Wilfred’s endgame became apparent tonight, or at least it seemed to. For an entire episode, the focus was on Jenna coming to terms with Wilfred’s loss of a leg, Wilfred coming to terms with his potential death, Jenna and Ryan coming to terms with their relationship, and Wilfred saying goodbye to Bear. It was, above any other episode that I can remember, the least focused on what was going on with Ryan’s head. Ryan was the stable emotional center, not trying to figure out anything about himself, nor about Wilfred.
In fact, other than the very end, where Wilfred offhandedly declares that he must be a god, there isn’t really anything about what his nature is. The show is just a story of a normal guy with a crush on his normal neighbor who happens to hear his neighbor’s pet speak. Ryan seems to be, for all intents and purposes, cured of the issues he was facing from the opening of the first episode until the death of his father. Since then, the show has—usually through the veneer of tracking down “who Wilfred is” but not always—had him go and demonstrate some level of progression and maturity. If Wilfred is a show about Ryan coming to terms with himself, then it’s made that claim quite well.
The slight downside of that is that Wilfred loses most of what makes it unique. Wilfred becomes the wacky neighbor in a relatively conventional, though sweet, sitcom. And, you know, in this case it’s nice. The Wilfred-Bear relationship has consistently been a part of the show, even if it hasn’t quite been as consistently funny as the writers perhaps thought it was. But giving them a touching goodbye, albeit one with a bit of a stinger at the end, was unexpected and quite pleasant.
I’m not quite so keen on Ryan and Jenna finally consummating their relationship, however. This is largely because I’ve rarely been sold on their relationship as a necessary and good thing. Wilfred has generally presented Jenna as a sort of default goal/reward for Ryan: if he gets his shit together enough to make a move, he’ll get the girl.
Meanwhile, the series itself has struggled to portray Jenna as a person, let alone a person worthy of being that reward. Far too often she’s been pushed into the role of the “responsible nag,” which is a problem for multiple reasons. First, that’s not a fun role or a good character—television gets boring if the people who want everyone else to do boring things win. Second, it’s not a great use of Fiona Gubelmann, who can be fantastic when called upon to be funny or charming while the show wants her to regularly be angry or upset. Third, the role of the nag is a gendered one, and when Wilfred brings it out, it makes it clear how much of the series depends on certain gender expectations in order to succeed.
That is to say, the idea that a man can fuck up his life, repeatedly, and the lives of the people around him and get second, third, and tenth chances for redemption. Meanwhile the women around them have their lives subsumed by those men. Who is Jenna apart from a person peripherally associated with Ryan? This was part of why I liked Amanda so much—she was a woman who existed with her own needs and wants, and made dirty jokes that kept Ryan off-balance. Jenna mostly just instigates plots and reacts to Ryan and Wilfred.
With that said, yes, there needed to be some kind of resolution, and it’s not like this one didn’t make a certain kind of sense. Plus with a couple more episodes to go there’s plenty of room for the show to question and interrogate their budding relationship. For example, I thought and hoped that Ryan’s “confession” to Jenna after they slept together would be that Wilfred talks to Ryan, but no such luck. That, or a return in force from Drew and/or Amanda would cause some chaos in the “Ryan’s sanity is rewarded with Jenna” plotline.
Finally, “Courage” may have been aimed more at emotional resonance than jokes, but it was aided along the way by having some of the best of the show’s traditional “dog humor” of the season. Perhaps it’s the slight alteration of Wilfred only having three legs, or the acceleration of him believing that he was dying, or even that it was working against sweetness instead of the show’s usual cynicism or conspiracy, but the jokes generally landed, especially the physical humor of Ryan grabbing Wilfred’s tail after Wilfred explained his convoluted plan to catch the thing.
It’s hard to know if “Courage” is the model for the show’s ending, or just the emotional calm before the mythology-based storm. Either way, it was downright pleasant, which is a surprisingly odd thing to say about a show that’s gotten so much out of shock humor and cynicism. Not a bad way to start your goodbyes, Wilfred.
- “Yeah! Ryan and Big Stump, goin’ to the vet togetha!” Interesting that they just kept the whole
- “Tell her! She needs to know my lung may have breast cancer!”
- That puppy that killed Bear was so damn fluffy and cute. Awwww murderpuppy.