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Did He Do It? The Ending of 'Defending Jacob' Explained

By Dustin Rowles | TV | May 29, 2020 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | May 29, 2020 |


Defending Jacob, starring Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery, is apparently the first break-out hit of the Apple+ streaming service, and it is worthy of its viewers. It’s dark, but in the way of a page-turning mystery and not in the way of “killing children in fires for the sake of bleakness.” The series wrapped up its eight-episode series this week and delivered a gut-punch that may have actually been marginally darker than the William Landay novel upon which it is based.


The first seven of eight episodes in the Apple+ series center on the investigation and the subsequent trial of Jacob Barber (Jaeden Martell), a sort of blank-faced kid who plays the part perfectly: We have no idea if he committed the murder of a bullying classmate of which he is accused. He could be a sullen, moody teenager with morbid thoughts, or he could be an actual murderer. It’s hard to say, and the uncertainty extends to his mother and father, Lauri (Michelle Dockery) and Andy (Chris Evans). Obviously, Lauri and Andy want to believe that their son didn’t murder his classmate, but that belief wavers occasionally, particularly in the seventh episode in which a story that Jacob posted online is admitted into evidence. The story basically recounts the murder of Jacob’s classmate.

It doesn’t look good for Jacob. A guilty verdict seems all but inevitable, and while Andy is still leaning toward believing his son is innocent, Laurie leans the other way. Then a miracle arrives in the form of a suicide note/confession from a local child pedophile, Leonard Patz (Daniel Henshall), suspected in the murder of the same kid for whom Jacob is being tried. With the confession out, and Patz dead, Jacob is released from prison.

In the finale, however, Andy learns that his father, Billy (J.K. Simmons) — who has been in prison for decades for murder he committed — arranged to have Patz murdered after forcing him to write a confession. Andy quickly susses this out and confronts Billy in prison. Billy admits it without actually admitting it. That doesn’t mean Jacob committed the murder, and it doesn’t mean that the pedophile didn’t commit the murder, but the uncertainty lingers. Only Jacob knows the truth.

Soon thereafter, when Laurie, Andy, and Jacob are on vacation in Mexico, a teenager with whom Jacob went to a party goes missing. Jacob is questioned by police, stirring the same fears in Laurie and Andy all over again. Andy confesses to Laurie that his Dad killed the pedophile the night before the missing teenage girl resurfaces, having been drugged by someone else. Jacob didn’t kill her.

This should be a relief to Laurie, but the pressure of not knowing if Jacob killed his classmate continues to eat at her. She becomes so overwhelmed by grief and stress and guilt that she tries to elicit a confession from Jacob while speeding during rainy conditions. The truth remains elusive, however, and Laurie intentionally drives her car into an embankment.

When Laurie awakens in the hospital, she has no memory of the accident. However, her son Jacob is in a nearby hospital bed in a coma. It is unclear if he will ever awaken. Andy, meanwhile, returns from the grand jury deposition that has framed the entire series, where he is giving testimony about his wife’s car crash. Andy’s former work colleague, Neal Loguidice (Pablo Schreiber), is trying to indict Laurie for the crash, arguing that Laurie did it on purpose in an effort to kill her son. Andy insists it was an accident.

Ultimately, Laurie is not indicted, meaning that — if Jacob reawakens — the family will have to continue living with one another, uncertain of Jacob’s guilt. The ending differs from the novel, where Jacob dies in the car accident.

“It’s darker if everyone is forced to live with each other in the aftermath of this,” creat Mark Bomback told Variety. “The reason I liked the notion that Jacob survived and will recover enough to engage in their lives again is that I think there’s something more terrifying about the possibility that, as she says, he wakes up and thinks she tried to kill him. They’re going to be trapped in prisons with each other of their own making.”

It probably doesn’t hurt that leaving Jacob alive leaves open the tiny possibility of extending the “limited series” into a second season, although there are no plans in the works for that.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

Header Image Source: Apple TV+