DISCLAIMER: This is a spoiler filled recap for episode 1 of Defending Jacob, “Pilot”. Viewer discretion is advised.
Missing bearded Chris Evans? Same. Lucky for us all Evans is back in the all new Apple TV Plus series, Defending Jacob. Based on best-selling 2012 novel by William Landay, Defending Jacob follows Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber (Evans), who is assigned as prosecutor in the case of his son Jacob’s (Jaeden Martell) murdered classmate. Almost right away evidence is uncovered that has Andy torn between his sworn duty to uphold the law and his unconditional love for his son.
When we first meet Andy, it’s clear he and his family have been through some kind of turmoil. He’s being questioned by former co-worker Neal Loguidice (Pablo Schreiber) in a grand jury indictment related to the murder of 14-year-old Ben Rifkin (Liam Kilbreth). Right off the bat Andy makes it clear he has no tricks up his sleeve, the reason he agreed to be questioned and waived his Fifth Amendment right is because, “…I believe in the system and just want the truth to come out.”
At some point during the questioning, Neal asks Andy if he would describe his family as “happy” on the morning Ben Rifkin was murdered. Andy doesn’t hesitate when replying “Yes”. We then jump back to 10 months earlier and the Barber’s do seem like a normal, happy family. Andy blasts AC/DC’s “Back in Black” to wake his son up, his wife Laurie (Michelle Dockery) returns from a run and he enjoys his morning coffee. When he eventually rolls out of bed, Jacob does some last-minute studying for a vocabulary test. It’s all very ordinary. Painfully so. Right down to Jacob turning down a ride to school so he could walk and listen to his music. This walk would later take him through Newton’s Cold Spring Park.
At the courthouse, we see Andy is very good at his job. He’s calling out scumbags as liars left and right, and easily navigating the tactics of defense attorneys when he gets a phone call. It’s an officer alerting him that the body of a teenager has been discovered. Andy drops everything and has his assistant clear his day so he can visit the crime scene.
Meanwhile, at Jacob’s school, we get a glimpse of the teenager’s social standing among his peers. He appears to be fairly well-liked, throwing out a ‘that’s what she said’ joke to make all his friends laugh. Suddenly the school is on lockdown. The students immediately lock themselves in the classroom, sit on the ground against a wall and pull out their phones. We discover the reason for the lockdown is because there is an active crime scene close by.
Andy pulls onto the scene and meets up with Detective Pam Duffy (Betty Gabriel). He is quickly briefed on who made the grim discovery and of the boy’s identity; his name is Ben Rifkin, fourteen years old, stabbed in the chest three times. Andy recognizes the name right away. While he isn’t exactly best friends with the Rifkins, Andy does know that Ben is in the same year as Jacob. Shortly after arriving on the scene Andy gets a call from Jacob.
He informs his dad about the lockdown and tries to press Andy on why. Once he is assured that he is safe, Jacob seems like he wants to tell his dad something but he quickly brushes it off. It’s nothing, he’s just a little freaked out that’s all. When the call ends Andy is informed that not only is the murder weapon missing, but so is Ben’s cell phone. The police conclude that the perpetrator must have taken it.
Elsewhere in Defending Jacob‘s pilot episode, Laurie sees an alert that Newton schools are on lockdown and that Jacob has tried to call her. Later Andy arrives home, Laurie informs him that Jacob is upstairs with his best friend, Derek (Ben Taylor). Andy and Laurie embrace. It is here that Andy tells her he’s just returned from the Rifkin residence. We also learn that there was a fingerprint left on Ben’s body. It’s only a partial and there has been no matches so far. Laurie is in shock, she’s uncertain how something like this could happen so close to her home. Though she is sure of one thing: Jacob will never take the Cold Spring Park route to school ever again.
After Derek leaves, Andy and Laurie sit their son down to check in on him. Despite the situation, Jacob doesn’t dance around the topic with false niceties. One could say the boy appears cold towards Ben Rifkin’s murder. Jacob admits they shared a class together but they weren’t really friends. And what little Jacob did know about Ben he wasn’t a big fan of. “He was all right…he was kind of full of himself, you know? Like, he thought he was really cool.” It’s certainly odd. But maybe he’s just shaken up by that day’s events? No biggie.
