'A different kind of bleak': How 'Defending Jacob' changed the book's tragic ending

Ashley Lee, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

The finale of Apple TV+'s limited series "Defending Jacob" had more twists and turns than that wet, cold road Michelle Dockery's character drove.

"We want people to watch it and say, 'Holy ...,'" Morten Tyldum, who directed all eight episodes, told the LA Times. "And then look at their partner and really talk about the question we're asking: Is unconditional love bigger than our own morals?"

--What happened in the last episode?

The eighth episode, which premiered Friday, begins with a big development: The murder charges that troubled teen Jacob (Jaeden Martell) had been facing all season are suddenly dropped. An area sex offender -- who was always the obvious suspect, according to Jacob's father, Andy (Chris Evans) -- has hanged himself, and left behind a written confession: He was the one who killed Jacob's classmate, Ben.

It must be Jacob's lucky day, says a brawny "old friend" of Billy (J.K. Simmons), Andy's estranged father, who is currently serving a life sentence in prison for murder. Unsettled, Andy visits Billy, who indeed arranged for a blackmailed confession and suicide.

"Andy is at a crossroads where he can do the right thing and come forward with this information, which will mean his son's arrest again, or he can swallow it," says series writer and creator Mark Bomback. "He chooses to lie again. While that is completely understandable as a parent, that is the turning point."


In an attempt to put this whole ordeal behind them, the family heads to Mexico for a quiet vacation. Jacob immediately befriends a fellow teenager named Hope who, the morning after a party, has mysteriously gone missing.

The police pull Jacob in for questioning, and Jacob's parents are again filled with confusion about whether their son is a serial killer. Andy then admits to his wife, Laurie (Dockery), that the evidence letting Jacob off the hook for murder was fabricated. And with Hope missing, he might've killed again.

The peace Laurie found when the charges against Jacob were dropped is irreversibly disturbed. While driving, she asks her son to tell her the truth. Jacob, afraid of his mother's gradual speeding on such a rainy day, says, "Fine, I killed him, OK? Whatever you want, just slow down, please."

This is what Laurie, and the audience, have been waiting to hear, and yet its validity is still in question. "It feels like a confession but, of course, it's not," said Bomback. "He just said it to get her to slow down. That's the crux of the problem Laurie is facing: She'll never, ever get the truth. It makes you empathize with Laurie, and the torture that causes her to snap."


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