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SNL season 46
Image: Time Out/NBC

Is 'SNL' about to lose some of its biggest stars?

The season finale has fans worried about their favorite cast members

By Andy Kryza
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SNL wrapped up its unprecedented 46th season this weekend with perhaps the best episode of its current run, with The Queen’s Gambit’s Anya Taylor-Joy diving into hosting duties and Lil Nas X lighting up the stage (and ripping his pants) in an instantly iconic performance of “Montero (Call Me By Your Name).” 

It was a celebration after a tough season that saw cast members transition from quarantine videos to socially isolated sketch work, all while a pandemic and an election raged. The mood in studio 8H was downright giddy, no-doubt energized by the year's first full (and fully vaccinated) audience. But many viewers detected particularly bittersweet undertones from some of the more seasoned members of the cast, leading to intense speculation about who may not be returning for the show’s next season.

It all started in the cold open, which ditched the usual political satire for a heartfelt all-cast retrospective of their chaotic, frightening year. With longtime players Aidy Bryant, Kate McKinnon, Kenan Thompson and Cecily Strong front-and-center—and Bryant visibly crying as the camera began to roll—speculation immediately arose that this could be the final appearances by the cast members, as well as Pete Davidson. 

Here’s who fans fear has taken the stage for the last time, and why they may or may not be right.

Kenan Thompson

Seasons on SNL: 17
Thompson is the longest-serving cast member of all time. He’s also an extremely busy man, with his NBC sitcom Kenan in full swing and multiple other projects vying for his attention along with fatherhood. Still, despite Thompson’s jet-setting between LA, NY and his Florida home, the laid-back sketch mainstay seems content to remain, telling Variety that he’s been eyeing a 20-season run and indicating sticking around until the show’s 50th anniversary. 

Plus, Thompson was barely in the season finale—a rarity for the performer, who typically anchors sketches. If the sendoff for the longest-serving cast member in show history is to feature him as a wordless janitor in a sketch about Vin Diesel going to the movies, then SNL just did a legend dirty. His departure seems most unlikely.

Aidy Bryant

Seasons on SNL: 9
Bryant has been conspicuously absent for much of season 46, likely due to her commitment to the final season of her Hulu hit Shrill. That alone has led to speculation about her departure. But on the finale, Bryant was conspicuously present, showing up in pretty much every single sketch. It could be her making up for lost time, or it could be a matter of the writers sending the star off with a big night. 

Byant’s IMDB page is looking wide open at the moment, so it’s entirely possible she sticks around for another season, especially if frequent sketch BFF McKinnon likewise stays. Still, Bryant’s tears at the top of the show could be more than tears of relief after a difficult season.

Kate McKinnon 

Seasons on SNL: 10
More than any other woman on the show, McKinnon has seen her star rise, having starred in a series of high profile films like Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, Rough Night and The Spy Who Dumped Me. She’s also got a new Tiger King-based project in the hopper for Peacock, NBC’s streaming service. McKinnon is an SNL institution at this point, but she too broke during the opening, choking up while delivering the line “we realized we are more than just a cast, we’re a family.” 

However, McKinnon has been breaking character constantly this season — her COVID fatigue is built into frequent character breaks as Dr. Wenowdis — and like Kenan, she wasn’t as front-and-center as usual this episode. She’s the heir apparent to Kristen Wiig, and given that performer’s massive sendoff in 2012, you’d think McKinnon would get some real fireworks when her tenure ends.

Pete Davidson

Seasons on SNL: 6
Davidson’s tenure on SNL has been rocky: For a while, the show didn’t seem to know what to do with the stony, lanky goofball, especially when his mental-health issues became tabloid fodder in the wake of his very public relationship with Ariana Grande. Davidson previously spoke about his difficulties with the show and desire to leave. 

In season 7 he hit his stride as both a performer and a team player, but with a well-received starring turn in Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island last year and upcoming roles in The Suicide Squad and more, the end might be nigh. Curiously, Davidson signed off his recurring Weekend Update correspondence piece with a cryptic “It’s been an honor to grow up in front of you guys,” which seems to seal the deal in many fans' minds.

Cecily Strong

Seasons on SNL: 9
Strong has been a backbone of the show for nearly a decade, bringing song-and-dance bravado and wild characterizations throughout, none more iconic than her turn as Fox News blowhard Jeanine Pirro. 

Strong had a big night across the board, but her Update piece as Pirro was an all-timer as she bullseyed Colin Jost with long-range splashes of red wine while wading in a giant box of White Girl Wasted Wine. Along with Jost’s introduction referencing “parting thoughts,” Strong/Pirro ended the appearance singing Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” a song whose introduction begins “now, the end is near.” The appearance is one of Strong's absolute best. If this is indeed the end, it’s an instance of a legend going out legendarily.

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