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'SNL' wraps season with cast cliffhanger

Will the Paul Rudd-hosted finale be the last we see of longtime cast members Kate McKinnon or Kenan Thompson?

From left, Cecily Strong as Abby Huntsman, Kate

From left, Cecily Strong as Abby Huntsman, Kate McKinnon as Joy Behar and Paul Rudd as Pete Buttigieg during "The View" sketch on Saturday's "Saturday Night Live."  Photo Credit: NBC / Will Heath

The second most anticipated finale of May 19, 2019, has wrapped, featuring Paul Rudd as host, an emotional (and effective) tribute to Nipsey Hussle by DJ Khaled, SZA, Meek Mill and John Legend, and another appearance by Alec Baldwin as Trump, in a musical cold open based on Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now."

Meanwhile, there were the unusual if not quite obligatory "Saturday Night Live" cliffhangers: Will Kate McKinnon return for the 45th season, or will Kenan Thompson? Or will it be Baldwin, who has threatened or promised to end this impression?

Sea Cliff native McKinnon was in a handful of sketches in the Saturday finale, as was Thompson, and there was no indication from either this was the last time we'd see them from Studio 8H. In fact, Thompson told Ellen DeGeneres recently that he will be almost certainly be back for his 17th season, despite a packed work schedule (NBC just ordered his new Chris Rock-produced sitcom). So that would appear to leave McKinnon and Baldwin.

Let's try to sort through the futures of these two, beginning with McKinnon. Unless a deal has been signed in secret, Saturday's show marks the official end of her current "SNL" contract — 152 episodes, and a run that began back in April of 2012. There's been speculation for months that she'll move on because she's starring in, also producing, the Hulu series about Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, and has a starring role in the Jay Roach-directed movie about Fox News.

But leaving would put both "SNL" and showrunner Lorne Michaels in a difficult spot while forcing a cast rebuild, or at minimum a search for someone who could do what she has done so well for seven years. Replacing McKinnon also means losing half a dozen indispensable political impressions and four (or five) memorable show and "Weekend Update" characters. Along with Thompson, she's the most important cast member, easily the most protean.

 Leaving also puts McKinnon is a complicated spot. As successful as her "SNL" run has been, her big-screen run has been far less so: "Irreplaceable You" and "The Spy Who Dumped Me" (both last year) came and disappeared, before that "Rough Night" ('17), and "Ghostbusters" ('16) too. Everyone agrees McKinnon is a gifted performer but other than "SNL," no one seems quite sure how to showcase those gifts. The Theranos series is a departure — a dramatic portrayal of a living person involved in real-life scandal which could result in jail time. Could this type of role conceivably be a better fit for McKinnon? 

The other factor to consider is her relationship with Michaels. A recent Variety report indicated that their relationship was amicable although talks with "SNL" remained "fluid." There's a wealth of possibilities in that word "fluid," not all or most propitious. McKinnon may be seeking a way to limit her schedule, "SNL" seeking to maximize it. Nevertheless, another season gives "SNL" and McKinnon the time to lay the groundwork for a farewell, if that's what this is really coming to, and after what she's meant for this show, and vice versa, that seems the most likely outcome at the moment. 

Erring on the side of cautious optimism, McKinnon will probably be back for the 45th season, at least part of it, giving her the closure she and "SNL" deserve.

Baldwin: He complains endlessly about this impression, and his complaints are not without foundation. Nevertheless, this has become the most famous Trump impression in the world, and a crowd pleaser. Moreover, "SNL" has finally figured out how to deploy it — intermittently, or as part of a cast ensemble performance, with Saturday's "Don't Stop Me Now" as the latest (effective) example.

Complain away, Alec, but you'll be back too.

The 44th season closer? It was largely a perfect distillation of this 44th season as a whole — in a word, uneven, with a couple of solid sketches, far more so-so ones, a good digital short (in tribute to "Grace & Frankie!"), a memorable Leslie Jones "Weekend Update" appearance, and a world-class spit take by Cecily Strong (as Jeanine Pirro).

In late middle age, "SNL" remains a work in progress, which I suppose is part of its infuriating charm.      

           

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