Wilfred is, in the parlance of our times, a troll. He pushes buttons. He may not win arguments, but simply by making those arguments, he adjusts the level of discourse to his level. He has taken the discourse of Ryan Newman’s life as a forum, and made it his own.
Wilfred as a show, on the other hand, has generally not been a troll. It adopts Ryan’s perspective, telling generally linear stories. There is always ambiguity about what Wilfred might be and what he does, yes, but that’s treated as a character issue and not a formal issue.
Yet when Wilfred breaks that mold—when the show becomes the troll instead of the character—Wilfred can shine. Its best episodes, particularly those with Dwight Yoakam, are often the ones which keep both Ryan and the audience disoriented.
“Answers” falls into this category, and it’s easily the best episode of the season so far. Ryan goes to see the only person whose name, Dr. Grummons he could uncover from his father’s storage unit, a social psychologist played by Rutger Hauer. Much like Yoakam, Hauer is a great bit of casting for the show. He’s got an immediate presence, and his accent tinges his lines in a way that makes him seem just slightly off. (The way Hauer pronounces “stupid” emphatically at the end of the episode is a delight.)
Initially that story begins in typical Wilfred style, with Ryan noticing that Grummons is evading his questions about The Flock Of The Grey Shepherd. The presentation of the scene makes it quite clear that Ryan is correct in his perception—the camera focuses on Grummons’ lack of directness overall, and the acting style is very clearly Television Lying. But eventually he says that if he can use Wilfred as an experiment subject, he’ll answer Ryan’s questions. Wilfred argues a bit, Ryan convinces him, and in the process also discovers Wilfred’s betrayal from the season premiere. All normal.
But as soon as the experiment begins, Wilfred works against the audience instead of simply against Ryan. Grummons drugs Ryan—the handover of the glass of water is given specific weight by the show’s editing, yet Ryan drinks it anyway. So it becomes clear that the show is separating our perspective from Ryan’s, at least enough to indicate that Ryan’s perspective cannot be trusted.
That’s when the fun starts. Ryan immediately starts seeing holes in the experiment. Wilfred is shocked, but the machine that supposedly does the shocking isn’t plugged in. This combines nicely with Ryan’s knowledge that Wilfred has betrayed him, and that harmony in support of the disharmony on screen gives the episode momentum.
“Answers” works well trolling the audience with this “what is real?” for a while, but it quickly becomes clear that it’s largely a hallucination when Kristen shows up and attempts to kung fu fight Ryan into submission. From this point it’s clear that we’re working toward an “it was all a dream” resolution of some kind. But as I mentioned about the premiere, Wilfred is the rare show that can get away with doing that. Instead of being a total disappointment, knowing that it must be a dream is partially exciting, because it means the show can go a little crazy.
And that’s just what happens, as Ryan discovers an increasingly bizarre Truman Show/Synecdoche, NY-style world created just for him. We see Kristen with a different wig, facemasks to represent Jenna, and even Jason Gann taking his Wilfred costume off. The whole thing is a lot of fun, even if the eventual resolution—that yes, it’s a hallucination/paranoia generating drug—is the most predictable. If there’s a downside to episodes like this, it’s that they tend to be more clever than outright funny, but I find that’s a good balance for Wilfred to hit. There are only so many “dogs are funny” jokes it can make, but making me curious about its goals, and impressed with its audacity, will always work.
- “He thinks I’m smart and attractive?” “...sure.”
- Wilfred can’t stop eating. “AHHH! AHHH! Hints of salmon! ARGGG!”
- I mean, Rutger Hauer is just great: “We’re developing this drug for enhanced interrogation. Big money in that.”
- “The idea was to make your worst fears come true. Got that idea from a Batman movie.”
- “The Flock of the Grey Shepherd was only around for a few years.” “Why?” “Because it was sztupid.”
- Krungle is the name of Trickster Wilfred? I’m not seeing a celebrity name this connects to like Matdamon, but that’s not necessarily how my brain works.