Series finale review: ‘Wilfred’ – ‘Resistance’/’Happiness’

A few thoughts on the series finale of “Wilfred” coming up just as soon as I pull a dove from behind your ear…

I have to admit to losing touch with “Wilfred” for much of this final season, between the move to FXX and a feeling that the show had largely outlived its usefulness. David Zuckerman has talked in the past about not wanting to let the show get swallowed up by the mystery of who or what Wilfred is, but most of what I saw of the last two seasons suggested that the show ultimately couldn't avoid that trap. And, as a result, it went from a darkly funny comedy with a minor mystery element to a very dark psychological drama that would occasionally pause for a joke about Wilfred's sex life or eating habits. Some isolated parts of this worked – the episode a few weeks back where a drug trial briefly gave Ryan a glimpse of a world where Wilfred is a character on a TV show played by a human actor looking very much like Jason Gann was among the series' most fascinating, and about the most meta recent episode of television you can find outside of “Community” – but the premise of the show and its characters ultimately weren't built to handle this level of introspection and paranoia.

That said, the Zuckerman-scripted finale provided an answer, and a satisfying one at that. The idea of Wilfred as the dog god of the cult led by Ryan's biological father was too convoluted an explanation to work – but then, I think any explanation other than the one Zuckerman chose would have been. Ryan is the mentally ill product of mentally ill parents(*), and Wilfred is merely the Tyler Durden-esque manifestation of that illness. This fits almost everything we know about Ryan, and the finale explains how certain past incidents (say, Ryan waking up with the shock collar around his neck) could have happened if Wilfred was really just a shaggy dog(**).

(*) Because I missed parts of the final season, this was the first time I realized that Mimi Rogers had to replace Mary Steenburgen as Ryan's mom. Not a bad substitute, and I understand about scheduling conflicts with guest actors (Steenburgen is on the next seasons of both “Justified” and “Orange Is the New Black”), but it does seem like a tricky thing to swap out actors in key recurring roles (I understand Billy Baldwin also replaced Dwight Yoakam as Bruce) on a show where the main character has hallucinations. For those who watched the full season, was there any in-show acknowledgment that either character suddenly looked different?

(**) This reminds me of my youthful attempts to figure out how certain “Calvin & Hobbes” stories – say, Calvin pushing his dad's car out of the garage – could have happened if Hobbes was really just a stuffed animal. I never did come up with a satisfactory answer. And I look forward to some obsessed “Wilfred” fan now rewatching the entire series to present theories for every incident where Wilfred seemingly did something physical independently of Ryan.

That Ryan doesn't end up with Jenna, instead finding the happiness promised by the finale's title in choosing to keep the Wilfred hallucination alive as his best friend, feels tonally right for the show. He's never going to be fully healthy, but you can imagine a scenario where Wilfred keeps encouraging Ryan to be bolder in his life, while Ryan is now more free to ignore some of the more self-destructive advice.

Ultimately, there were probably two seasons worth of story from this premise, but as closure, “Happiness” worked.

What did everybody else think? If you stuck through all four seasons, did you feel it was time well-spent? If you skipped parts of the run but came back for the finale, did it work for you? And if you stopped watching years ago but just read this review to find out Wilfred's true nature, does that feel satisfying?