Defending Jacob is Apple TV+'s latest entry into the whodunit genre, and it's a doozy. With an all-star cast of Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery, J.K. Simmons, Cherry Jones, and Jaeden Martell, this mystery takes a new tact in solving the murder of a 14-year-old boy, Ben, by focusing on the family of the accused. Jacob, Ben's classmate, becomes the main suspect in a trial that envelopes the whole community. But the differences in the Defending Jacob book and series are such that the ending feels very different.
The novel the series is based on, Defending Jacob by William Landay, does not give a clear cut answer to whether or not Jacob (Martell) is guilty. Told from the perspective of Jacob's father Andy (Evans), it's one man's journey into questioning if his love for his son has blinded him and his wife Laurie (Dockery) to the truth.
The series is more third-person, though still heavily told from Andy's perspective. But unlike the book, which at every turn throws out another hint Jacob is guilty, the series makes it much more ambiguous. Some of that is up to Martell's performance, which is much more innocent that the character comes across on the page, But it's also due to the adaptation's changes from page to screen.
1. Jacob's History Of Angry Behavior
In the novel, Jacob is portrayed as being something of a creepy child. You know the kind, the ones that kill animals for fun, playing on the idea that psychopathic behavior can be recognized from birth.
The show does include some of that, but not nearly to the degree as on the page. His mother Laurie's panicked recollections feel less like the dreaded realization of all the red flags she missed, and more a mother wondering if her framing has been wrong this whole time.
2. Derek & Sarah
Though Jacob's classmates definitely have their suspicions about him from the first, and the stonewalling Andy when he's questioning them, is taken directly from the novel, Derek and Sarah's characters were far more rounded out for the TV series.
This allowed the show to add some doubt to the proceedings, by creating an extra bit of drama with Derek. It also adds in a bit of a misogynistic angle when Jacob lashes out at Sarah after learning about the selfie she sent to Ben, which makes him look less innocent as well.
3. Patz's Innocent
In the book, Patz is more of a shadowy figure Andy chases as a possible alternate suspect in the novel. Here, he's given more dimension, including the idea he was watching Ben. The character Matt, who accuses Patz of groping him, is also given more to do, allowing the show to delve into how hard coming forward is in these situations.
By adding more to Patz's story, the audience has a harder time sympathizing with his death. In the book, there's a real sense Andy's father, Billy (Simmons), murdered a guy who was relatively innocent to save his grandson. Here, it's not nearly as cut and dry.
4. Hope Lives
But the two most significant changes come at the end of the series. The first, and the most important, is that Hope doesn't die. In the novel, the family goes to Jamaica, Jacob meets Hope, they seem to be falling for each other, and then one night Jacob comes home angry, with blood on his shorts, saying Hope and he aren't friends anymore. The next day, she's discovered to have gone missing. But it's not until after the family gets home that Laurie sees her body was found, strangled, just like Ben.
In the series, the whole thing shakes out differently. The show primes the viewer to think Jacob did it, especially with the addition of his behavior towards Sarah. But Hope's alive. She went to a party without Jacob because he was a jerk. While at the party, she meets a guy who slipped her a date rape drug and his roommate, in horror, calls the cops to rescue her.
5. Laurie Is Much Less Sure Jacob Did It
Unlike the book, where Andy and Laurie hurry home after Hope's disappearance, trying to pretend nothing is wrong, in the show, they despair the second the girl disappears. Andy even tells Laurie Patz was innocent, convincing her Jacob not only killed this girl but Ben too.
With no chance Jacob could have been involved with Hope's disappearance, there's no possible second murder for Laurie to hang her suspicions on. That changes all of the scenes once the family gets home. Laurie's belief that her son did rests solely on knowing Patz's confession and suicide was Andy's father's work. It makes her much less confident her son did it for the final scene.
6. Jacob Survives The Car Crash
In the book, Andy gets a call and learns Laurie and Jacob have been in a crash in the rain. Though the reader never knows what happened in that car, because Laurie's certainty is so much more substantial, there's a sense that she does it with full intention to kill. It's an "I brought you into this world; I can take you back out" move on her part. That Jacob dies in the crash is merely her succeeding.
In the series, Laurie's driving is trying to pressure her son to tell her the truth. It is notable that Jacob *actually does confess* in this scene, but it rings hollow, the words of a child coerced into saying whatever he has to to make the situation stop.
All it does is muddy the waters further, mainly because Laurie then fails to kill him. She wakes up, claiming to unable to remember what happened before the crash. Jacob is in a coma, but the Doctors believe he too will wake up.
Will he remember?