Tonight’s live coast-to-coast episode of Saturday Night Live gave us a somewhat defeatist cold open, followed by a charming monologue in which host Melissa McCarthy gave a backstage tour to an audience member named Joan, and a sketch in which McCarthy had her face slammed repeatedly with a whipped cream pie. But it was all just lead-up to the night’s main event, the promised appearance that made this episode one of the most anticipated SNLs in recent memory: McCarthy’s brilliant Sean Spicer impersonation, which was brought out for a familiar press room briefing sketch that quickly transformed into something much more.
SNL doubled down on the edge McCarthy’s impression has brought to the show, leaning into the insecurities her gender-bending performance has allegedly engendered in the president himself.
That’s right — SNL took McCarthy’s gender bending and raised the president a gay joke.
The sketch opened with the now-familiar sight of McCarthy’s Spicer going ballistic on the White House press corps, first hiding in the bushes outside the briefing and then barging into the room to alternately spray a fire extinguisher at reporters and pelt them with props.
“Trump is innocent,” McCarthy’s Spicer insisted, responding to questions about Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey. “How do we know? Because he told us so. Period. And then he hired lawyers to agree with him.”
However, when asked, “What if he’s lying to you?” McCarthy’s Spicer wasn’t ready for the emotional implications of betrayal. “But he wouldn’t do that,” said a choked-up Spicer. “He’s my friend.”
Cut to a renegade trip to Manhattan, featuring previously recorded footage of McCarthy’s Spicer rolling down the street on a mobile podium, looking for Trump to find answers.
“I can’t go back to the Navy, I can’t swim,” muttered McCarthy’s distraught Spicer, following Trump’s trail from Trump Tower to his golf course retreat in New Jersey, where McCarthy finally found Alec Baldwin’s Trump — and then things took a turn.
Unable to quell Spicer’s doubts, Baldwin’s Trump turned to a time-honored technique — sexual assault.
“Kiss me,” said Baldwin’s Trump, over Spicer’s objections that he has a wife. “I’m famous, it’s okay.”
“Is this like The Godfather, when you kiss me and no one ever sees me again?” asked a wary Spicer.
“Yes,” said Baldwin’s Trump, who then proceeded to mash faces with McCarthy’s Spicer as the sketch faded to commercial.
SNL has occupied a complex role in the Trump era, serving both as an outlet for frustration with the Trump administration and as an accidental source of direct opposition to the president. Given that SNL audiences have come to expect the show to function as something of a political battleground, the episode airing the week of Trump’s firing of Comey was always going to be a high-profile episode. That it also happened to feature McCarthy, in a comedic role that has reportedly upset the president, was serendipitous. And by explicitly using that role to make a joke at the expense of the president’s sexuality (and Spicer’s), it seems clear SNL has fully embraced an oppositional role in the new political era.