The following post contains major spoilers for All American‘s Feb. 13 episode. Proceed with caution!
The All American cast and crew has been keeping a whopper of a secret for nearly a year, and viewers were finally let in on it Monday night: Billy Baker is no more.
TVLine can confirm that Taye Diggs, who has co-starred as the reliable football coach and father figure since All American‘s pilot episode, has exited the CW series, with Monday’s episode serving as his formal sendoff.
During the sentimental hour, titled “Time,” Billy and the South Crenshaw football players participated in a combine that allowed the Crenshaw men to show off their skills for college coaches. On the way home from the event, the bus carrying Billy, Asher, Jabari and the other Crenshaw players blew a tire, causing a crash that left the bus teetering dangerously on the edge of a cliff.
Billy initially got out safely and helped the rest of the passengers climb out, too — but when Billy later realized that Jabari was still trapped on the bus, he went back to help him, and that good deed ultimately led to Billy’s demise. Viewers didn’t see the actual moment that Billy perished, though: Instead, Grace and Jordan (who were at the scene of the bus crash) came home and broke the devastating news to Laura, Olivia, Spencer and Coop, just as Spencer was listening to a sweet voicemail from Billy that aimed to resolve their current discord over Billy potentially leaving Crenshaw for GAU.
Below, in separate interviews that have been combined and condensed, Diggs and All American showrunner Nkechi Okoro Carroll walk us through how Billy’s exit was crafted, including the possibility that he’ll return in some capacity during Season 5’s remaining episodes.
TVLINE | What can you tell me about when these exit conversations started to happen? How early did you start mapping out Billy’s goodbye?
DIGGS | I was having a great time. It was just a feeling that I got [that I was ready to leave], and I just honored that feeling. It was maybe mid-fourth season. I don’t even remember, to be honest, because the showrunner [Carroll] and myself are close. We’d been keeping in contact, so she had known, and we’d been talking. And we decided how to go about it, and storylines and whatnot, so it was all above board, and everyone was in the know.
CARROLL | I wanted to honor whenever Taye felt right — that he’d served his purpose and felt like he’d lived the journey of Billy’s character. And I said, “Whenever that day comes, let’s have that conversation, and make sure you know where I’m taking the character, make sure it’s a mutual decision of, ‘Oh, this kind of feels right for now.’” And in honoring that — because I have a conversation with my cast at the beginning and end of every season, individually — at the end of last season, Taye and I started to have that conversation. And it’s funny, because earlier, I was like, “How am I going to know if it’s mutual?” But crazily enough, as we’re talking at the end of Season 4, he started to talk about Billy’s journey and what I thought the end was, and what he was thinking. And in a weird, organic way, it happened mutually.
TVLINE | Often when a major character dies — especially unexpectedly like this — the reaction from fans tends to be that they didn’t need to die, and they could have been kept alive offscreen. But in this case, did it feel like Billy’s death was the only plausible option here?
DIGGS | Yes. And I think [Carroll] also did. The easiest choice would have been for me to teach at some college, but then given the intensity of the relationships between me and my family, and me and the team, it would not make sense if I was still alive and wasn’t still in contact with these children of mine — these students, these young men that had such an influence on my life. When I was told how I was exiting, I was impressed. [Laughs] No characters I’ve played have ever been dealt with in that fashion. I was honored.
CARROLL | I was like, “Listen, there’s only one way Billy leaves the show.” He would never leave his kids. He would never leave his wife after fighting to get his family back together and go take a coaching gig in Florida. I was like, “Just so we’re all clear, when it is time for Billy to go, there’s only one way he goes.” And I think that part was a surprise to Taye. He was like, “Huh!” But I’d always had that vision in my head, and even though we hadn’t even started Season 5, I knew what it would be, and I knew where it would fall if we did it that season. So I pitched him a whole episode, almost act by act. And there was a moment of silence. I was like, “Oh my God, did I lose him? Did he drop the call? Is he cursing me out in his head?” [Laughs] And then I realized he was actually really emotional. He said, “I never, in a million years, imagined it would be that kind of heroic sendoff.” And I was like, “It’s Billy Baker. Of course it is!” This is a man who takes in other people’s kids as his own. There’s only one way for him to go.
…God bless the cast. It’s their best work. They gave it everything, and did it with that layer [of knowledge] from Episode 1 of Season 5, knowing where it was going. If you go back, you’ll see pockets of moments. You’ll see a moment where Billy’s sitting down with Jordan in a very early episode — it’s Episode 1! — and he says to him, “You need to learn to make these decisions for yourself, because I’m not always gonna be here.” And you see that hit Jordan. It is such a fleeting moment, and it’s not until you go back and watch it that you’re like, “Oh my gosh. They knew.” In some way, it was almost like in his gut, Billy knew he’s not going to be here for long.
TVLINE | I was struck by the decision not to show us the actual moment of Billy’s death in this episode. Tell me about that choice.
CARROLL | For one, I wanted us to experience it and find out with our cast. I wanted us to find out when Spencer was finding out, when Laura was finding out. As we’re watching Spencer piece it together, I wanted us to piece it together, like, “Wait, we just saw him. He was outside the bus. Of course he’s coming home!” I wanted the audience to experience that with the characters, and that’s why I didn’t want to show it at the end of Act 5.
DIGGS | I loved that. I love leaving more to the imagination. It falls right in line with the style of the show. I wouldn’t want that image, you know what I mean? It’s nice that everybody has more positive images by which to remember me.
TVLINE | This death is obviously quite final in many ways, but I assume there could be opportunities for flashbacks or dream sequences. Taye, would you be open to coming back in that capacity?
DIGGS | One hundred percent. I asked for it. [Laughs]
TVLINE | Really!
DIGGS | Yeah, I think it makes sense in a situation like this, with Jordan and Spence and the kids. It would be a waste if we didn’t do that, so I’m definitely open to it. I don’t know if it’s going to happen, but I’m open to it.
TVLINE | Nkechi, is that something you’d be open to, or are flashbacks not something you want to rely on too heavily?
CARROLL | Taye and I talked about what Billy Baker meant to the characters and what Taye means to the All American universe. There’s no All American without Billy Baker, and there’s no All American universe without Taye Diggs. He’s always welcome back and was the first person to be like, “I will happily come back whenever you want me to.” If there are organic moments, and when there are moments that it feels right for Billy to return, that is absolutely something that both Taye and the show would love to make happen. We’re not closing the door on anything or anyone.
TVLINE | Taye, what was it like filming this final episode? Were there any scenes that were especially tough to get through?
DIGGS | [Laughs] I wish I could give you a better story, but on the day that I actually kicked the bucket, it was freezing outside, it was nighttime, nobody wanted to be there. So I was just really happy to be done with it. When it comes to goodbyes, whether it’s on a job or not, these things tend to hit me much later, and right now, it’s starting to settle that I’m not going to see these people next week or next month; I’m not going to see them at work, you know what I mean? But in the moment, it was just another day of work. And it was cool! I loved what was written, and it was fun acting it out. But I wasn’t factoring in that it was the end.
TVLINE | Do you think you’ll watch the episode when it airs?
DIGGS | Sure, sure, sure. I’m always pretty cool with watching myself, but I’ve watched all of All American, mainly because my son’s a huge fan, and we’ve watched it together. I definitely want to see how we go out like that. [Laughs]
Grade Monday’s episode of All American in our poll below, then drop a comment with your reaction to Diggs’ departure.
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