The 10 Best Characters, Ranked By Intelligence

The 10 Best Characters, Ranked By Intelligence

This is something of a golden age for limited series based on true stories, and one of the most insightful is The Dropout, which focuses on the meteoric rise and catastrophic fall of entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes. In Amanda Seyfried’s capable hands, Holmes becomes something more than just a huckster. She is a woman driven to accomplish her dreams, even when that requires telling lies and building a company on a fabrication.

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The series gives the viewer an expansive understanding of her psychology, but it also focuses on a number of other characters, some of whom show that they are just as if, if not more, intelligent as Elizabeth herself.

10 Tyler Shultz

Tyler Shultz in The Dropout

When he first enters Elizabeth’s orbit, Tyler is mostly known for his famous grandfather. Slowly but surely, however, he shows that he actually is quite intelligent, as he starts to notice some of the peculiarities and irregularities at Holmes’ company, Theranos.

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As a result, he comes to play a key part in her downfall, even though he has to navigate the treacherous territory involved, given that she will not let anyone stand in her way when it comes to her ambitions for her company and herself.

9 George Shultz

George Shultz slumped in his chair in The Dropout

Sam Waterston has been in many great roles (most recently as Sol in Grace and Frankie, one of the Netflix series’ most likable characters). His Dropout character George Shultz is clearly a very intelligent man, since he was a key part of the Reagan Administration. However, it has to be said that his intelligence somewhat fails him, since he allows himself to be taken in by Holmes and her sketchy business. Even when confronted with evidence of her wrongdoing, he refuses to admit that he might be wrong.


8 Richard Fuisz

Richard Fuisz looking upset in The Dropout

William H. Macy is one of the most respected actors in Hollywood, and he has been in many great roles. As Richard Fuisz, he is always snarling and threatening retribution on those who cross his path, and that includes Elizabeth Holmes, who seems to enjoy besting him. For all that he is a bit of a blowhard, there’s also no doubt that Fuisz is still a very intelligent man, as can be seen from the  fact that he has managed to accrue quite a fortune in the world of technology.

7 Rochelle Gibbons

Rochelle Gibbons in a doorway in The Dropout

Elizabeth Holmes manages to make quite a few enemies during her rise to success, and one of those is Rochelle Gibbons, the wife of one of her chief scientists. Though she is powerless to help her husband, Rochelle nevertheless makes sure that she plays a key part in Holmes’ fall from grace. She is intelligent enough to realize that Theranos and its entire structure is built on a lie, and she uses that knowledge to help bring its malfeasance to light.

6 Charlotte Shultz

Charlotte Shultz looking upset in The Dropout

While George Shultz might be willing to believe what Elizabeth Holmes is telling him, the same cannot be said of his wife, Charlotte. Though she rarely speaks out against Elizabeth directly, it’s clear from her every look that she knows that there is something amiss. She’s a very keen judge of character, and she’s able to see through both Elizabeth and Sunny, even though they both try to put up enough of a smokescreen to keep her off the trail.

5 Ian Gibbons

Ian Gibbons looking upset in The Dropout

Ian Gibbons is one of the series’ best characters, and he is arguably one of the best scientists in television. Unlike many of the others who work for Elizabeth, he seems to have some ethics, and he also clearly has a conscience.

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Unfortunately, his intelligence also proves to be his own undoing, as Holmes and Balwani ultimately come to see him as more of a liability than a help. Even more unfortunately, he ends up getting drawn into their legal troubles, and he ultimately takes his own life.

4 Sunny Balwani

Sunny Balwani sitting with Elizabeth Holmes drinking green juice in The Dropout

Sunny Balwani is one of this series’ most charismatic yet sinister characters. He has a keen intelligence that allows him to see to the heart of a problem, and he can be quite ruthless when he sets out to get what he wants, whether that’s Elizabeth herself or her company. He is certainly one of Naveen Andrews’ best roles outside of Lost, but he is another character whose intelligence sometimes proves to be his own undoing, since his unsentimental attitude doesn’t endear him to anyone except Elizabeth.

3 Elizabeth Holmes

Elizabeth Holmes on the phone in The Dropout

There’s no question that Elizabeth is one of Amanda Seyfried’s best roles, and she manages to inhibit this character to an extraordinary degree. While Holmes has done down in history as one of the most infamous fraudsters, it is still true that she is fiercely and formidably intelligent. After all, she manages to build an entire company on a lie, and she does so with the blessing of many of America’s most powerful and wealthy people. Unfortunately for her, she’s not quite smart enough to keep it all from crashing down into ruin around her.

2 Erika Cheung

Erika Cheung and Tyler Shultz in The Dropout

When she first joins Theranos, it seems as if Erika will be as star-struck as everyone else. However, whatever else she might be, Erika is a good scientist, and this allows her to see the cracks and flaws in the system. Her piercing intelligence allows her to see the truth that others have allowed themselves to miss, namely that Theranos is built on a lie and all of their testing is deeply flawed. As she soon finds out, however, intelligence also carries with it great responsibility, and she has to decide whether to reveal what she knows or not.

1 Phyllis Gardner

Phyllis Gardner looking serious in The Dropout

Laurie Metcalf has been in many great roles, and she brings her formidable energy to the character of Phyllis Gardner. As a female professor and a scientist, she knows the burdens of working in a patriarchal system. However, she’s also not one to be misled by Elizabeth Holmes and her claims to greatness. In fact, she is one of the few people who is truly smart enough to see her for the fraud that she is, which is why she goes on to play a key role in exposing her for who she is.

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About The Author

Thomas West
(1002 Articles Published)

Thomas J. West III earned a PhD in film and screen studies from Syracuse University in 2018. His writing on film, TV, and popular culture has appeared in Screenology, FanFare, Primetimer, Cinemania, and in a number of scholarly journals and edited collections. He co-hosts the Queens of the B’s podcast with Mark Muster and writes a regular newsletter, Omnivorous, on Substack.

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