Finally, Bruce! As Wilfred heads toward completion, it’s checking off the big character boxes that it needs to check off. Ryan’s dad. Amanda. Drew. And, implied at the end of this episode, Ryan’s mom. But the biggest character for mythology purposes is Bruce, Wilfred’s random, apparently human friend, who is the only other person who can see and talk to the Wilfred that Ryan sees.
Within the show world, this makes Bruce arguably the single most important character outside of Wilfred and Ryan. Because he can see what Ryan sees but he’s not beholden to Ryan’s point of view, we know one of two things. Either Wilfred has an existence outside of Ryan’s mind, or Ryan’s craziness is much more specific than the show had implied. More importantly, Bruce’s existence causes Ryan to wonder about these things, which has generally in the past led to some of the more intriguing episodes of the series—arguably the best episodes of the first and third seasons, even.
That’s not just because Bruce is an in-universe strength, though. As played by Dwight Yoakam, he’s been a fascinating paradox. He’s pleasantly offputting; he’s mysteriously down-to-earth; he’s a mundane mystery. So any reappearance is going to be good…wait. This isn’t Dwight Yoakam. This is…Billy Baldwin?
Baldwin does a good enough job as Bruce, I think, but just the fact that it’s not Yoakam is distraction enough that it’s difficult to engage with “Patterns.” (A distraction that included doing a Google image search for Yoakam, then wondering if hair plugs were supposed to be part of the prosthetic thing going on throughout the episode, then noticing that Baldwin actually did look kinda look like Yoakam, but maybe not that much?) Baldwin doesn’t have the same sort of not-quite-right vibe that Yoakam carries, but he does have a good antagonistic chemistry with Elijah Wood, which is key to this episode, at least.
But the parts of the episode that don’t involve direct confrontation between Baldwin and Wood suffer. The precipitating event of the story, with Ryan realizing that his father’s assistant is the “partner” mentioned in the phone message from a few weeks ago, is treated only as plot. He finds out that it’s true, confronts her, and she caves almost immediately, giving him some more clues. Those clues lead him to a direct moral confrontation with his sense of loyalty to Jenna, who doesn’t know why Wilfred keeps disappearing.
We’ve seen enough Bruce episodes that we know he plays games with Wilfred and Ryan, and savvy viewers will realize that those games are going to continue. Wilfred has the difficult decision of deciding whether to ignore that viewer knowledge and do another Bruce Game episode, or to understand that Ryan, like us, knows what’s up and is likely to be impatient for the twist. It chooses the latter, but I’m not sure that the episode actually benefits from it. The “games” feel too perfunctory because the show embraces Ryan’s impatience, but in the moments where it acts like the older episodes—as when Bruce comes out of the corner of Ryan’s basement, having dressed as a lamp—is when it’s most lively.
This season of Wilfred has apparently decided that its new form involves Ryan slowly tracing his father’s connection to the Grey Shepherd cult through a series of individual guest stars, with connection to either the show as it’s existed prior or with a connection to Ryan’s father. This, combined with the perfunctory way that Ryan deals with the idea of Jenna being single and interested and the recasting of Bruce, makes “Patterns” feel like it exists to check a few necessary boxes for the show to reach the show’s conclusion more than giving one of Wilfred’s best guest stars a showcase before the ending.
- Julie Hagerty is interesting and underused (this week?) as Genevieve. “Your father told me everything. He even told me about the black women.”
- “I can’t afford another pissing ticket.”
- “I’ll never understand money” says Wilfred in one of the few bits of dog humor this week.