Defending Jacob (2020) – Ending Explained.


Apple TV Plus released one of its most promising TV series, Defending Jacob based on a popular book by William Landay.

Defending Jacob is a limited series that stars Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery, and Jaeden Martell, in the leading roles. It is a twisty tale that focuses on a father, Andy Barber (Chris Evans) whose 14-year-old son Jacob (Jaeden Martell) is accused of murdering one of his classmates.


Jacob Barber has been accused of murdering his classmate, Ben. The 14-year-old, upper-class student has led a seemingly ordinary life, but all of that changes when his classmate is found stabbed to death. When they find Jacob’s fingerprint on Ben and other kids start talking on social media about how Barber owned a knife he liked to show off at school, Andy Barber quickly becomes one of the only people who doesn’t think his son is a murderer. Even Jacob’s mother Laurie (Michelle Dockery) begins to question her son’s lack of empathy and a dark sense of humor, wondering if she could have raised a sociopath. Andy helps to build a defense to prove his son innocent but the state attorney leaves no stone unturned to prove Jacob guilty. A fight of wits takes over, with a life hanging in between.

Andy may be certain that Jacob is innocent but the evidence against Jacob bounces back and forth like a tennis match, designed to keep viewers wondering all the way to the end if he really did or not. To that end, there are other suspects, including a local sex offender and another classmate of Jacob’s, but most of “Defending Jacob” is spent in the Barber house, as Andy’s certainty drives him forward and Laurie’s uncertainty tears her apart.

Break Down of Defending Jacob.

Spoilers Ahead – Do Check Defending Jacob on Apple TV Plus, before reading further.

Did Jacob kill his Classmate?

This is the utmost fact that has been kept hidden and toyed around throughout the story, even till the end of the series, and that’s what is troubling the viewers. To state some facts, Andy threw away Jacob’s knife so it was never tested for Ben’s DNA. Jacob does tell his father and the court that he didn’t commit the crime but he also wrote a story whose description sounded like the actual horrified murder of Ben. Jacob’s fingerprint was found on Ben’s jacket too but Jacob says that he got there when he found the body but didn’t tell anyone. Jacob’s online habits are pretty weird but liking weird stuff on the internet does not make you a killer. So who killed Ben?

Did Leonard commit the Crime?

Leonard Patz, the local sex offender had pictures of Ben on his phone with a history of pedophilia in his track record. He may have told his companions, Matt, that he was interested in someone called Ben but Matt’s hardly a reliable witness has already lied to the police once, and he doesn’t turn up for Jacob’s trial. In one of his last scenes, Leonard writes the suicide note confessing to killing Ben. However, the tight focus of the shot means that it’s not possible to see if anyone else is in the room coercing him. It’s deliberately ambiguous. Jacob’s grandfather, willing to save his Jacob from the trial, did try hiring one of his friends to close and shut the case, and he might have killed Leonard to do that, but we don’t know the truth.

The killing of Ben has been revolving around these two suspects, while as per the legal court, the charges fall on Leonard, and Jacob is set free. But is he innocent? Well, his mother doesn’t believe so.

Did Jacob’s mother try to kill him?

Laurie was speeding up the car more and more hysterically asking Jacob if he killed Ben. He says no, and then he says yes, but neither answer is reliable since he’s afraid for his life. She then swerves and crashes them headlong into the side of a bridge. She may not have specifically been trying to kill him – or indeed both of them – but the crash wasn’t an accident. That’s one of the plot points that’s been altered from the book.

Role of Murder Gene

In the Defending Jacob, one of the most striking features was the theory built around Murder Gene, according to which if anyone in the family, backward, has killed someone in the past, then they are ought to repeat it. ( well, we were primitive hunters, but okay.) Jacob does not have this gene which means his grandfather and father too had it. His grandfather is a convicted killer but his father is an upstanding member of the community. Jacob does have some other genetic traits, we learn, that make him predisposed towards some anti-social behaviors. Conversely though, in the end it’s his mother who is an attempted murderer. Jacob may not have inherited the murder gene from his father’s line, but he may have inherited traits from his mother – it may be the case that both he and Laurie are capable of murder, and that would make the gene more prominent than a dormant one in Andy alone.

Plight of Barber Family in the End

If Jacob survives (being in a coma and on a ventilator) he will know that his mother believes he’s a murderer and tried to kill him. Laurie expresses her guilt at the end of the final episode that Jacob might not believe it was an accident – which would mean that the mother-son relationship will have a bitter end? Possibly, but unlikely. The bleaker ending is that Jacob might not remember what happened and Andy will continue to willfully refuse that it was anything but an accident.

Yet, the equations between Andy and Laurie have already deteriorated to lengths that have already created a drift in their relationship. Even if Jacob does survive, his father and mother won’t be able to continue further and he will be most likely going to spend his future, with his father, someone who had trust in his innocence from the beginning.

Ending of Defending Jacob different from the Original Book.

The book is told from Andy’s point of view while the show has made changes to retain the spirit of the ambiguity without being tied to an unreliable narrator. In the book Hope – the girl Jacob meets in Mexico (Jamaica in the novel) – washes up dead on the beach. Could Jacob have been responsible for this murder too? Again, it’s completely ambiguous. However, Laurie becomes increasingly preoccupied with the idea of Jacob’s guilt and on a drive, crashes the car into a tunnel, killing Jacob and leaving herself in a critical condition. It’s told through Andy’s eyes and it’s not clear whether the crash is an accident or not, though Andy refuses to incriminate Laurie at all. Are his wife and son both murderers? Or are the family just the victims of circumstance? The book and the show end differently but both come with a crushing blow on the fate of Barber Family.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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