WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Defending Jacob, now streaming on Apple TV+.
Defending Jacob doesn’t hold back at all on the high-school climate in Newton, Massachusetts, as Chris Evans’ Andy Barber tries to prove his son’s innocence in the murder of a classmate. Jacob (Jaeden Martell) is set to face trial for the death of young Ben at a nearby park after his fingerprints were found on the victim, and Andy, a district attorney who’s now reduced to a civilian, is crossing boundaries conducting his own investigation.
He’s trying to do whatever it takes to save his son, even if it means illegal acts. However, as Andy uncovers bullying at the heart of the drama, it becomes clear social media is the miniseries’ nastiest tool, but also its most powerful one.
Early on, Sarah (Jordan Alexa Davis) informs Andy when he was working the case (and before Jacob was implicated) that Jacob and Ben seemed to have some sort of history. When Andy goes online, desperate for leads, he believes the truth lies in how these teens use social media platforms to date and form cliques. But he’s in for the shock of his life when he sees hints of sociopathic behavior from his own kid. Jacob’s trolling numerous tribute posts and articles, bashing people for their fake grief as Ben’s known as a bully in school. Andy gets worried because Jacob initially downplayed any friendship, and didn’t show remorse for the death of his peer.
Now, these comments online have Andy wondering what’s going on, especially on the heels of Sarah’s words. This leads to Andy finding a knife in Jacob’s room he eventually gets rid of, praying it’s not what was used to stab Ben. Still, he believes in his boy, despite the discovered fingerprints and an admission from Jacob that he found the dead body, touched it, and ran away. His wife Laurie (Michelle Dockery) and lawyer Joanna (Cherry Jones) try to prep the kid for defense, but they know there are too many holes in his story, and the social media hatred Jacob’s been spouting won’t help their cause.
In fact, Jacob is banned from social media by his parents on the heels of Andy’s findings. It drives a wedge between the couple, however, as Laurie’s losing confidence in Jacob’s alibi, while Andy’s adamant the kid’s not a killer, he just has misguided rage. The fact that people online did mention Ben was a bully and that there’s a sex offender in town named Leonard, makes Andy’s blind to the possibility that Jacob could have done it. He places blame elsewhere, but Laurie believes something’s up and can’t even have dinner with her family anymore because she’s always pondering if Jacob might have been a social justice warrior who took it too far.
Andy’s trying to reason with her that cyberbullying is a reflex reaction to real-world bullying for some people and that victims like Jacob sometimes vent. However, while Andy can make a case using digital evidence Ben was a bad person, the same could be done for Jacob. It just goes to show that the power of these platforms and with Jacob also knocking his former friend Derek (Ben Taylor) for defending Ben, Andy knows the internet just dug his son a deep hole. Ultimately, Newton is symptomatic of this issue in society today, and while Andy hopes it can clue him into salvation for Jacob, all a jury will see is a tool that the boy has been using in a hateful manner.
Written by Mark Bomback and directed by Morten Tyldum, Defending Jacob stars Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery, Pablo Schreiber, Cherry Jones, Jaeden Martell, Sakina Jaffrey, Betty Gabriel and J.K. Simmons. The miniseries is now streaming on Apple TV+ with new episodes out every Friday.
As the Barber family tries to prove their son's innocence in Defending Jacob, it's obvious social media is the show's nastiest yet most powerful tool.