Wilfred is moving in an interesting direction as its second season progresses: It’s getting sincere. The last several episodes have each ended with Ryan making legitimate attempts at improving his life and his relationships with the people around him, and by and large, those moments are played straight. It’s a far cry from the first season, which seemed at times to be a J. Walter Weatherman-as-a-dog spinoff. Sure, there were lessons taught and apparently learned, but it was unclear if they were the right lessons, thanks largely to the over-the-top trauma (“Oh, that’s what that was about. I thought he was trying to get us off of dairy.”) There was also very little evidence to indicate that Ryan was, in fact, improving his life thanks to Wilfred’s advice.
Yet in this season we’re seeing those improvements. Ryan forgave an old friend of his. He ended a relationship he couldn’t deal with (although that move wasn’t 100 percent positive). He’s built a better relationship with his sister and his mom. And tonight, he rekindled his relationship with Jenna, eliminating the lies, manipulations, and guilt that had dominated it on both sides.
This is a risky move for Wilfred in both the short and long term. This many sincere climaxes, with little to no mitigating irony, goes against the show’s entire tone before this point. It worked well when Ryan broke up with Amanda two weeks ago, but last week’s saccharine ending with Ryan presenting his mother with her grandchild—followed by a tag where they bond over painting—was dissonant, given Wilfred’s usual cynicism and irreverence. “Honesty” adds some ironic distance with its closing scene of dogs attacking the cats that Wilfred has bonded with, but that’s a minor complaint compared to the apparent emotional redemption in the Ryan-Jenna relationship. It feels like Wilfred is losing some of its edge.
The show stops making sense if Ryan actually fixes his life, especially if you treat Wilfred as a manifestation of Ryan’s mental issues. Even if you don’t, Wilfred still gets most of its dramatic and comedic tension from Ryan’s problems. Without those, it would need either a major conceptual retooling, or to limit itself to a simple hangout/buddy comedy (which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world). It’s possible that Wilfred is engaging in a long con here—feigning improvements to Ryan’s lot in life before having his father destroy undo them in the finale—but that’s leaning toward a separate reset button.
Sentimentality at the end of the episode constrains the rest of “Honesty,” a half-hour that has its moments but doesn’t cohere as well as others from this season. I’m growing to like Wilfred’s conceit of Ryan learning the dog/show’s behavior. Pushed by Wilfred into trying to help Jenna’s career, and then realizing that he’s trapped, Ryan jumps ahead of a few steps of manipulation with a resigned “We’re making a cat-killer video, aren’t we?” Later, when he tries to turn the tables on Wilfred and his lack of honesty, he again bypasses the argument: “Ryan, I have a confession to make.” “You love the cats.” I think I like this in part because it shows the comfortable, friendly rapport that Ryan and Wilfred have, but also because it speaks to us as viewers in the same way. We know and understand the show, and therefore are happy to skip the manipulation, leading directly into the jokes.
Other than that, however, there’s not much to “Honesty.” A few good jokes, a few strained jokes, and an emotional resolution places it firmly in the middle of the season-two pack. Its developments make me more interested about what’s coming next for the show than the events of the episode itself.
- “Sprinkler rainbows, dazzling in the sun…” I did like Wilfred’s poetic recreation of his scratching.
- “Maybe there’ll be a happy ending, like the cats turn up safe.” “Or sex-murdered by a psycho.”
- “Dude, I was literally just about to kill them.” “You’re cuddling with that cat.” Even the presence of adorable cats, pretty much my kryptonite, couldn’t get me to love this episode. But maybe it did get me to at least like it.
- Ryan’s Dad Watch: A mere half-second of hesitation before Ryan decides to make the cat video. Anything to avoid talking to his father.