I’ve been more than a little obsessed with last Saturday’s SNL sketch depicting Kellyanne Conway and CNN’s Jake Tapper.
Normally I’ll watch a sketch once — or if it’s really good, twice. I think I’ve watched this one 15 or 20 times. So, yeah, not normal.
If you haven’t seen it yet, view it below. If you have seen it, watch it again.
I think what works so well here – besides the nods to Fatal Attraction and Death Becomes Her – is that the characters’ motivations make the startling escalation so believable.
Kate McKinnon’s Kellyanne is so desperate to get back on the news, she’s willing to up her game each time Beck Bennett’s Jake refuses her – eventually resorting to assault and death threats.
Jake wants her to accept his decision not to allow her on his show, and he’s willing to give her some latitude if it lets her accept the truth on her own without him having to force some sort of result. But reasoning with her is futile, and ultimately he’s forced to give in to her demands.
But that’s only one level of this story. Another level pits them against each other on opposite sides of a public war.
Jake is a journalist and Kellyanne is counselor to the president – and not just any president, but one who’s highly suspicious of the media.
You can see the weight of that truth come into play at minute 1:15, when Jake wants to remove himself from Kellyanne’s grasp. He lifts his right hand but seems to think better of the action. He realizes he can’t place hands on her, even in a defensive move, and risk the possible outcome – like, say, any assault charges she might bring against him should this exchange get any more physical.
Maybe it’s a stretch that Jake considers all the potential outcomes of his actions in the span of a second. And, yes, his hand raise could be merely a gesture of frustration.
But he does it again at minute 2:08, when Kellyanne catches him on his way to the front door and shoves him against the wall in a one-handed choke hold. He lifts his left hand as if to stop her, but resists the urge – at least until she lowers her hand and he can kind of brush her away rather than push or grab at her.
It’s subtle, but it’s there, and it explains why he seemingly lets her get away with so much. She’s a small woman. He could have easily guided her by the shoulders and attempted to shove her out the door. (He doesn’t know she has a second knife hidden on her.)
But he doesn’t throw her out, maybe in part because he’s a decent guy or he’s just so overwhelmed in the moment. But I think it’s also because he can’t risk the possible hellstorm she could rain down on him. She has an office at the White House, and since, with every passing second, she seems to become more and more unhinged, there’s really no telling how she might use her public platform against him.
In the sketch’s final moment, she seals that implication. Unflappable and unbreakable, she can’t be stopped. And now that she’s forced compliance from Jake, she owns him.
I find this whole thing fascinating from a storytelling standpoint. Every line, every action works so well.
At face value, this is stunning, biting, well-crafted satire to rival SNL’s best. But below it all is a world of subtext that I think sets this one apart.