There could have been a couple title alternatives to “Distance,” were Wilfred less committed to its single-word, philosophical motif. “Pump And Dump,” a reference to Kristen boozing on Bloody Marys and eventually discarding her next batch of breast milk, would have been amusing. “No Hope Without Cope” would have been cheeky and precise. But as the opening Edward Albee quotation suggests, “Sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way to come back a short distance correctly,” so paring that down to a simple, open-ended “Distance” feels apropos.
The ensuing episode provides more insight into what happens when Ryan is left to his own therapeutic devices in between family holidays and suspicious neighbor shenanigans. The distance he puts between himself and others—demonstrated once again by how impinged Kristen feels by Wilfred—is nothing compared to the Grand Canyon that separates Ryan’s everyday adult functionality from his childhood trauma. Wilfred is a far more intrusive presence in his own mind, but one he continually manifests. As Dwight Yoakam’s Bruce—another likely product of Ryan’s imagination who returns tonight—once said late in season one, “This shit is complicated.”
Ryan, still stunned that Kristen originally created the Wilfred-esque figure in his decades-old drawing, is even more taken aback by his sister’s nonchalant certainty. Turns out (for now), this wasn’t some window into the siblings’ shared or transferred psychosis (boo), but it still offers the tantalizing explanation that Ryan latched on to Kristen’s crude rendering of “Mr. Floppy Ears,” as she calls him, as a coping device around the time his mother was institutionalized.
Truth is we have no idea what the real Wilfred looks like. He could be a snowflake poodle with hairless legs. Or, as Wilfred once self-assessed, Alec Baldwin in It’s Complicated. What matters is that Ryan’s career implosion and suicide attempt triggered his unresolved emotions, and Mr. Floppy Ears was reanimated. Which is manageable in and of itself. Problem is, Ryan’s mind is far more sophisticated than when he was a kid, and so are his coping mechanisms. Wilfred has become more than just a highly creative, internal salve. That’s no longer sufficient. Now he’s taken the form of a flesh-and-blood companion, and Ryan is genuinely disconnecting from reality.
Rather than dredge up whatever history that drawing might be associated with, Ryan burrows back into his brain and sends himself on a psychological goose chase. He’s harried enough where even good old Wilfred isn’t a serviceable distraction. In fact, Wilfred himself is preoccupied by his Instagram account, which has “peeps bugging out, ’cause now they know what my meal looked like.”
For Ryan, Wilfred’s unavailability for mind games is like an alcoholic calling their sponsor and it going straight to voicemail. So, in his panic, he resurrects Bruce, who’s a bit like Ryan’s Beetlejuice, only more of an illusion. Yoakam is still improbably perfect in the part, like he never left it, basically turning on the crazy and throwing away the key. It could be viewed as a one-joke guest role, but Bruce is, necessarily, the heightened extreme of Ryan’s complicated and increasingly fractured mental state. In Ryan’s world of self-destructive self-soothing, Bruce is a bit like Michael Keaton’s dopiest clone in Multiplicity, but with evil intent. Although the fact that, in Ryan’s fantasy, Bruce also watches The Biggest Loser with his new Christian lady and puts Rose on ice for guests indicates he hasn’t lost all wit.
A fairly aggressive contest of one-upmanship ensues between Ryan, Bruce and Wilfred involving the consumption of bio-hazardous balls, fake suicides and lots of dick-punching. It’s all Ryan’s extraordinarily, counterproductively stressful way of deking out the part of him that knows there are some very real, painful memories he needs to address. Still, it allows us the chance to watch Jason Gann prance around as a faux-neutered dandy obsessed with shopping and how store lighting hits his profile, not to mention the dick-punching.
That’s always the give and take with Wilfred; there’s no gaining in big laughs without witnessing Ryan’s compulsive addiction to anguish in lieu of easing his pain. And in fairness, “Distance” is not this season’s funniest or most affecting 22 minutes. But for those who’ve gone along for the ride this far, it’s another conceptually tight bit of storytelling that refuses to offer easy pathos, but isn’t above cheap testicle gags and randomly dated references to lame pop culture, like a pseudo-Wilfred’s lament that, “Men are from Mars.” If nothing else, “Distance” traveled admirably far just to revise the punchline that Ryan is a little bitch.
- Not sure how I feel about this whole symbol thing. That drawing may have one rabbit hole too many.
- It’s the little things, like Wilfred mock-chomping at Ryan’s face.
- Ryan and Wilfred’s brotherly playfulness during the dick-punching was almost adorable.
- That rape joke at the end kind of fell flat.
- On the other hand, the attentive detail of Wilfred suggesting Balderdash or Scattergories to pass the time—classic yuppie pastimes—was hilarious.
- Thanks to Rowan for passing the reigns this week, and he’ll be back with you next Thursday. And, of course, my point of view on Wilfred does not necessarily reflect his, and possibly not yours, but it’s a fun show to get inside the head of.