Critic's Notebook: Final Episode of 'The Kelly File' Showcases Megyn Kelly at Her Best

Screengrab/Fox News

In her final program for Fox, Kelly dealt with hard news stories, including the horrific Fort Lauderdale, Fla., shooting, before delivering a modest and classy farewell speech.

Friday night’s episode of Fox News’ The Kelly File was far more dramatic than usual. But it wasn’t because it was the host’s final program for the network, although that aspect provided a moving coda. Rather, it was because much of the show was devoted to the horrific shooting at Florida's Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport earlier in the day.

What could have been expected to be a sentimental finale filled with highlight clips from past episodes was instead a typically hard-hitting, wide-ranging episode. It demonstrated just how much of a loss Kelly’s departure will be for Fox, especially considering that her replacement in the coveted primetime spotlight is the far less talented Tucker Carlson.

Kelly was somewhat hamstrung throughout the hour by a delayed FBI news conference that necessarily would interrupt the broadcast. She made frequent references to that possibility, but it wasn’t until the program was over that Fox cut to the press conference already in progress.

It remains to be seen whether Kelly successfully can transfer her talents to NBC, which ambitiously plans to allot her both a daytime talk show and a Sunday-evening newsmagazine directly opposite 60 Minutes. This final edition of The Kelly File once again demonstrated that she’s been one of the saner voices at Fox News, which is sorely in need of more of them.

Kelly is particularly good with interviews (even if her recent attempt at a Barbara Walters-style primetime special didn’t exactly show her at her best). In Friday night’s first segment, she talked with New York Congressman Pete King, who tried to make the case that the airport shooter was somehow connected to ISIS because he had once walked into an FBI office and said that he had heard voices telling him to watch ISIS videos.

Kelly pushed back hard, arguing that, at this point, there were no indications that the perpetrator had any connections with the terrorist organization.

“I’m not trying to exonerate ISIS … I’m just saying,” she concluded.

The next segment was devoted to the public disclosure of the intelligence report concluding that Vladimir Putin meddled in the election to help Donald Trump. Kelly could barely mask her smirk while speaking to Pete Hoekstra, a former member of the House Intelligence Committee and now a Trump adviser, who blathered on while trying to poke holes in the report.

“So, not to put too fine a point on it, you don’t believe it,” she summed up.

Kelly was similarly skeptical while interviewing Marc Thiessen, a resident fellow of the conservative American Enterprise Institute and a Fox News contributor, who claimed that the whole thing was Hillary Clinton’s fault because she had a private email server. But even Thiessen was baffled by Trump’s inability to acknowledge the Russian involvement.

“He’s trying to get along with Vladimir Putin,” Kelly brusquely informed him. “He doesn’t want to get off on the wrong foot.”

The rest of the show featured segments concerning the battle over GOP efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, with Kelly deftly moderating a heated debate between two guests on opposite sides of the issue, and Congress’ certification earlier in the day of Trump’s election victory. She had some fun with the latter, especially the efforts by several House Democrats to raise objections.

“They had to do it, they could not resist!” said Kelly, laughing, noting that it was Joe Biden who delivered the quote of the day by announcing, “It is over!”

And so it was for The Kelly File, with the host delivering a poignant farewell in the closing moments. Her closing remarks were classy and modestly brief.

“A final word before we go,” she began. “Night after night, you have welcomed us into your homes for some of the biggest moments in recent history. We have tried to live up to the honor of being there.”

“I am sincerely grateful for your trust, your patience and your good humor over the years, which is one of the reasons that saying goodbye is so hard,” she continued. “But the truth is, I am lucky to have been doing a job whose ending is bittersweet. I leave you knowing I am better for having been here. I hope you feel the same. Thank you for everything. And I’ll see you again, soon.”

Kelly has been a major star at Fox, and she’s taking a risk with her jump to NBC. The failure rate for daytime talk shows, even those featuring such prominent personalities as Jane Pauley and Anderson Cooper, is very high. And finding the proper balance between hard news and soft features will prove particularly daunting. But she’s clearly got the intelligence, the savvy, and — as her brushes with Donald Trump demonstrated — the guts to succeed.