How do people, even members of the same family, deal with their grief differently? That’s the question that The CW‘s All American is seeking to tackle in the episodes following the death of Coach Billy Baker (Taye Diggs).
After spotlighting Billy’s wife Laura (Monet Mazur) and his daughter Olivia (Samantha Logan), Monday night’s episode hones in on how his son Jordan (Michael Evans Behling) is handling the loss of his father — the man he looked up to most.
“You’re gonna see him struggle with certain things that Billy left behind that maybe Billy wasn’t able to finish…and he will continue to be there for others who are still hurting,” Behling told Leak Herald, adding: “You’re gonna see that throughout the rest of the season.”
Over the course of the episode, Jordan struggles to pick up where Billy left off, from fixing household appliances to trying to repair and reinvigorate the GAU football program all on his own. Behling spoke with Leak Herald about the episode, including how Jordan stepping up to the plate will impact his decisions in future episodes and how his own healing will allow him to be there for others.
DEADLINE: How did you feel when you first read the episode and realized how much weight Jordan would be carrying?
MICHAEL EVANS BEHLING: Leading up to getting the scripts, I can remember a lot of the writers and even some producers from the CW, were [teasing that] Jordan had a really big episode. Upon reading the script, I was like,’ Okay, it’s gonna be great. It’s gonna be a good episode, because it kind of allows Jordan to step into this role of filling the void that his father left.’ He’s grieving his father in his own way. Although he’s maybe not necessarily struggling with sobriety like Olivia or lashing out like Spencer, he kind of just steps into the role of being there for everybody, which I love. I love that for him because I think he has a really big heart overall, and to be able to step into that father figure for the household was really exciting for me. You’re gonna see him struggle with certain things that Billy left behind that maybe Billy wasn’t able to finish…and he will continue to be there for others who are still hurting. You’re gonna see that throughout the rest of the season.
DEADLINE: It’s definitely a big deal for Jordan to be the one who steps in to save GAU. Usually, he’d have Billy or Spencer, or both of them, by his side. What does it mean for him to do something like that all on his own?
BEHLING: I thought that it was a very empowering moment for Jordan to step into that role of not only being there for his family, but being there for the team. Spencer decided to step away from the football team and so now it’s up to Jordan to rally the troops. He’s dealing with a lot from AD Barnes [who is] using Jordan’s grief, to basically use against the negative allegations that the school was going through. So for Jordan to step up and put his foot down to AD Barnes, who wasn’t a friend to coach Baker — it was challenging to do…I think it was necessary for his growth as a character.
DEADLINE: Spencer and Billy had both been trying to get Coach Kenny that head coaching job…what do you think it meant for Jordan to be the one who was successful?
BEHLING: I think it’ll make him more comfortable and confident in his decision making overall. We’ve seen him waver in the past, but I think after this episode, we’re going to see his decision making skills really just be enhanced, and then really just be definite and be comfortable and confident in the decisions that he makes as a character. I’m excited for him for the rest of the season, because although he’s lost this incredible part of him, I think that he’s gained the ability to think for himself and not lean on his father as much as he used to. Because in the past, a big decision would come up and the first person he would run to would be Billy. Billy would eventually let him figure it out on his own, but he always had that crutch. His dad passing, as sad as it is and as negative as it is, I think it allows a lot of room for growth for Jordan. I’m excited to see how he handles that.
DEADLINE: I also have to ask about Jordan and Layla. I really loved that scene where she says ‘I love you’ for the first time. It’s so innocent. Somehow, even though Jordan has been married, this still feels like the most serious relationship he’s been in.
BEHLING: I think it’s one of the healthiest relationships we have on the show. I personally love them together. I love what they bring out of each other. With Layla being the strong, independent dope businesswoman that she is, I believe that Jordan can kind of pull her out and make her feel a bit looser. So I like that ying and yang, that push and pull if you will, between the two of them. I just think that they they have a very strong bond, especially now just just given the unfortunate death of Billy Baker. But from childhood to now, they’ve gone from best friends to lovers. This moment where Layla slips and says ‘I love you,’ and then Jordan has been feeling these emotions…probably since they started officially dating, even though he’s kind of had those feelings for her under wraps. Now’s a chance for the relationship to to even blossom in a deeper way.
DEADLINE: We also see Jordan struggle with how to handle Spencer, who has kind of checked out in this episode. He wants to leave GAU, and he says he’s finally focusing on himself…but something is clearly wrong. Is Jordan going to back off like Spencer asked, or is he going to keep trying to support him?
BEHLING: Olivia kind of calls out Jordan for not pressing as hard. Jordan is doing his best to be a mature adult and give Spencer the space that he clearly wants. And then whenever they have that conversation at Spencer’s kickback, Spencer throws it in his face that he’s doing what he has to do for himself. Jordan can’t really say anything about that because Jordan wanted to do the same thing earlier in the season when he wanted to leave himself. Although he wants to be there for his best friend, he understands that he can only push so hard. It almost feels like a breakup between the two friends. They’re always gonna have each other’s back at the end of the day. You’ll see that later in 515, whenever Spencer has his grief episode. They can bicker. They can argue and have falling outs, but I think that they’re always going to have that strong friendship. I remember during the scene with Daniel, arguing at his kickback in his bedroom when he walked away from Jordan and I was feeling heartbroken. Like that’s my best friend walking away from me. And I know that he’s hurting but I can only help him so much. You can only really help somebody who’s willing to accept the help and you know at the time Spencer’s not willing to accept it. I think it’s only going to strengthen their relationship in the end.
DEADLINE: We’re reaching the final third of the season. What can you say about what’s going to happen in these last few episodes?
BEHLING: We are actually filming episode 19 as we speak. The joy is going to come back a little bit. Jordan and Olivia connect in a nice way, and Olivia is going to continue to go through the grief, as is Jordan, of missing their father but…they have a great moment where they get to do something together that they’ve never done. As far as like the ending of the show, I’ve heard a lot of rumors of what’s to come. There’s a few big rumors that are pretty crazy. Some that I know that are for sure. It’ll definitely leave the ‘Spelivia’ fans very curious, because I do know something between the two of them will occur. I won’t go into great detail about what that might be. I’ve also heard something between Jordan and Layla is going to occur. My bosses teased to me a very, very large decision Jordan is going to be faced with in the finale. So I have no idea what that could be given that he’s very solid in his football career. He’s where he needs to be. He knows who he is now. He’s pretty happy and healthy with Layla, so I don’t really know exactly what’s to come. But like all of our other finales, at some point the sh-t is going to hit the fan, pardon my language. I’m very curious to see what that is.