The final episode of “Defending Jacob” will drop May 29 on Apple TV+, in case you want to catch up with it now, binge-style. I’m bringing it up because I want to mention two performances in the locally set and locally filmed drama that really impressed me. Chris Evans is fine, a solid actor playing a solid husband and father, but Michelle Dockery as his wife, Laurie, and Jaeden Martell as his son accused of murder, Jacob, are outstanding. They are what lift the otherwise engaging but by-the-book suspense mystery into something distinctive.
I remember watching Dockery as Mary in “Downton Abbey” and thinking she was perfectly cast as the somewhat dour and held-back daughter of privilege. But I suspected that, like a number of actors who do quite nicely on PBS’s “Masterpiece,” she would stay in the period drama lane. Instead, she has refused to be typecast. She was outrageously good as a hot mess criminal type in TNT’s “Good Behavior,” a show that didn’t quite get its due. And she is magnetic in “Defending Jacob,” as the possibility of her son being a murderer shakes her loyalty to the core. The show plays out on her face, as she experiences a range of doubts and terror and guilt.
Martell, too, is remarkable. The show definitely does not play out on his face, which is as it should be. We need to wonder if he is guilty or not, and Martell never telegraphs the answer to us. His ambiguities suit the needs of the story. We can see fear behind his eyes, and denial, too, but his stillness is a kind of eerie mask. I’m looking forward to more from him.