“Once Upon a Time, There was a Dog named Wilfred…”
It’s odd to think that the show we saw is the same one that was making gross-out jokes only last week. Sure I had some qualms with the way this week’s episode went—many of them have to do with the re-hashing of Ryan’s crush on Jenna which I’ll elaborate on later—but many of them were also put to rest by the episode’s end. I talk a lot about how this show is a master of fusing two genres together and making it seamless rather than clunky and admittedly creating much of the draw of the show. However, not since season two have we actually gotten a taste of what “dark” Wilfred can do until this week that manages to bait us, suck us in to the absurdity of the episode, only to be left blindsided by the quiet loneliness we’re left with at the end.
But let’s knock out the negatives before I embarrass myself and everyone else by my gushing.
I really still cannot say that I’m a fan of Ryan’s pining over Jenna. Not just because it’s a tired trope that the guy would fall for the girl next door, not because it reduces Drew to nothing more than a caricature or that it nearly makes Ryan insufferable. No, my biggest complaint is that Jenna is more of a figment of Ryan’s imagination than Wilfred is so why am I supposed to buy his feelings for her? I get attraction, I get interest, but I have zero reasons to believe that he would actually be in love with her. What I find more fascinating is the idea that Ryan is in love with the idea of her. This season has been all about Ryan trying to better himself; trying to obtain the best possible life he can under compromising circumstances, so of course he manages to delude himself into thinking him and Jenna could work. She’s not one hundred percent happy with Drew? Well obviously that means she’d be happier with him.
Ryan could (or should) never realistically win Jenna’s affections because other than being her friend and sometimes confidant he’s done nothing to earn it other than whine and moan about how much Drew takes her for granted or how much of an idiot he is. Jenna is a fantasy to him and in the last shot with him on the inside looking out before smoking himself into oblivion, shows him yearning for a life, a moment, when he could realistically be with Jenna, be the one ill contented with age and life moving forward but happy, the one throwing the party and the one who didn’t spend a day in a shock collar and forced to write a children’s book for a talking dog.
There are so many wonderful and intriguing layers to Ryan’s relationship with Jenna that choosing to simply take the unrequited love route would be a disservice to the barebones material that promise so much.
Ryan does all of this because he finds out that Drew is throwing a haphazardly put-together surprise party for Jenna’s 30th. Ryan is enamored with her and annoyed with him for not taking the effort to throw her an amazing party so he takes it upon himself to fix it.
This includes him fixing the food—tacos instead of corn dogs—borrows his sister’s margarita machine and changes the decorations and venue. Drew is concerned at first but then takes it all in stride when Ryan tells him that all he needs to do is show up and she’ll be happy.
Wilfred tells him to stop fooling himself and admit that he’s doing all of this to gain Jenna’s affections.
Wilfred, however, has his own concerns this week when he hits a mid-life crisis realizing he’s much older than he’d been led to believe. With The Bernstein Bears as his inspiration he realizes that what he needs to do is write an autobiography as a way to leave behind his legacy and make sure Jenna remembers him once he’s gone.
This autobiography is mostly made up of fantastical tales of Wilfred saving lives, discovering new planets and defeating evil so Ryan tires of it quickly, especially with everything else that was on his plate to begin with. Wilfred in typical fashion, won’t take no for an answer.
Again with the masochistic relationship. Why is Ryan so reliant? Why is Wilfred so one note manipulative sometimes? Why, why, why?
So Wilfred succumbs to desperate measures and the next morning Ryan wakes up with a dog’s shock collar around his neck.
It makes you wonder who really has the upper hand in this relationship.
So instead of spending the day prepping for Jenna’s birthday he is stuck in his basement, missing even more real life moments, to fulfill a dog’s wish by writing an insane retelling of Wilfred’s life.
It’s almost saddening to realize how easily Ryan is stripped of his own free will. He’s always complaining about how working with his father made him miserable and compliant, but how different is this new life to his old? In both versions of his life, new and old, there is a domineering force steering his direction.
Finally by the time the party has already started the book is finished and Ryan is forced to deliver the book to a morose Jenna who because of Ryan’s lockup is being forced to endure what Drew believes is a fun time. Ryan doesn’t want to go through with it but Wilfred still holds the upper hand and forces him.
There are a bunch of notable moments throughout the entire episode but the real heart of the issue boils down to the last five minutes. Ryan in his goofy orange sweater has been forced by Wilfred’s shock collar into giving Jenna his biography (children’s picture book). Seeing Jenna already forced into enduring a birthday party of corn dogs and cheap beer Ryan doesn’t want to have to burden her anymore but his resolve is weakened and he hands it over. All she initially sees is cover showing Wilfred decked out in superhero gear and saving the day and she tells him to read it for the kids there so that she can get a feel of it.
Obviously, he panics believing the content to be ridiculous and unsuitable for children anywhere. As he saddles up for humiliation and I for second hand embarrassment the tone changes. The words he reads are crazy but endearing and loving about a dog who loves his owner—simple as that. Jenna is touched and Ryan is surprised by Wilfred’s turn to caring nature so when Jenna confronts Ryan you believe an emotionally charged scene is going to take place. Instead we have Ryan once again copping out and leaving Jenna to her party and Wilfred alone, abandoning his place by them to disappear into his grave of a basement.
We watch him walk downstairs, peak outside as Jenna blows out her candles, and then watch as he lights a bong, takes a hit, and passes out.
Jenna admitted earlier in the episode that the prospect of turning thirty frightened her; she knows it’s just a number, yet another reminder of a passing of time, but rather than finding merriment instead feels anxious. What hasn’t she done yet, has she made the right choices and so forth…but yet here we see her smiling and stepping into her new age with grace, blowing out the candles but not shutting her eyes and numbing her pain from life.
Ryan on the other hand lights a different sort of candle and passes out. Ryan is living in a perpetual state of hazy promises and half-achieved goals. He talks about living life but rarely does. He’s been deluding himself into thinking he was progressing yet he spent most of the day kidnapped by a man in a dog suit. So he knocks himself out to forget and wake up on a new day and forget again.
There were many wonderful undertones in this episode from the hints at who really has the control in the Ryan and Wilfred dynamic and Ryan’s true perception of Wilfred coming out in the storybook but the main image that sticks in Ryan’s face peaking from underground out into the nightlife that inhabits his own lawn. He’s throwing a party he refuses to attend, living a life hr refuses to lead and he may have finally caught on.