In its fourth episode, stellar Apple TV+ show Defending Jacob shows every member of the Barber family starting to crack as young Jacob moves closer to his murder trial. As the characters head toward revelations and uncomfortable conclusions, they start to stall for time in irresponsible, sometimes dangerous ways.
As the situation unfolds, their relationships with each other start to fray.
Defending Jacob: ‘Damage Control’ review
When last we left father Andy Barber (played by Chris Evans), his family finally learned that his dad was a notorious rapist and murderer. That Andy had been hiding it all these years was the last jolt either his son — accused murderer Jacob (Jaeden Martell) — or his wife, the fragile and agitated Laurie (Michelle Dockery), needed.
In the strong fourth episode, titled “Damage Control,” we see the ways in which each family member kills time between appointments with psychologists and lawyers (including Cherry Jones as an attorney Barber used to clash with before Jacob became a suspect). The show serves up a pretty sober view of the many, many appointments needed during the pretrial period.
Everyone’s believably out of sorts during each new meeting with a relative stranger to discuss a kid possibly spending the rest of his life in jail. A blow-up at dinner, during which Laurie says she feels trapped like a prisoner in her own house, promises to be only the first of their tense confrontations.
This episode gets a lot mileage out of the secret little errands each Barber runs behind the others’ backs. Andy, dogged as ever to prove his son’s innocence, starts illegally following leads and harassing people. The show handles his character’s exterior quite well during these passages. The facade of him trying to exonerate Jacob is easily cracked. And beneath it lies his frustration at having been outmaneuvered by his old colleagues at his firm and in the ranks of the police.
If he’s searching for the truth about the suspect he likes (Daniel Henshall‘s creepy hardware store employee with a history of inappropriate behavior), it’s as much to prove that he was right all along as anything.
By giving us windows into both Andy and Laurie’s individual psychologies, as well as into their unified response to the crime, we’re allowed to see them suffer and make bad choices that they don’t have to pretend are for the right reasons.
Lies and misdirection
Laurie delivers the standout moment this week as she lies to Andy about going to dinner, only to sit in her car and watch a gala thrown by her old company. She got fired when news about Jacob surfaced. (Her former employer is primarily a child care organization, and everyone believed her presence would spook the parents of other kids.) So she watches enviously as an event she helped plan takes place without her. She’s so starved for attention, she goes to a diner and strikes up a conversation with a stranger, only to discover the stranger has ulterior motives.
The Barbers are all slowly losing their grip on what they think is real and just. There’s a stirring misdirection when Andy catches Jacob playing violent video games. (The father discouraged his son from playing them now that he’s a murder suspect.) However, Andy then discovers Jacob has a girl — Jordan Alexa Davis’ Sarah, the only kid at school who believes he’s innocent — in his room. Andy doesn’t even get freaked out that they’re alone together. He’s just happy to have confirmation that his son has friends of any kind.
Defending Jacob: Excellent TV
Jacob later creates a fake social media account to watch videos of Sarah singing. That might seem like a cute gesture, except that we know he stands accused of killing his classmate. Every gesture and idea in Defending Jacob is loaded. So far, it’s made for excellent television.
Watch on: Apple TV+ (subscription required)
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.