The bizarrely spotty ideology games “SNL’s” been playing this season are nothing new, but this week presented a conundrum: With so much left unsaid in some cases, and brilliantly incisive and subtle comment in others, we may be looking at an evolution of the way the show converses with the outside world: Or at the least, and more and more apparently, at a battle for the spirit of the show, behind the scenes.

It’s a sentiment we’ve expressed before, as this shambling teenager of an ensemble tries to finds its way in the world, but never have the soft-pedals been this soft at the same time that the more hardcore satire’s been this biting. It’s a bizarre Texas Two-Step — for every freshly expressive “Well for Boys” there’s a toxic piece of crap like “Gay Robot” — but this week is the loudest either side has come at the world, and it made for a roller-coaster.

Witnesses for the Persecution

On the one hand you have muddled pieces like “Translator,” which seems to consider itself bratty and “oh bondage up yours” about politics — but then comes skidding to a halt every time there’s a suggestion it may have an actual viewpoint:

Or this cold open, which serves literally no purpose whatsoever except to justify paying Kenan Thompson and Alec Baldwin for showing up:

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Even “Weekend Update” cleaned itself up a little this week, thanks to newer blood like Pete Davidson:

..And Alex Moffat as a pitch-perfectly contemptuous Al Franken against a giddy — and brutally side-swiping, and under-the-breath righteously angry — Kate McKinnon’s Jeff Sessions:

(Actually, it’s worth noting that McKinnon spent the night in a state, by turns spastic and enraged, and to all appearances having the time of her freakin’ life. She’s a consummate professional with a brilliant, white-hot chaotic genius inside, and this episode was a serious display of all of it. Get her going and off her rocker, and she’s as vertiginous to watch as a Melissa McCarthy when she’s fully in it, or Vanessa Bayer whenever the camera decides to zero in on the wild cartwheels going on behind her eyes.)

Lorde did her Lorde thing which, for those who like that sort of thing, is the sort of thing they would like:

Creative Genius

First we have “Olive Garden,” a boring setup packed full of weird, knowing, uncomfortable details like Beck Bennett’s director’s unconscious Mammy voice whenever he’s addressing Leslie Jones, Mikey O’Day’s o-face, and Kenan Thompson delighting himself as usual:

The ending sketch, in which Scarlett and Kenan deliver “deep circuit stuff” during a mild-mannered white Boomer’s funeral, which isn’t notable for the performances or the writing or the songs, but which provides a moment of sheer Aidy Bryant delight at the very end:

And while both of those have enough creative weirdness under the surface to give us hope about the future of the season, we really fell for this digital short about Logo’s “Fire Island,” which shouldn’t work — and still leaves a yucky taste — but at least knows what it’s going for: A serious question about why the stereotypes about gay men and women are so vastly different and gendered, and how much we as Americans, gay or straight, tend to go nuts for them no matter how damaging or ugly they are, because backhanded representation still feels like representation, even when it’s not.

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Whether the show takes active part in exactly this by doing the sketch, who can say. But it’s funny because it’s true, and if we felt half as comfortable going in on white gay men as we do crackin’ on gay women, maybe they wouldn’t end up so damaged in the first place.

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The Give & Take

Still confused by the difference between “Weekend Update” and the rest of the show? Here’s one of the most embarrassing “Weekend Update” jokes all season, which — if it doesn’t make you see red, not sure where to go from here:

And then there’s this brilliant bit, which never explains itself or stoops to anything, just tells a very clear truth very simply and without blinking. Incredible stuff.

Episode MVP

Would go to the Kyle Mooney/Beck Bennett/”women” joint above, except that there was this, the viral hit of the week and possibly top of the list for the season. If only the show could just stake its flag here once and for all, because the result is incandescent and admirable:


“Saturday Night Live” airs at 11:29 p.m. ET/PT on NBC. Louis CK hosts, with Colin Jost’s favorite band of all time the Chainsmokers, on Apr. 8.

Posted by:Jacob Clifton

Austin writer & critic, formerly editorial at Tribune Media & Gawker; Television Without Pity, BuzzFeed, Austin Chronicle, Tor.com and more.