Pete Davidson Kate McKinnon Cecily Strong Aidy Bryant SNL

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Pete Davidson Kate McKinnon Cecily Strong Aidy Bryant SNL

Get ready for some tough goodbyes. On the season 46 finale of “SNL,” some of the cast dropped major hints that Saturday night’s episode might be their last. In a notable departure from the show’s typical cold open format, the finale began with the longest-serving cast members standing on the blank, black stage discussing the past season. In front of them, was the show’s first full audience since before the pandemic.

Aidy Bryant, Cecily Strong, Kate McKinnon, and Kenan Thompson all got emotional as they reminisced on the ups and downs of a year like no other in studio 6H. “This year was crazy!” said Bryant, kicking things off. “This was the year,” McKinnon started before pausing briefly to catch her breath and hold back her tears. “We realized we’re more than just a cast, we’re a family.” Strong added later, “Thank you for staying with us through an election, an insurrection and an objection that there was an insurrection.”

McKinnon’s emotional delivery sparked rumors across social media that she may not be returning next year. When Variety asked recently how long she might stay with the show after the 46th season wrapped up, McKinnon responded avoidantly, “Umm, gosh, it’s April. It’s early, and I really love working there, and I really love everyone who works there, so we will see.” McKinnon, Bryant, and Strong all began their “SNL” careers in 2012, with Mckinnon making her debut performance towards the tail end of season 37 and Bryant and Strong joining season 38 in the fall as featured players.

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For “SNL”’s longest-serving cast member ever, 2012 was just another year on the job. Kenan Thompson started on “SNL” during the Bush years, 2003 to be exact. And while he has said he’s “never in a rush to leave,” Thompson now has other commitments to keep him busy. His NBC sitcom “Kenan” was just renewed for a second season. Given that it films in Los Angeles, it’s hard to imagine how tenable a cross-country commute will be for the family man in the future.

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Strong and Bryant also have their own projects to tend to. Bryant will return this fall as Annie Easton in the final season of Hulu’s “Shrill.” Meanwhile, Strong was recently spotted in Vancouver on the set of “Schmigadoon!,” an upcoming Apple TV Plus musical comedy series that also stars Keegan-Michael Key. Later on in last night’s episode, Strong showed off her musical chops in a “Weekend Update” bit that many interpreted as her swan song. While reprising her famous impression of drunk Judge Jeanine Pirro, Strong sang Frank Sinatra’s signature send-off tune “My Way” from a giant tank of red wine.

The Weekend Update desk served up another sign that times are potentially changing when Pete Davidson dropped by for a monologue. Halfway through his edgy bit, Davidson got uncharastically sincere and said, “It has been an honor to grow up in front of you guys.” The comment came out of nowhere and stirred up speculation about his exit on social media.

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The last time a large crop of cast members exited “Saturday Night Live” was in 2012 when two of the show’s strongest players in history departed. At the time, an “SNL” without Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg was impossible to envision. But soon enough, the cast members who are now on the brink of graduating became familiar favorites. That’s the thing about “SNL,” it always goes on. What we lose in Kate McKinnon, we gain in Bowen Yang.

Abigail Covington is a journalist and cultural critic based in Brooklyn, New York but originally from North Carolina, whose work has appeared in Slate, The Nation, Oxford American, and Pitchfork

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