Apple TV+’s limited crime drama series “Defending Jacob” came to an end Friday, and the final episode features a mind-boggling plot twist.
The story follows the Barber family, made up of Laurie (Michelle Dockery), Jacob (Jaeden Martell) and Andy (Chris Evans). When Jacob is accused of murdering his eighth-grade classmate Ben Rifkin (Liam Kilbreth), Andy, the assistant district attorney assigned to the case, crosses legal lines to prove his son’s innocence.
The final episode sees Jacob acquitted of the murder, but Laurie’s relief is short-lived. It turns out that Andy was hiding the truth from her that his father, convicted murderer Billy Barber (J.K. Simmons), had hired someone to frame child sex offender Leonard Patz in order for his grandson to go free.
What happens next is shocking. Laurie, whose mind has been slowly unraveling throughout the season, finally reaches her breaking point — she takes Jacob for drive and purposefully swerves off the road, crashing the car and critically injuring them both.
In a recent conversation with TheWrap, we asked Dockery all the questions that were on our minds after that wild finale, from how she went about her transformation from a happy-go-lucky wife and mother to a woman on the brink of a mental breakdown.
“Laurie cannot let go of the truth,” Dockery said. “She’s sort of gone into this phase of grief, like, ‘It’s over now.’ Because there is a possibility that [Jacob] did it, and she can’t live with it,” she continued. “That’s what tortures her the most, is that she will never really know.”
So, what made Laurie finally snap?
“Knowing that it was set up — Leonard Patz, the lie, another lie — for Laurie, it felt like… finally, there is this last straw, which is this information that he still potentially could have done it,” she said.
“I think the guilt overwhelms Laurie when she sees what [Joan Rifkin] is going through, and I think that is a turning point for her. I don’t think she can live with it,” she continued. “She goes there to tell her, because she wants her to know that it wasn’t Leonard Patz. And in that moment she sees Joan in the window and retreats and decides not to go there. It’s almost like she wants the truth out.”
But in one of the show’s final scenes, Laurie wakes up in the hospital and appears not to remember what she’d done. So did Laurie really intend to kill herself and her son when she swerved off the road that rainy afternoon, or was her mental state too deteriorated to process what she was doing?
“When I was playing it, I was thinking she wasn’t in her right mind, having not slept for however many days. In the moment she loses control,” Dockery says. But since watching it back, she’s grown less certain. “It’s for the audience to decide whether she did it intentionally or not. Even when I was doing it, I was changing my mind.”
“I think it could be seen as she eventually comes around to Andy’s way of thinking. The way that scene plays out is that he’s going, ‘Whatever it was, whatever you felt in the moment, this is the story we’re gonna tell.’ And she kind of gives in in that moment,” she continued. “She really means that, she just wants her family back. But she really has reached a breaking point, and that’s the result of it. That’s what makes for such a good drama… it’s a real exploration into human behavior and how people react to a situation.”
All eight episodes of “Defending Jacob” are now streaming on Apple TV+.