For much of Wilfred’s run, its best scenes have often occurred at the end of the episode, with Ryan and Wilfred just getting high and shooting the shit. Sometimes these have had more energy than the episodes they follow, although the comparison is somewhat unfair, given that anything that lasts for a few seconds has a totally different form than a full TV episode. Still, they’ve generally done well at giving Wilfred the opportunity to be a silly hang-out comedy, while the main episodes have often been a mix of jokes with morality plays, psychological dramas, or mythological mysteries.
So far in the fourth season, Wilfred has lacked those little vignettes, and it’s disappointing. In “Loyalty,” for example, the main story of Kristen and Arturo’s custody battle is resolved after 4/5s of the episode, and then it heads over to Ryan and Wilfred hanging out in the basement. I relaxed a little bit, thinking “finally, some of the silly awesome stuff!” and was swiftly disappointed to discover that it was a few minutes spent pushing the seasonal plot forward instead of the hang-out comedy.
This is not to say that I dislike Wilfred’s mythology, which has generally done a good job of balancing the humor, confusion, and seriousness of Ryan and Wifred’s situation. Rather, that by ending the episode’s so clearly, and then switching to the mythology, it felt like an admission that both parts were trifling—the Kristen story wasn’t enough to fill an episode, and Ryan’s attempts to get the truth out of his dad’s partner all had to be done in a single perfunctory info-dump.
What stood out to me about the Kristen-Arturo custody battle was how relatively unimportant Wilfred was to the plot. This episode had the form of many Wilfred story that involve Ryan initially doing the wrong thing, learning a lesson, and then trying to make it right. Yet most of those episodes have tended to have Ryan arguing with Wilfred as their core. Ryan is usually utterly convinced that his usually-timid, societally-approved response to events is correct, where Wilfred prefers a more aggressive, counter-intuitive method. They argue, Ryan is brow-beaten into trying Wilfred’s idea, and then it somehow resolves in ways that reveal that Ryan’s insecurities were holding him back.
That’s not totally missing from this episode, but it’s not central. Wilfred definitely argues that Ryan should be more loyal, and his kidnapping of Joffrey prevents Ryan’s compromise from working out. But Ryan learns his lesson and resolves to take the more aggressive approach on his own, after talking to his sister. I’m not sure if this is just an accident of editing, or if the Ryan-Wilfred argument is merely assumed. But, given that this is the final season and the underlying premise that Wilfred might be a manifestation of Ryan’s psyche meant to heal him, I think it might be an argument that Ryan is actually learning and improving.
On the downside of that, the lack of that central Ryan-Wilfred argument scene is part of what makes “Loyalty” feel unfinished. Beyond simply the rising emotions and release of tension from that sort of conflict, it does feel like it’s not quite 22 minutes of story. Instead, most of the Ryan-Wilfred tension comes from the much sillier conflict of Wilfred’s “cuddle addiction.” This is played for straight comedy, and I’m not sure it’s quite as funny as it thinks it is, but it has its moments. The scene where Wilfred walks into an intervention of stuffed animals held by Bear is easily the best of the episode, not just for Jason Gann making the absurd monologue seem coherent and funny, but Elijah Wood’s increasingly amused/exasperated dad-face.
Finally, while it’s good to see that Ryan might be learning and changing, it does come at a slight cost. Kristen, who was largely straight-up horrible in the first season, was given much more depth and made sympathetic over the next few seasons. But in order for “Loyalty” to work, she has to revent to her horrible ways at the start. Still, Wilfred manages to salvage that by the end, with the surprisingly resonant “Yeah. You’re a pretty amazing horrible sister too.”
- “If you’re such an addict, why don’t you ever try cuddling with me?” “Do something about that flat ass, and maybe we’ll talk.”
- “Is your finger where I think it is, on your hand with your other fingers, petting my back? Oh you are a freak!” This, and Wilfred’s Cuddle Sutra, were probably the best single jokes.
- One of the reasons I like Orange Is The New Black and Piper Chapman so much is the idea that she becomes a real person over its first season, culminating in the raw violence of the ending fight scene. Ryan punching Arturo to reveal his “realness” goes along with that, and as much as I liked it, I’m not sure I like it as a trend. (Could probably toss Arya Stark’s increasing badassness in with that.)