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Final 'SNL' of the year overshadowed by Pete Davidson's troubling Instagram post

Pete Davidson as Rami Malek during the "Oscar

Pete Davidson as Rami Malek during the "Oscar Host Auditions" sketch on the Dec. 15, 2018, episode of "Saturday Night Live." Photo Credit: NBC/Ava Williams

"Once again, Mark Ronson and Miley Cyrus," then cut to a cover of "Happy Christmas (War is Over").

And with those words, and only those words, Pete Davidson appeared live on the final "Saturday Night Live" of 2018.  At once reassuring and troubling, Davidson's brief moment on-screen is probably the only one fans, or viewers, will remember from this Matt Damon-hosted edition, which was hardly the intention of either Davidson or the show.  

In a somber reminder that real people with real problems play fake people with funny ones on shows like "SNL," Davidson earlier Saturday had posted an ominous message on his Instagram account which he then deleted. As media reports — including a prominent one posted early in the evening on The New York Times' website — noted, the NYPD subsequently sent an officer to NBC, and in a statement confirmed, "We are aware of the post and we are conducting an investigation and welfare check.”

In the post Davidson wrote, "I really don't want to be on this earth anymore. I'm doing my best to stay here for you but i actually don't know how much longer i can last. all i've ever tried to do was help people." A couple of weeks ago Davidson had also referred to online harassment he had been subjected to, using similar phrases.

The troubling episode otherwise overshadowed the entire final edition of the year — a decent one, in fact, with energetic skit performances by the host, and one of those cold opens (Ben Stiller as Michael Cohen, Alec Baldwin as President Donald Trump, Robert De Niro as Robert Mueller, and Damon reprising Brett Kavanaugh) that are engineered to get media attention as much as laughs.

But as cast member and show standout, Davidson is that important, for both "SNL" and his huge fan base. This season has been the season of Davidson — a newsmaker with almost every outing, an outsized presence who became even more outsized in the wake of his breakup with Ariana Grande. Davidson even scaled the fourth wall on the Nov. 3 edition to address their split.

Headlines followed and Davidson found himself further entangled in a 21st century phenomenon known as "Stan culture," in which someone becomes the object of morbidly obsessive attention by fans and detractors. Stan culture went into hyperdrive when he apologized on-air to Lt. Com. Dan Crenshaw for a joke he had told on "Weekend Update." The apology segment, in which Crenshaw also appeared, went viral.

Davidson's appeal on "SNL" has long been subject of those unresolvable "is it talent or charisma?" debates, although to resolve it here, it's equal parts both. More than any other cast member, his private life then became part of his "SNL" persona — someone haunted by tragedy  (his father, Scott, a firefighter with Ladder 118 in Brooklyn, died on 9/11) who smirks into the abyss.

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