After more than 16 years of exasperation, mirth and downright anger directed towards American politics, Jon Stewart sat behind the desk for his final episode of The Daily Show Thursday night. But, rather than going out with an embodiment of what the show was known for - offering an informed, yet humorous take on the current state of global affairs - Stewart's last 45 minutes were, in large part, essentially a montage of ... well, everyone that's been associated with the show, even peripherally, since its incarnation.
What started as an amusing segment featuring former correspondents covering the just-completed Republican presidential debate quickly nosedived into a drawn-out parade of Stewart's current and former colleagues - including John Oliver, Lewis Black, Kristen Schaal, John Hodgman, Larry Widmore, Steve Carell, Rob Corddry, Josh Gad, Olivia Munn, Ed Helms and Samantha Bee, just to name a fraction - bidding him goodbye.
But the brief, rapid-fire cameos built up to the standout moment: An extended monologue from Stephen Colbert that started with a metaphor comparing himself and Stewart to Sam and Frodo from The Lord of the Rings and culminated with a touching tribute to his former boss, and left Stewart in tears.
"We owe you, because we learned from you," Colbert told Stewart. "You are infuriatingly good at your job, and all of us, all of us ... who were lucky enough to work with you for 16 years are better at our jobs, because we got to watch you do yours. And we are better people for having known you."
Stewart's replacement, Trevor Noah, also made an appearance, measuring the dimensions of the set to make sure it fit his specifications. Stewart's predecessor, Craig Kilborn, also showed up briefly. And politicians including Hillary Clinton, Chris Christie, Rahm Emanuel, Lindsey Graham, John Kerry and John McCain, as well as fellow news commentators Bill O'Reilly and Wolf Blitzer, also bid farewell to Stewart in a pre-taped segment.
The second half of the episode turned the tables, allowing Stewart to pay tribute to his staff with a pre-taped short film - which, truth be told, played mostly like an inside joke among a group of colleagues, with the audience left mostly in the dark.
"The thing I'm going to miss most about this place is the people I work with," Stewart said as he introduced the segment, getting choked up again. "This is the most beautiful place I've ever been, and I'll never have that again."
Stewart struggled to keep his emotions in check for most of the episode, no more so than in his final monologue, the topic of which was, well, bulls---.
"Bulls--- is everywhere," Stewart began. "There is very little that you will encounter in life that has not been in some ways infused with bulls---. ... So whenever something's been titled 'Freedom,' 'Family,' 'Fairness,' 'Health,' 'America,' take a good, long sniff. Chances are it's been manufactured in a facility that may contain traces of bulls---."
"The good news is this," he continued. "Bulls----ers have gotten pretty lazy, and their work is easily detected. Looking for it is kind of a pleasant way to pass the time. like an I Spy of bulls---. So I say to you tonight, friends, the best defense against bulls--- is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something."
Stewart then thanked his staff, his audience, his wife and kids, and offered these final words: "This is just a conversation. This show isn't ending. We're merely taking a small pause in the conversation - a conversation which, by the way, I have hogged. And I apologize for that. ... So, rather than saying goodbye or good night, I'm just going to say, I'm going to go get a drink. And I'm sure I'll see you guys before I leave."
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band closed out the episode, dedicating a performance of "Land of Hope and Dreams" and 'Born to Run'" to Stewart.
And there we have it. While it was a bit of a slog, Stewart's last Daily Show, in a way, was a stark forecast of the void he will leave behind now that he's officially departed. The segments were undoubtedly a touching tribute for those involved, and longtime fans surely welcomed seeing some of their old favorites back in the studio. But it's also certain that that more than a handful of viewers were most keen to hear Stewart's breakdown of the debate that had just taken place - and the absence of this (due to the bulk of the show being taped Thursday afternoon) was a depressing reminder that, in what's sure to be 14 months chock-full of political shenanigans, there will be one important voice missing from the analysis.
What did you think of the final episode of The Daily Show? Sound off in the comments!