“Tonight will be an awful lot like the third Lord of the Rings movie: You don’t really want to watch but, hey, you’ve gotten this far,” said Tom Hanks as moderator Chris Wallace during Saturday Night Live’s opening skit.
The quip matched the mood for their third and final debate skit, modeled after the third and final presidential debate held last Wednesday. Kate McKinnon returned as Clinton, calculating and overly eager as usual, as did Alec Baldwin, whose mastery of Trump’s mannerisms only improved since last week. But with the election finally slogging towards its conclusion, it almost seemed like SNL didn’t have enough new material to work with.
“In the first debate, I set the table. In the second, I fired up the grill,” McKinnon-as-Clinton said. “Tonight, I feast.”
Baldwin, for his part, mimicked his real-life counterpart’s restrained start. “Tonight I am a sweet baby Trump,” he whispered softly.
“Our first question is about reproductive rights…” Hanks then began.
“They’re ripping babies out of vaginas!” Baldwin immediately thundered.
McKinnon added she was eager to discuss the topic as “a woman who’s had a child and taken birth control,” she said, before turning to Baldwin, whom she described as “a man who is a child and whose face is birth control.”
We’ve been here before. So familiar are the candidates’ foibles that at one point, when Baldwin repeats Trump’s “bad hombres” line from the debate, McKinnon simply pulled out a large “Trump Bingo” card. Already circled are lines the real Trump actually said: “rapists,” “Miss Piggy,” “They’re all living in hell,” and “If she wasn’t my daughter.” Waiting to be filled in are “Oriental,” “Uggo,” and “N-word.”
The skewering of Trump, which had been well-crafted in the past two skits, largely returned to cheap gags. Baldwin’s Trump refers to Mexico’s president as “Mr. Guacamole—excuse me, Senor Guacamole” and brags about his endorsements: “I’ve got Sarah Palin, I’ve got Chachi, I’ve even got the best Baldwin brother—Stephen Baldwin.”
And when SNL returned to the topic of Trump’s alleged sexual misconduct, the show scrapped the deftness with which it handled the issue last week and went for humiliation. “Nobody has more respect for women than I do,” Baldwin said at one point, mirroring his counterpart’s answer on Wednesday. A montage of people laughing at him followed.
“Settle down, world, settle down,” Hanks implored.
One marked difference was the show’s tenor toward Clinton. Jokes about her flaws and missteps, played up in McKinnon’s previous iterations, felt more pointed as the real Clinton’s lead grows more comfortable. When Hanks asks McKinnon about recent releases by WikiLeaks, for example, McKinnon began to answer before inexplicably pretending to see a friend off-camera, and then switching to Trump’s misdeeds.
“So you’re just never going to answer a question about your emails?” Hanks asked.
“No, but it was very cute of you to try,” McKinnon replied.
Other jabs accompanied the performance, both subtle and direct. When Baldwin plays the “nasty woman” line essentially straight, McKinnon urges her supporters to condemn Trump’s toxicity by buying ready-made coffee mugs emblazoned with the insult on her website. In her closing argument, McKinnon posed a simple question: “Who do you trust to be your president: the Republican or Donald Trump?”
That doesn’t mean the show went easy on Trump, of course. Unlike in past performances, in which he ranged from buffoonish to predatory, Baldwin often delivered Trump’s lines without any of the usual comedic trappings. The grim absurdity of it all was its own levity.
“Because of you, I am winning every poll taken outside of a Cracker Barrel,” he told his supporters with a straight face as the sketch drew to a close. “And on November 9, be sure to check out Trump TV—you’re gonna hate it,” he added.
SNL didn’t address Trump’s angry critique of them last weekend, but a brief exchange during the skit seemed apt. At one point, Baldwin-as-Trump railed against the mainstream media for treating him horribly, much like Trump himself does multiple times a day.
How is the media biased against him, Hanks asked?
“By taking all of the things I say and all of the things I do and putting them on TV,” Baldwin replied.