Jacob’s defense, profile of the perfect psychopath

Jacob’s defense, profile of the perfect psychopath

Jacob’s Defense: Review and Plot

Title:  The defense of Jacob (Defending Jacob)
Miniseries of 8 episodes
Year: 2020
Topics : psychopathy, psychobiology, biological psychiatry, general adaptation syndrome, correlations between genetic makeup and behavior, diagnostic tools, theory on personality traits, breack- psychophysical down (nervous exhaustion).
Rating: 3/5 
Soundtrack: 7/10

The miniseries is based on William Landay’s novel of the same name. To read the extract of the novel, here is the official Amazon page dedicated to the book.

The plot

Andy Barber (Chris Evans) is the assistant district attorney in Newton (Massachusetts), living a quiet life with his wife Laurie (Michelle Dockery) and his 14-year-old son Jacob. Things get complicated when he is called to investigate a crime whose perpetrator could be little Jacob.

The crime in question is the murder of a boy named Ben, a bully of Jacob’s class. As the plot unfolds, Andy will be relieved of the case and will begin gathering evidence in defense of Jacob , his wife Laurie’s reaction will be different as she begins to have doubts about her son’s true innocence.

Is Jacob innocent?
Who was it that killed Ben? 
Why was Andy summoned by the grand jury?

Within these mysteries take place the episode of the criminal drama “In defense of Jacob”.

The first two introductory episodes are very slow. Mark Bomback and Morten Tyldum (the creators of the series for Apple TV + ) have chosen a very soft presentation of the characters with the risk of boring the viewer with the first episodes. The initial resistance will pay off in the tail episodes that will reveal intrigues, mysteries and a surprise ending .

Little curiosity: in episode one, Andy (Chris Evans, known for the role of Captain America from Marvel’s The Avengers) forces his son Jacob to get out of bed by playing the song Black in Black by AC / DC, soundtrack of Iron Man .

Review and psychological review

The following should be read only after viewing. The explanation of the psychological dynamics is full of spoilers. 

Andy Barber is an introverted, thoughtful and passionate man: Deputy District Attorney. The district attorney is a public official who performs similar roles to those of our prosecutor. He deals with criminal offenses , particularly violent crimes and holds the position of lawyer for the prosecution.

The theme of  violent crime  seems to be very central to Andy’s life. It will soon be discovered that his father did not simply go away when he was a child, but that he is a murderer held in prison for the murder of a young woman. Andy hadn’t revealed his father’s identity to his wife either, keeping this secret from anyone.

As Jacob’s investigation unfolds, Andy prepares his defense. Since Jacob’s grandfather is a killer, a genetic insight into the entire family is worthwhile . The state will have to prove Jacob’s guilt and if he succeeds, Andy will be able to get a sentence discount by invoking genetic vulnerability .

Even in Italy, as in the courts of Massachussetts, genetic vulnerability  can be used as an  extenuating circumstance for certain crimes.

The warrior or violence gene

In preparing his defense, Andy relies on an excellent lawyer and a specialist in biological psychiatry . Investigations on Jacob’s DNA will highlight the lack of the warrior gene (MAOA-L), which is inherited from the mother. The warrior gene, also known as the killer gene, is related to characteristics such as:

  • Aggressive, provocative and confrontational behaviors
  • Greater willingness to take risks in private and professional life
  • Ability to better evaluate one’s chances of success in critical situations

Correlation between genetics and violent behavior

Despite the lack of the murderer’s gene, DNA analysis highlights genetic characteristics that are inherited from the paternal line and that have been present for three generations :

  1. Andy’s father, i.e. the killer,
  2. Andy, a man who is always in contact with violent crime,
  3. Jacob, a young boy accused of murder.

Features see the Grin1 gene (Glutamate Ionotropic Receptor NMDA Type Subunit 1) associated with traits such as impulsivity and unconsciousness . A gene involved in dopamine mechanisms of action related to a limited capacity for empathy ; furthermore, the analysis revealed a receptor form for testosterone known to induce violent behavior.

The biological psychiatry expert talks to Laurie, Jacob’s mom

Thanks to this genetic evidence, in the event of a conviction, Jacob’s defense could have invoked  genetic vulnerability,  even if the psychiatrist wisely points out that it is not the genetic heritage that transforms an ordinary person into a killer, the genetic matrix cannot ignore the  environmental factors . “If a young person has already developed a sense of morality, these genes do not make the brain snap out of the blue.”

The psychiatrist’s clarification was necessary , especially considering the current movements against psychobiology and biological psychiatry active above all in Italy. A genetic matrix has been related to disorders such as bipolarism, schizophrenia and depression, however it is always important to underline that the genetic makeup alone is not enough but that we speak of contributing causes , where environmental factors such as the educational, emotional and social, play an equally important role.

The genetic vulnerability card will never be used in court, as the state will drop all its charges against Jacob, holding another person responsible for the crime. Too bad that the person accused by the state committed suicide in suspicious circumstances.

Psychological tests

Not just DNA testing, the psychiatrist used a number of diagnostic tools with Jacob such as the personality inventory and problem trait inventory. Personality Inventories for DSM-5 (PID-5) measure non-adaptive personality traits in five domains: Negative Affect, Detachment, Antagonism, Disinhibition, and Psychoticism.

The overall picture (i.e. the result of psychodiagnostic tests and genetic investigations) shows a person with antisocial tendencies, violent behavior, manipulative behavior and impaired empathic abilities. 

General adaptation syndrome

Despite the prosecution’s withdrawal of the charges, the parents begin to harbor suspicions about Jacob. The reason? Andy will discover that behind the confession of the suicidal pedophile was his father who, from prison, had hired a killer. This is also a secret that Andy will decide to keep quiet until another episode.

The Barber family, accused of murder, had at first handled the stress and pressure of the case well . The first to give in was Laurie, the mother who during the investigation of her son began to be assailed by doubts and obsessive images: is her son a murderer?

Laurie had a  dichotomous perception of her son : on the one hand the tender baby she had raised and on the other a  psychopath  devoid of fear, compassion and empathy. This dualistic vision recalls the ambiguous illusion of the  figure of Boring , that is an image that at the same time represents a young woman or the profile of an old lady.

The figure of Boring mentioned in the film

The pressures of the murder investigation made themselves felt a lot on the spouses, at some point the stress prevailed.

Hans Selye defined as ” General Adaptation Syndrome ” the response that the organism (mind and body) puts into action when it is subjected to  the prolonged effects of multiple stressors . On the one hand, Andy responds to stress by withdrawing into himself and drowning his doubts in alcohol, Laurie responds to stress with obsessive rumination . Rumination that will lead her to no longer tolerate a reality in which the child can be a psychopath . Because after careful analysis, Laurie’s image is no longer as ambiguous as Boring’s figure, Laurie clearly sees her son as a psychopath .

The raptus

Laurie undergoes a real psychophysical break-down , throws away the photo album of little Jacob and with this gesture it is as if for her the innocence of her son had died . The woman loads her son into the car and begins to press him with questions about the death of her schoolmate; in a rush , the woman accelerates and deliberately goes off the road by crashing into the entrance to a tunnel. Jacob goes into a coma and the prosecutor summons a grand jury to investigate the dynamics of the accident.

Laurie remembers nothing of her raptus (a repression linked to concussion and ego defense mechanisms) and the grand jury will deem her innocent.