energy I have to this, I have a closet that has a very large number of the exact same clothes and every single day, I put the same thing on.” Auletta then points out that Steve Jobs used to say the same thing, and she demurred, “He wore jeans.” True.
The Yoda references.
Midway through the film, we learn of Holmes’s apparent fascination with Yoda from Star Wars. A former Theranos employee says in the documentary that a brainstorming meeting about technical issues turned into a two-hour meeting in which they decided to name their Cloud “Yoda.” At that point, the documentary shows a clip of Holmes being asked her favorite sound from Star Wars, to which she replies, “Yoda,” and in her baritone voice, goes on to say, “Yoda sounds like, ‘Do or do not. There is no try,’” and then we see an image of Holmes posing in front of a mural of that very quote.
A Bitcoin tie makes a surprise appearance.
The film is absolutely engrossing, but one moment truly pulls you out of it and makes you ask, “What did I just see?” And that moment, of course, is when investor Tim Draper appears onscreen wearing, of all things, a bright purple tie covered in the Bitcoin logo.
Holmes’s high-school yearbook was surprisingly basic.
You might think that a person who would eventually be charged with hawking a fake product to multimillionaire investors would have had a fascinating teenage existence — especially given the fact that she founded Theranos at the age of 19. But the film’s look at Holmes’s 2002 high-school yearbook shows no sign of the “disruptor” she tried to become when she later dropped out of Stanford. Her page features several nice, posed pictures, and the quote, “Dream. Laugh. Reach for the stars.” Really.
The shockingly dangerous lengths technicians were forced to go to in order to work with the faulty blood-testing equipment.
One of the most troubling moments from the documentary comes when engineer Dave Philippides talks about having to work with the faulty Theranos blood-testing machines. He says that some of the blood samples they were working with may have contained various diseases, such as hepatitis, and yet when the device would freeze, “I would have to reach in there with my hand. There were needles with the device that could puncture skin, and there’s reagents in blood and everything is spilling all over the place.” Blood was also sitting in the bottom of the vessel and evaporating into the air in the room, he notes. Whistle-blower Tyler Schultz adds that pieces of the device would fall off — and explode — during testing.
There were gift cards.
During Theranos’s partnership with Walgreens, there was at least one commercial advertising gift cards for Theranos services. In the ad, a woman says to her elderly mother, “Mom you really are an important part of our family. Because we really love you so much, your health is really important to us. The kids adore you,” and then the woman’s young daughter begins to weep as her smiling grandmother wipes away her tears. It’s really something, especially once you have the full sense of how terrible this gift actually would have been.
The moment Holmes dances to “Can’t Touch This.”
In a truly unforgettable scene, a beaming Holmes walks into a celebratory meeting, after a Theranos device received FDA approval for a herpes test, as MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” plays. She then dances a bit with her hands in the air as she walks to the stage, and other employees in attendance clap and dance along as well. “So what do you guys think about the FDA clearance?” she asks onstage, smiling widely as Theranos chief operating officer Sunny Balwani emphatically claps along. She dances some more, Balwani gets the employees to yell a collective “Fuck you” to what he called “the guys who are after us,” and then the celebration continues with Holmes jumping like a child in a bouncy house.
This post has been updated.