Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Wilfred: "Conscience"

Illustration for article titled Wilfred: "Conscience"

In a couple of my previous reviews and comment threads, I've mentioned that Wilfred hinges on Ryan's understanding of Wilfred. This sounds kind of inane, when I spell it out, but I think it's something that bears examining – who is the “Wilfred” who speaks to Ryan? There are three pretty distinct answers, which also lead to the three different kinds of shows that Wilfred has been so far:

  1. Wilfred as funny talking dog – This one showed up the most in the second episode (which I didn't like so much). Dogs are kind of funny, by human behavioral norms, and Wilfred is half of each. Does this go anywhere? Not really – but it can lead to some good, quick jokes. I don't mind it for those, but I don't think it can carry an episode.
  2. Wilfred as Nietzschean spirit – This, perhaps, is the darkest form of Wilfred, and the one that the show has engaged with the most, especially last week. Here, Wilfred seems to exist as a kind of religious experience, and not an entirely pleasant one at that. He exists to manipulate Ryan into becoming a kind of superman, whose masculine will can be carried out against the world, except for Wilfred himself. There's promise in this, but it makes the show pretty bleak at times.
  3. Wilfred as Ryan's nonconscious mind – I think this is the most straightforward interpretation of Wilfred as a character, and probably the most balanced one for the show going forward. We know that Ryan has mental issues, since he tried to commit suicide in the first episode, and if his relationship with his sister and lack of close friends is any indication, he's not skilled at communicating. So he's detached the part of his brain that causes him the most anxiety, and put it onto the dog.

There's also a fourth option, which may have inspired the show's premise but hasn't really been used:

  1. Wilfred as simple escapism – This is the Calvin & Hobbes premise, but Ryan is too adult, and Wilfred is too “adult” for this to work long-term. I wouldn't mind seeing what this might look like for an act or so, though.

So how does this episode work in terms of Wilfred as an aspect of Ryan's mind? It focuses on Drew, Jenna's “dick boyfriend” from a previous episode, played with brotastic charm by a game Chris Klein. Neither Wilfred nor Ryan like Drew, so their interests, at least initially, are in harmony. But Ryan can't help but be jealous of Drew's competitive masculinity, which manifests to Wilfred as dominance – Drew is the alpha male, and Wilfred does whatever Drew says.

Ryan and Wilfred hatch a scheme to make Jenna break up with Drew, which surprisingly succeeds – and Ryan feels bad, both for that, and for starting to assert his own masculine dominance over Wilfred in the same manner as Drew. His guilt for these crimes manifests as Wilfred turning into an evil supervillain and trying to poison Ryan (using an adorable chemistry set). So in order to patch things up in his mind, he has to be patch things up with Wilfred and with the Jenna/Drew relationship. Problem solved? Well, maybe.


And this generally works well. There are some fun moments – Wilfred's evil genius voice, and most of Klein's performance – and it feels like the kind of thing that could be sustained over time. It just lacks a little of the edge that has made Wilfred so interesting in the past couple of weeks.

Stray Observations:

  • “And here comes the part where he carries her into the house like a Viking on a rape quest.”
  • “Oh, I get it. Because I'm a dog, right. I can only imagine what you'd say if I was black.”
  • “Here's a few for you: sexless. Flaccid. Drydick. Shall I go on?” Wilfred helps Ryan prepare for his girly Scrabble games with Jenna.
  • “Then, just we he starts to pee himself, we take a rock and crush his skull!”
  • Ryan's last name is revealed, I believe for the first time: Newman. A-ha. I get it!
  • “…and then I spit it in his face and told him to lick my balls.”
  • “That's just your conscience being a total gaywad.”
  • “That's just the neurotoxin eating away at the part of your brain that allows you to believe things.” Hmmm, two funny "that's just…" lines in a row. I'm starting to see how this humor business works.