The big question hanging over Wilfred as it heads into its final season is, well, its big question: “What is Wilfred?” But it’s the question itself that’s dangling, not the answer. Whether it should be answered, and how it should be answered, those are the questions. Wilfred has generally been at its best when it walks a tightrope between answering the question in multiple different ways (Wilfred as existing spirit vs Wilfred as a manifestation of Ryan’s psyche), but also walking the tightrope between “is Wilfred’s nature important” and “Is this show worthwhile without focusing on that mythology?”
I think in the grand scheme of things, not answering those questions is the best move for Wilfred. This is a show that works best at refusing to be conventional on these terms. It’s the only show I know of that can turn an apparent “it was all a dream” resolution, as it does in this season’s premiere, into a good thing. Yes, the season finale last year moved far too close to giving a resolution, and yes, it killed off Ryan’s father, and Ryan’s fascinating relationship with his father, far too quickly. But was it bad? Not at all. But it may not have set things up well for the final season. Hence we get the dream revelation, a return of Ryan’s father, and a soft reset of the extremes of last year’s finale. But that works because, thanks to episodes like the second-season premiere, the idea that what’s real isn’t what’s important. On Wilfred, more than any other show I can think of, turning a huge plot twist into a dream (that may or may not be prophetic) is legitimately a good idea, and it works with everything the show has ever done.
The methods by which this works are two-pronged. First, in the broad sense, it maintains the mythology of the show as something that is deliberately unknowable. Wilfred is, in screen time, briefly treated as a god or at least something worshiped as a god, but the show almost instantly gets away from that. There is no objective Wilfred. It’s something that maybe some people who are now dead maybe dealt with. That’s it, and that’s good for the show because it gets to continue walking all those tightropes.
Second, reverting much of the previous finale to a dream works because of the episode title and the “moral” that we’re supposed to learn from it, the value of “Amends.” In the most direct sense, Ryan gets to say goodbye to his father as much as he can over 20 minutes, working with him and gaining some respect. Wilfred doesn’t entirely succeed at making me believe that this happened, thanks to it spending more time on its central relationship between Ryan and Wilfred, but it does enough to make me believe that Ryan thinks that it’s happened. Elijah Wood’s terminal earnestness conveys the value of what he’s done, even if much of it is off-screen.
Conceptually this works, but there’s also another huge question Wilfred’s had to deal with: can it deal with all this mythology and “what is Wilfred?” nonsense and still be entertaining? And this is some of the toughest tightrope-walking that Wilfred has done: getting the balance of how long it spends on its Big Questions balanced with being a funny show about a talking dog and his straight-man companion.
Does “Amends” succeed at that? It does well enough. There are a few jokes, primarily Wilfred deliberately ignoring Ryan’s direct questions. (“I’m the Noid? I guess that makes sense. I have destroyed my share of pizzas.”) But its goal is to set up the season more generally, and to try to make it seem like its reframing of the third-season finale is a worthwhile change.
The best we can see of that occurs in the second episode, “Consequences.” To be honest, through the entirety of “Amends,” I was convinced that it was a dream episode, and we’d revert to the status quo established at the end of season three. The end of “Amends” and the entirety of “Consequences” indicated otherwise.
To switch gears for a moment from plot analysis to formal analysis, one of the big issues I’ve had with Wilfred is that it struggles outside of its core Ryan-Wilfred relationship. Their interactions aren’t bad, but they’re increasingly limited without outside help. The best addition the show made was Alison Mack as Amanda in season two, because she was enthusiastic enough, smart enough, and most importantly, weird enough to actually understand the Ryan-Wilfred relationship at some level. James Remar as Ryan’s father tapped into some of that, but his position was always as an antagonist, either to Ryan or to Wilfred, which limited his ability to affect the dynamic of the show.
The main recurring third point in potential triangles across the show’s entire run, though, has been Jenna. Fiona Gubelmann has always been game and managed to invest the character with more weight than “cute neighbor Ryan falls for” but the show has typically returned to that. She’s good, but she ends up not altering the core dynamic in a fascinating enough fashion. Over time, however, Chris Klein as her now-husband Drew does manage that.
Initially, much like Jenna, Drew as an archetype of the sort of dude that Ryan never wanted to be. While effective, that had the unintended side effect of making the show have to start defining Ryan as something specific in a way that it’s generally tried to avoid. (Ryan’s always supposed to be enough of a blank slate that his possible mental illness is entirely sympathetic, and I think this is a wise move.) So Drew has been given more and more specificity, and Chris Klein has risen to the task. He is, by the time of “Consequences,” someone whose earnestness and exciteability make him offputting, instead of the pure masculinity he started as.
There’s no better moment for this than in this episode, when he uses his guitar-playing to mildly berate Ryan for being a poor friend in a way that would be passive-aggressive if anyone else did it, but Chris Klein totally sells it. It’s his ability to drop pretense—instead of maintaining it constantly like Ryan does—that shifts the show’s dynamic. Yet other than Chris Klein, it’s hard to get too excited about any of the episode’s events.
So the question again becomes “can this hold an entire episode together?” Theoretically there’s a mythological reason for the episode’s story—Ryan and Wilfred investigate the cult—but the episode spends very little on this directly. Instead its focus is on revealing that Ryan and Jenna kissed, and, removing both Drew and Jenna from the show as they go to Wisconsin to work things out. On one hand this ensures that the show’s central Ryan-Wilfred relationship must be maintained, but on the other, it strikes me as odd that Wilfred would go through as much trouble in its first two episodes of the season to take out the side characters (including Ryan’s dad) who prevent it from stagnating.
This all makes it rather difficult to judge where the season is going based on these two episodes. In the grand scheme of things, I like what it’s doing. It’s re-centering the series on not knowing and not wanting to know what Wilfred is, which I do like. But on the other hand, I’m not sure it’s doing the right thing for keeping its individual episodic structure from struggling. Or, to put it simply, the more characters it has in an episode, the better Wilfred usually is, so I’m concerned that it seems to be pushing away from that.
- I really liked the multi-Wilfreds, both as the ominous dream figures and the ridiculous children.
- “Ah, these? Yeah, I thought you were dead and I figured you’d want me to move on as quickly as possible.”
- Wilfred uses Reddit. How appropriate.
- A moment of genuine pathos: “I also want my friend back.”
- “And us duuuudes use the same tongue to kiss, as we do to clean our dicks! Jesus, you are slow today!”
- I like that Wilfred wants to be the chosen one, or be the one to choose Ryan. That also introduces a new dynamic into the relationship.
- Drew says he’s in the doghouse. Wilfred explains: “It’s a figure of speech, Ryan. Means he has AIDS.”
- “Oh, god, look at that fungus there. It’s a big, brown polypore. I’m gonna go kick the shit out of it.”
- “Oh, I’m not gonna die, Ryan. Worst case scenario…I lose my leg.” Why are you taking Chris Klein away from me, show.