By: Tom Power
After weeks of twists and turns, Defending Jacob’s finale had one final shock up its sleeve.
The Apple TV+ crime drama web series – based on Willian Landay’s novel – has had viewers wondering whether Jacob Barber (Jaeden Martell) killed Ben Rifkin or not. Now that the explosive and heart wrenching eighth episode has aired, we have the answers… some of them, at least.
If you haven’t watched every episode, you’ll want to turn back now. We’re entering major spoiler territory from here on out…
Did Leonard Patz murder Ben?
Episode eight follows on immediately from episode seven’s ending. Assistant District Attorney and Jacob’s father Andy Barber (Chris Evans) receives a phone call from family lawyer Joanna Klein (Cherry Jones) to tell him that Leonard Patz (Daniel Henshall) left a note, moments before committing suicide, confessing that he’d killed Ben.
Andy had initially suspected Patz – a convicted paedophile – and, after the police confirmed Patz’s handwriting on the note, Jacob is acquitted as the trial collapses.
Of course, not everyone is convinced. Ben’s father Dan (Patrick Fischler) confronts the Barbers in a multistorey car park, but is apprehended by the henchman who had supposedly been stalking the Barbers. As it turns out, the henchman – Father O’Leary (William Xifaras) – was instructed by Andy’s father and convicted murderer Billy (J. K. Simmons) to protect them.
The suicide, confession, and photographs of Ben that Patz deleted from his phone – in episode two – all point towards him murdering Ben. The Barbers’ happy ending, though, is cut short when new information comes to light.
What happened after the trial?
As the Barbers prepare for a vacation to Mexico, Andy is told by District Attorney Lynn Canavan (Sakina Jeffrey) that the Patz’s case had some inconsistencies. Reading the case file, Andy finds out from eyewitness accounts that an old blue Lincoln car – the same one Father O’Leary drives – was seen outside of Patz’s apartment complex on the night he died.
Andy confronts his father over his apparent involvement. Despite Billy hinting that he wasn’t involved, flashbacks show that he was. Billy sent Father O’Leary to force Patz to confess to Ben’s murder, before strangling him to death and making it look like suicide, to prevent Jacob ending up in prison like him. Billy tells Andy he can either be a good man and turn Jacob in, or be a good father and remain quiet. Andy storms out but refuses to tell Laurie (Michelle Dockery) what happened.
Andy tries to forget his father’s involvement, but the truth eventually comes out. During the holiday, Jacob befriends Hope Connors – a 16-year-old from Toronto – and the pair go to a New Year’s Eve beach party together. Retiring to their room after a romantic meal, Andy and Laurie find Jacob back earlier than expected – without Hope or the white shirt he’d worn.
The next morning, Hope can’t be found. Jacob is installed as the chief suspect by Mexico’s police and the Barbers are rigorously interviewed. Unable to hide the truth any longer, Andy gets drunk and tells Laurie about his father’s involvement. Laurie becomes convinced again that Jacob killed Ben, even though Hope turns up alive the following day.
Laurie becomes more withdrawn from Andy and Jacob. She visits the Rifkin household to seemingly confess to Jacob’s guilt but, after seeing Ben’s mum Joan (Megan Byrne) struggling to cope, decides to take matters into her own hands.
The next day Laurie drives Jacob to get a hair cut. She angrily confronts him and pleads with him to tell her that he murdered Ben. Despite Jacob’s protestations that he didn’t, Laurie refuses to believe him. Driving at full speed on a wet road, she crashes the car into the wall of a tunnel entrance, seemingly killing them both.
Andy – who has been questioned by fellow attorney Neal Loguidice (Pablo Schreier) at a hearing about the accident throughout the series – refuses to implicate Laurie. As he visits a hospital after the hearing, it’s revealed Jacob is in a coma and on life support. Laurie – also hospitalised with various injuries – is told by Andy that the jury voted in favour of a car accident, and he heads home to sit quietly in Jacob’s room as the credits roll.
Did Jacob kill Ben?
Defending Jacob doesn’t confirm whether Jacob murdered Ben, but all signs point towards him doing so.
Jacob told his parents that Ben bullied him, and he did own a knife that he took to school. Jacob’s friend Derek Yoo (Ben Taylor) also revealed – during the trial – that Jacob had written a story that was eerily similar to Ben’s murder and posted it online.
Jacob put the idea of killing Ben back in Laurie’s head after Hope went missing too. He left the party early after arguing with her, and didn’t text her once he’d left like he promised. Coupled with Laurie’s memories of a young Jacob almost dropping a bowling ball on another child’s head, it was enough to persuade her that he did it.
All in all, we don’t know if Jacob did it. It’s ultimately left up to the viewer to decide, however frustrating it may be that we don’t get the closure we feel we deserve.
Defending Jacob is streaming now on Apple TV+ – check out what else is on with our TV Guide