Defending Jacob closes in on its shocking and horrible conclusion this week. It’s been clear for a while that things will never get straightened out fully for the Barber family after Jacob’s murder trial. Whether the teen lands in jail or not, things will end badly.
The Apple TV+ crime drama’s seventh episode, titled “Job,” proves this in spectacularly agonizing fashion.
Defending Jacob: ‘Job’ review
The trial finally begins in earnest on this week’s episode, it’s a grueling ordeal for the Barbers. Jacob’s father Andy (played by Chris Evans) wants to back up his son’s attorney, Joanna Klein (Cherry Jones). While the judge (Daryl Edwards) advises against it, Andy seems dead-set on sitting next to Joanna — if only to rub it in the opposing council’s face.
Things grew increasingly personal between Andy and District Attorney Neal Logiudice (Pablo Schreiber) as the case progressed. This week’s episode starts with a flashback to when Andy was Neal’s mentor and friend. Then it grimly fast-forwards to Neal cross-examining Andy — a running motif finally given context. Andy may indeed want to beat Neal in open court more than he wants to get his son Jacob (Jaeden Martell) off for murder.
This week’s revelations all prove enormous, and they find the show in an unforgiving mood. When Neal puts one of Jacob’s classmates (Ben Taylor) on the stand, it isn’t merely to unseat Jacob in front of the jury. Neal found something worse than all the violent pornography the show previously hinted at. It turns out Jacob wrote a piece of fan-fiction about killed Ben Rifkin (Liam Kilbreth). Even if he didn’t do it, which seems increasingly unlikely, the whole town is going to forever know he was fantasizing about it.
The strained dynamic between Andy, Jacob and his mom, Laurie (Michelle Dockery), finally crumbles when they drive Jacob home after hearing his classmate read out his murder fantasy in front of the jury. The show has more up its sleeve, narratively, but the damage has been done.
Defending Jacob has made its point about the things people hide from each other, and there’s no way the Barbers come back from this place of essential distrust and disgust with one another. Laurie even confesses that she doesn’t believe Jacob’s innocence anymore. That should be more heartbreaking, but logic tells us she’s right. This is savvy television, even if it’s maybe playing dirty.
Watching Andy and Joanna talk about the case with Jacob sitting between them packs heft. Andy essentially ignoring his son in favor of discussing what to do about his sociopathic tendencies — while leaning over him to talk to someone else about him — is exactly the kind of vicious move we now come to expect from him. He’s forgotten his and his family’s humanity in pursuit of a verdict. The show has so stacked the decks against him that when his murdering, rapist father (J.K. Simmons) calls to see how the trial goes, we almost side with him over Andy.
Defending Jacob hasn’t exactly subverted expectations if you were on the show’s wavelength (dissecting suburban guilt) from the start. However, it’s become more meaty, and more distressing, than even the murder of a teenager led us to believe it would be. This is a gripping, if fascinatingly horrible, bit of prestige TV. More shows should have Defending Jacob’s guts.
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.