Wilfred’s season finally lends itself to two seemingly contradictory responses: first, this is the best-integrated the show has ever been, weaving jokes, continuity, and weirdness together into a coherent whole. Alternately, it could be viewed as a frustrating retcon; committing the double sin of removing a likeable character as an excuse to avoid answering interesting questions. I think it’s really both, though, which puts me in the odd situation of having loved the episode as I watched it, but grown increasingly annoyed at it in retrospect.
“Secrets” can be divided into these halves roughly chronologically, though there’s spillover in both. In the first half, Wilfred shows Ryan a picture a young Ryan drew of his family. Behind a tree in the background, a Wilfred-like dog peeks out, which freaks Wilfred out. Suddenly Wilfred is the one demanding answers, while Ryan professes ignorance, then just starts making shit up. His response—quoting the premise of the last Battlestar Galactica arc—is a risky bit of reference humor. I liked it since I’d watched BSG and got the joke early. But I also think it worked in terms of setting Ryan’s character as someone who’d immediately turn to a BSG reference, in addition to citing a show that may have let its mythology get too powerful—perhaps a sly nod to the wild swings of Wilfred’s premise in “Secrets.”
What makes this work so well is that Wilfred has finally figured out how to get humor out of its tense, angry sections. Most of the time it divides the humor off from the main story, usually with “Wilfred acts like a dog” sorts of jokes combined with a dramatic lesson-learning. There are a few one-liners along those lines here, and not necessarily from Wilfred. At the start of the episode, Jenna explains that they’re going to have a “Couple’s Toast” at her wedding, to which Ryan’s sister quickly mutters to her baby “Looks like mommy’s getting shitfaced tonight!”
But most of the laughs I got in the episode come from the drama and the tension. Both Ryan and Wilfred are off-balance and grow increasingly desperate to figure out what’s going, and as a viewer, I found it interesting enough that I joined in that tension. So anything ironic, self-aware, or clever can break the tension and make a joke. “I gotta be honest with you, Ryan. I thought I was in control,” says Wilfred, a line I found entertaining because it directly connects with my ideas on how the show works while flipping them. I laugh from the enjoyment of the show’s audacity.
Another crucial element to “Secrets”’ success: its integration of the other episodes of the season in its story and setting. Most Wilfred episodes are standalones or fairly direct sequels. This one builds on almost everything from this season, bringing in most every important character, like Kristen, James, Drew, Jenna, and Amanda (while also referencing Ryan’s former co-workers Kevin and Jeremy). They’re also treated as characters, people with their own We get little callbacks, like Wilfred getting unhappy if someone puts they hand over his paw. A good season finale should reward viewers for paying attention, by that logic, “Secrets” is an excellent finale.
But it’s also an annoying one. The plotline that starts down the bad path seems great initially (again, like Battlestar Galactica!). James shows up at the wedding, grabs Ryan, and tells him that someone framed Kevin for stealing from his old company, and deposited money into an account in Ryan’s name. This is great because it immediately sends Ryan and Wilfred into a fit of trying to figure out if either of them did it, if Ryan could even do something like that and not remember it, if he’s that crazy. It also gives the perfect opportunity for Ryan’s dad, the season’s mysterious bugaboo, to finally make his entrance.
Then it goes haywire. Ryan confesses his insanity to Amanda, who confesses that a) she’s equally insane and also hears Wilfred talk and b) she framed Kevin and stole the money. Ryan professes that Kevin was innocent, to which she replies: “Innocent? He stole the jalapenos off my bagel five times!” And Ryan eventually discovers that she can’t hear Wilfred at all, or at least, in the same way that Ryan can, which convinces Ryan to turn her in to the FBI.
This is frustrating for so many reasons it’s hard to count. First, it removes Amanda, one of the best components of the second season, likely for good. Second, it seems like an utterly arbitrary removal. There was very little indication before this that Amanda was crazy, and it makes the only episode where she looked that way, “Control,” an utter mess. Was she talking to Wilfred the whole time and that’s why she claimed to be scared of dogs? Was the ending her coming to terms with that? The original ambiguity could have been a deliberate foreshadowing of this, but it ends up feeling contrived. If it was planned, we needed some kind of moment in the middle, where Amanda looks capable of committing the crime.
Regardless, the twist of Amanda’s insanity feels contrived because it gets in the way of the two other interesting plots unfolding. The two options presented before her confession, Ryan committing the crime and then forgetting, or Wilfred doing it to frame Ryan, both presented an interesting new direction for the show to go. It’s also pointed directly at the long-promised appearance of Ryan’s father thanks to Ryan finally being backed into a corner. The end result, then, is that the choice to turn Amanda into the bad guy feels like a television decision, like that Allison Mack was definitely leaving for another show, or that Ryan’s dad wasn’t cast for some reason.
“Secrets” demonstrates both the best and the worst of Wilfred. Fortunately the best significantly outweighs the worst, as the show grows more confident in adding characters, playing with its premise, and integrating its humor. But Wilfred still hits the reset button a little bit too often to take its drama seriously. “Secrets” is an effective synecdoche for the season as a whole.
- “Sometimes it’s hard for me to understand him with that french accent.” I kinda wish we’d seen Amanda’s Wilfred. Would be both amusing and make Amanda’s departure/Wilfred’s role more ambiguous and weird.
- Of course, there is a cliffhanger that implies that maybe the rules have changed. It was really well handled technically, but I’ll withhold full judgment until I see where it goes.