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Saturday Night Live Returns With a Sincere Take on Last Week’s Election

Sometimes, there are moments when even the best jokes can’t really sum up what everyone seems to be feeling. Sometimes, only music can accomplish that. When SNL opened last night’s episode with Kate McKinnon sitting alone at a piano, dressed in-character as Hillary Clinton and singing “Hallelujah” by the recently-passed Leonard Cohen, it was moving in its simplicity.

SNL–and the NBC network, by extension–has been on the receiving end of a lot of entirely valid questioning lately for their almost tacit normalization of Donald Trump, from bringing him on to host last year to late night host Jimmy Fallon ignoring the opportunity to ask Trump any challenging questions and instead literally resorting to tousling his hair.

Criticism, however, could be set aside in the three minutes when McKinnon was on stage–and although she may have been dressed as the HRC character we’ve come to know and embrace over these last few months there was a moment when the facade clearly dropped, and it was entirely about McKinnon expressing the sincerity of her emotions–perhaps many of the emotions some of us have been experiencing since the reality of Tuesday night started to set in. When the song finally ended and she turned to camera, there was no mistaking who was really speaking: “I’m not giving up, and neither should you.”

It was unquestionably a night of acknowledging emotional highs and lows from then on: host Dave Chappelle, who spent his opening monologue on over ten minutes of his own stand-up, ended it all with an offer to the president-elect: “I’m going to give him a chance, and we, the historically disenfranchised, demand that he give us one too.” However, the show didn’t shy away from calling attention to some other, less friendly aspects of the election results; the “Election Night” sketch, which featured a surprise appearance from Chris Rock, juxtaposed the increasing feelings of dread many experienced as the night went on with a smart, incisive commentary on the truth that racism isn’t simply limited to one area of the country:

There were other highlights for fans of the comedian, including a Walking Dead-inspired sketch in which Chappelle resurrected many of his popular characters from his former Comedy Central show The Chappelle Show, and musical guests A Tribe Called Quest only added to the affective spirit of the evening with their performance of “We The People…”, an eerily appropriate song in its timing.

There were laughs, sure, and there’s no question that in the aftermath of last week many of us are searching for anything that will ease some of the weight. Last night’s SNL seemed to acknowledge that laughter isn’t permanent, and it certainly isn’t a solution–but it’s there for us when we need it, and we’re definitely going to need it to get through the next four years.

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