Later that night, Andy and Laurie snuggle in bed. They both confess they had the ‘selfish’ thought that they were grateful that it wasn’t Jacob that was murdered. “The whole time tonight I kept thinking, ‘Thank God.’ Thank God it was their kid and not mine.” They casually chat about how Jacob was as a boy, how he’ll be going off to college in just a few years. We also learn that Andy didn’t have a father growing up. “From what little my mom told me, sounds like I wasn’t missing much.”
Perhaps it’s this conversation that causes the nightmare Andy has later. It comes in flashing images; a child, maybe Andy as a child, being threatened by a man with a snake tattoo on his forearm.
The next morning Jacob is driven to school. He attempts to say hello to Derek, only to be given the painfully obvious cold shoulder. At work Andy is summoned into his bosses office, Lynn Canavan (Sakina Jaffrey), for an update regarding the case. It is here, after a childish back and forth between hot head Neil and Andy, Andy is officially given the case. Despite Lynn’s concern about Andy being a conflict of interest. With a Neil shaped fire now under his ass, Andy goes straight to Newton High School with Duffy in fingerprint and interview the students. They come up with nothing. That isn’t until they meet Sarah (Jordan Alexa Davis).
Sarah looks like she has something on her mind. Something she specifically wants to share with Andy, since he’s Jacob’s dad, but she backs off real fast. As if she was scared of something. Or someone. In the hallway of the school Sarah is confronted by Derek, who demands to know what she said to the adults. Sarah is shaky yet stands her ground when telling him to leave her alone.
Just then, Duffy gets wind of a suspect by the name of Leonard Patz (Daniel Henshall). Patz is a known child predator who has previous convictions for assault and bunch of other gross stuff. Andy appears very interested in Mr. Patz. Especially once he learns Patz lives near the park where Ben was found. Andy decides to sleep on whether or not they should pursue this lead. Because if he plays this wrong, Patz will surely lawyer up. Meaning they will lose his one chance to talk to him.
At the end of his workday Andy drives to the Rifkin residence to attend a memorial gathering for Ben. He is uncomfortable pretty much as soon as he enters the home. Just about everyone asks him the status of the case; do they have a suspect? Are they going to arrest them? Why is everything taking so long? Andy decides to leave with Jacob, who arrived earlier with Laurie.
On the drive home the father and son chat. Jacob discusses that his class is reading Catcher in the Rye and that he really connects with Holden in the sense that everyone is a phony. Including everyone at the gathering at the Rifkin house. Specifically the kids. “It’s like even tonight…I’m not saying they’re not upset but it’s like they’re acting the way they think they’re supposed to act. Like they’ve seen in movies or whatever…And no one is gonna call them out on it, cause then you look like a jerk.”
Is this just the insight of some moody teenager? Or are there layers to decode here? Either way, we see later in the Defending Jacob pilot that Jacob should’ve taken his own advice when Andy gets an email late at night. It’s from another parent with a link to an Instagram post. A post that a memorial to Ben Rifkin. Among the comments one written by Jacob just days beforehand. “Ben is dead. Why are you writing him messages? Acting like his best friends.” Below this is quite a few people calling him a jerk for such a bold opinion. Andy is stunned by these comments. Especially by one written by Derek. “Jacob, everyone knows you did it. you have a knife. I’ve seen it.”
The accusation is just too much for Andy to handle. So he decides to get all stealthy, snooping through Jacob’s room while the boy is sound asleep. The search turns up nothing. Andy looks like he’s beginning to kick himself for even thinking Jacob would own a knife, never mind kill his classmate. In a last-ditch effort, just so Andy is totally sure, he quickly digs through the nightstand right beside Jacob. It is there that he finds a decent-sized knife. It’s wrapped in a sock and has no blood on it. However it is more than enough to startle Andy.
Check out Defending Jacob on Apple TV+, new episodes every Friday!