As Kristen Wiig departs "SNL," what's next for women?

"Saturday Night Live" says goodbye to a star -- and leaves late night without a queen

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published May 21, 2012 3:45PM (EDT)

Mick Jagger and Kristen Wiig during the season finale of "Saturday Night Live"
Mick Jagger and Kristen Wiig during the season finale of "Saturday Night Live"

What, you didn't get to dance with Mick Jagger, hug Jon Hamm and be serenaded by Arcade Fire the last time you left a job? I guess you're not Kristen Wiig.

After seven years on "SNL," Wiig said goodbye on Saturday night's season finale that will go down as one of the sweetest, most choked-up moments on the show since Steve Martin said goodbye to Gilda Radner on the day of her death almost exactly 23 years earlier.

Even without an official announcement, Wiig's twirly, teary departure is enough to make even the most casual fans of the show crank up the Adele and mainline a tub of Edy's Grand. It doesn't matter that fellow castmates Andy Samberg and Jason Sudeikis have reportedly moved on from the show as well. They leave behind established male cast members like Seth Meyers, Fred Armisen and Bill Hader. Wiig, on the other hand, blows a gaping hole in the show's female lineup. The 24-year-old Abby Elliott, who moves up the rung to the show's senior lady cast member, is now its biggest female star. But she's yet to display that versatility or command the clout that Wiig has. Kate McKinnon may yet bust out into full-blown "SNL" stardom, but she's only been on the show for five minutes.

And so, after years of cultivating a stunning roster of formidable female talent -- Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler and Wiig -- the show is, for the moment anyway, back to a state of relative desolation it hasn't seen since the '90s, an era that reached its nadir when Janeane Garofalo bailed midseason. It's a strange, disconnected moment for "SNL," right as women are making grand enough strides in television and film comedy that we've magically attained "labia saturation." And though Wiig will no doubt continue to dominate in movies as a writer and performer, it's sad that she leaves behind no true heirs on a show that, especially in an election year, remains so influential.

Visibly emotional and flanked by current cast members as well as the likes of Chris Kattan, Rachel Dratch, Steve Martin and Chris Parnell, and an especially rollicking Amy Poehler, new alumna Wiig didn't depart "SNL" alone. She took with her Gilly,  the tiny-handed Judice,  Target Lady, Suze Orman and even Tan Mom. Why were so many people red-eyed on Saturday? Because on the stage that night stood a woman with incredibly big shoes to fill – and one very small hat.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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