Hillary Clinton's Political Afterlife (on Saturday Night Live)

With its latest sketch, a spoof of Love Actually, the show suggests that Clinton still has a role to play in American politics.


During the episode of Saturday Night Live that aired just after the November presidential election, Kate McKinnon, dressed as Hillary Clinton and clad in celebratory/funereal white, sat at a grand piano and performed a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” It was a double-edged dirge: The song was on the one hand a tribute to Cohen, who had died the same week, but it was also a tribute to Clinton herself, and to her saddened supporters—many of whom counted SNL’s audience and creators among their members. The song was also, however, a requiem for someone else: the particular version of Clinton that McKinnon has been playing regularly on Saturday Night Live since 2015, the swaggering, simpering, behind-the-scenes caricature. The version that managed to cartoonify and humanize the actual Clinton, both at the same time—and the version that, now, would not go on to be president, or really, it would seem, to be much of anything worth satirizing.

That Clinton, it turns out, needn’t have said farewell so soon. Since the election, while the actual Hillary Clinton has been extremely selective about the public appearances she has made, the SNL version has been resurrected on the show, in the service of both comedy and advocacy. There Kate-Clinton was, a couple of weeks ago, framed as a kind of political Yeti, gleefully evading determined “Hil Hunters” in the woods of Chappaqua. And there she was again, during this Saturday’s SNL, showing up at the door of an elector, Love Actually-style, and begging that elector not to vote for Donald Trump.

“Hillary Actually” is one of SNL’s best sketches of the year, a clever collision of many of the things that are in the air right now: the holiday season, and with it the many, many televised re-airings of the controversial rom-com; Monday’s vote in the U.S. electoral college; the general anxiety that this particular election managed to have an outcome without also having a full resolution. The sketch was also fitting, though, because Clinton, as McKinnon plays her, is precisely the kind of person who would show up at a stranger’s door, boombox and cue cards in hand, to make a political argument. Here, the comic collisions that made McKinnon-Clinton such a compelling caricature—swagger and neediness, warmth and creepiness, cool control and inadequately contained exuberance—found a new outlet, by way of the personage who may have a name, but who is most accurately remembered as “cue card guy.”

What’s most remarkable about the sketch, though, is what it hints at the continued resurrection of McKinnon’s Clinton character, even as someone not named Clinton prepares to assume the presidency. In SNL’s boombox-stalker version, Clinton isn’t just a caricature; she is also a political advocate. She’s making an argument, and a plea. One of the cue cards Clinton reveals in the sketch offers 16 reasons why the electoral college should vote against Donald Trump. One of them: “He won’t acknowledge Aleppo but he tweets about Saturday Night Live.” Another: “He wants to leave NATO.” Another: “He doesn’t know how the government works.”

Clinton’s final argument is this: “If Donald Trump becomes president… he will kill us all.”

It’s an open question, right now, what the political future of the actual Hillary Clinton will hold. Will she, in the manner of Al Gore, devise alternate strategies for keeping the issues she most cares about in the public consciousness? Will she serve as a party elder? Will she run again? Will she give it all up for a life of Chappaqua-hiking? Whatever the fate of the real Clinton is, though, with “Hillary Actually,” Saturday Night Live might have settled on the future of its fictional version: as a voice of advocacy, and of political resistance. As a hovering specter of what might have been. As a candidate who has become, in the aftermath of her loss, a conscience—and, quite possibly, a Cassandra. In SNL’s estimation, at any rate, Hil, actually, is all around.