In an abstract sense, the last two episodes of Wilfred’s third season reflect the two central themes to the show: fantasy and reality. where ‘Heroism’ takes a look at Jenna’s long-held fantasy of family life, ‘Regrets’ forces Ryan to deal with his own realities after a shocking (and quite convenient, I might add) death. And while ‘Regret’ – with all its mythology-building, Big Moments and Season Finale Proclomation Speeches – is arguably the more important episode, I can’t help feeling like ‘Heroism’ is a much more effective episode. First of all, ‘Heroism’ keeps things relatively simple, pushing Wilfred to the corners of the narrative to focus on Jenna’s sudden obsession with neighborhood security, and how it was underlining some of her more hard-to-deal-with feelings bubbling under the surface.
If anything, it was good to feel like the show was returning to its roots, if only for a brief moment: I’ve always said Fiona Gubelmann brings more to that role than it usually warrants, and her slow unravel in front of Ryan at the end was a wonderful showcase for the show’s most underrated talent. Although it felt like the ‘Ryan and Jenna’ tease was being shoved in our face for the sake of a more effectively dramatic finale, it was good to see the show step outside of Ryan’s life for a moment and check in with the married neighbor he still gets boners of.
‘Regrets’ is a completely different animal: it’s an episode with a lot of large ambitions and checkpoints to hit before its final reveal. As a result, some of the story beats don’t have quite the impact we’d like: the wrangling of the Ryan/Wilfred relationship was fairly predictable, and Ryan’s sudden declaration that Wilfred is bad for him happens almost as quick as his father Henry dies just a scene earlier – a move that doesn’t quite hold the weight it should on our characters, since it’s so sudden and happens to a character we’re still relatively unfamiliar with. I like how the show (mostly) keeps Henry’s motivations ambiguous while he’s still alive (his sudden death and Ryan’s inability to reconcile with him before reminds me of – vague spoiler ahead - How I Met Your Mother‘s ‘Bad News’ and ‘Last Words’ episodes), although we do find out the pro bono division he offered Ryan a job managing actually exists.
There are moments that work in ‘Regrets’ – Wilfred’s tearful reunions with Ryan, sneaking around late at night – but on a more macro level, I can’t help but feel like the writers on Wilfred didn’t quite follow through with Ryan/Henry’s relationship as much as they would’ve liked to. It just didn’t feel as complex and fleshed out as the finale wants us to think it is; and with nothing else but the final scene and a lot of rash decisions/change of mind moments surrounding it, it was hard to become as emotionally invested in ‘Regrets’ as ‘Heroism’, which had a much more developed, intricate relationship to explore with Ryan and Jenna than it did with Ryan and his father – a slight disappointment, considering how important their relationship was to Ryan’s mental state. Then again, the ambiguity they try to build with his character could only last for so long with him alive and visible: after awhile, the show would have to put its cards down on the table and define him as good or evil. In that sense, killing him was a smart move – it just felt like an undercooked resolution with the importance given to their throughout the series.
This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy ‘Regret’ at all: it’s just a little too plot-heavy for a Wilfred episode – and by taking that approach to the season finale, doesn’t leave much room for interesting, meaningful resolutions. And it’s all topped off with a doozy of a cliffhanger: Ryan finds a letter addressed to his father in his desk, and upon arriving at said address, takes a walk through the woods. The season ends when he finds a statue of a man dressed like a dog, with the symbol found in Kristen’s drawing of Wilfred (excuse me; Mr. Floppy Ears) adorning his chest. What the fuck does this mean? Clearly Ryan’s father was trying to keep him away from that truth – but does that truth even matter?
I’ve always said the definition of who, what, and why Wilfred is isn’t important; Wilfred is – despite the suggestion of its title – about a boy becoming a man, reconciling with his father and letting go of the childhood that scarred him. What Wilfred is doesn’t really matter… I suppose it’s a ‘cool’ final scene, but its steeped in so much mystery we don’t have the most basic tools to understand, it just feels like a mystery tacked on in place of having any kind of satisfying ending (although s1 and s2 took a similar, twist-based approach, I think the s1 finale works as a theoretical ‘series’ finale), the kind of thing we think we want answers to, but really don’t (especially when it turns out they don’t matter).
It’s a bit of a letdown for a season I had high hopes for. Knowing that Ryan’s father would be joining the cast, I was excited for the show to finally dig into the meat of its main narrative: but it looks like this isn’t even going to begin until season 4, when a Wilfred-less Ryan is working his new job, dealing with the death of the man he was arguing with milliseconds before his death. This is the direction I’m interested seeing the show go in with its fourth season (and more Jenna, please); wherever Ryan is heading into the woods is the last thing any Wilfred fan should be worried/thinking about/theorizing over the next year. At least, one would hope.
Other thoughts/observations (from ‘Regrets’ only):
- Ann was a spy for Henry? Lame.
- Kristen: “What’s next, landscaping camp?”
- Wilfred’s dad died on a tennis ball, connecting it to the season one finale. But how?
- was Henry’s father really willing to change? I hope the show never tries to define this answer posthumously: we don’t always get clean definitions of people in life (in fact, we rarely do). Keep it in the dark.
- why is Ryan’s mother suddenly mild on how he treated her? I know the guy’s dead… but she always seemed pretty pissed at him.
- Wilfred hasn’t been renewed for a fourth season yet, but I’d bet they get one over on FXX. We’ll find out soon, I’m sure.