If there was any big “reveal” for Wilfred's true nature that would make me laugh more than “Perception”'s brief, magnificent implication that Wilfred is an alien, I'm not sure what it would be. It taps directly into television history, for one thing. The most obvious reference is probably to The Flintstones' supporting player The Great Gazoo, who could only be seen by a few characters, much like Wilfred with Ryan. Or he's like Poochie, the Rockin' Dog, the famous Simpsons one-off character who was written out of Itchy And Scratchy by needing to return to his home planet. The reference humor is great here—the Poochie episode is one of my favorites both to watch and declare the start of the decline of The Simpsons—but it's also unexpected. Of all the explanations for Wilfred's existence, that's quite possibly the worst at every level except the one that refers back to cartoons past.
It's also funny because it's such an obvious troll-job. I'm not certain we'll ever have a definite answer given about Wilfred's nature, but even if we do, it seems pretty clear that it'll be something more than “he's a spirit” or “he's Ryan's insanity,” let alone a “he's an alien” appearing out of nowhere. So its appearance in the middle of an episode that was seeming to promise great revelations about Ryan's mental state was delightful.
It was also clever. The “who's Wilfred really?” subplot running through the episode's conceit, Ryan going to therapy, served as an excellent distraction from the core of the episode, Ryan's memories of his father. Both Ryan and the audience were down the rabbit hole, looking for Wilfred's truth, when the real point for both him and us is something a lot simpler: Ryan's dad is human. He, too, was hurt when he signed Ryan's mom into a mental institution, something Ryan had conveniently forgotten. But that's probably not enough to hang a full, comedic episode on, so the distraction is structurally wise as well as good characterization.
The depiction of the therapy itself was also much more interesting than most shows. Lance Reddick, best known for his portrayal Cedric Daniels, protagonist of The Wire (yeah, I'll argue that), makes for a fine TV therapist. He seems smart, shows enough glimpses of a sly sense of humor to fit in Wilfred's world, and has enough humanity to make the Generic Therapist thing work. The experimental procedure he recommends also seems accurate, in that it fits in with what I've been learning about different strains of therapy where distractions are used. The net effect isn't so different from a TV show where something like, say, hypnosis is used in therapy, but I appreciate the show not resorting to that cliché.
“Perception” also serves as a great example of an episode with a narrow focus but maintaining a high level of ambition. Although a few more actors appear in the flashbacks, it's still mostly just Ryan, Wilfred, and the therapist. But it's also an episode that focuses on the series' core question of Wilfred's nature, pushes the characterization forward, and manages to be damn funny all at once. It's great Wilfred.
- “You know, dogs can be very therapeutic. Why don't you bring him in? Can help you relax.”
- For the relative seriousness of the episode, a lot of good dog humor: “Ryan, please respect my space. I'm not even joking. Oh, wow. I always forget how heavenly that does actually feel.”
- And also this: “But when I dug it up, what I found was a happy, squeaky rubber bone.”
- “Shhh. I'm a creation of your mind, and I'm here to deliver a very important message to you. Don't. Trust. Wilfred.”
- “Then how come I found it when I was digging around in the yard the other day?” Ryan being one step ahead of Wilfred, and even some of the audience, is always when the show is at its best.
- “But now it's time for me to return to my home planet.” POOCHIE!
- “And that…I can only assume that's…blood?” Not a good trick, Wilfred. Not at all.