Episode Title: "Identity"
Writer: David Zuckerman
Director: Randall Einhorn
After a solid premiere, "Wilfred" hit a lot of creative bumps in the middle of its first season. For a while, it even seemed like the series was about to go wildly off track and lose the strange charm that made it work in the first place.
But last night, "Wilfred" delivered a stunning episode that not only redefined the series, it was also one of the best half hours of television this year.
The central question of the show has always centered on Wilfred (Jason Gann). Does the anthropomorphic dog exist solely within the mind of Ryan (Elijah Wood)? Or is there something more at play than just a man slowly going crazy?
It turns out that the question we should have been asking is "who is Ryan?" Who is this man who was so willing to end his life at the beginning of the series? We assumed that Ryan was driven by severe depression, but it may have also been crushing guilt. We learn here that Ryan used to be a fantastic lawyer… but not because of his legal skills. He was nicknamed "The Archaeologist" because of his talent for digging up dirt and blackmailing his opponents into settling on his terms.
In short, he was a bad dude. And in the face of a losing battle to win Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann) her TV anchor job back, Ryan resorted to his old tactics; which worked all too well. Not satisfied with just having Jenna as a friend, Ryan realized that he wanted her more than anything. And thus he set up a beautifully Machiavellian scheme to break up Jenna and Drew (Chris Klein)
We've seen Wilfred manipulate Ryan in the past, but Ryan outclassed all of Wilfred's previous efforts by bringing Mr. Patel (Gerry Bednob) to the celebration party to set off an argument between Ryan's sister, Kristen (Dorian Brown) and her husband, Leo (J. P. Manoux) just to make Jenna doubt that marriage to Drew would work out. Patel's description of India as place where diarrhea was abundant in the streets hilariously made Wilfred anxious to go there.
Using a bubble machine to keep Wilfred occupied, Ryan successfully planted the seed of doubt in Jenna's mind and he then convinced Drew to press her for marriage just to get Jenna to turn him down. Earlier in the episode, Wilfred was the one who suggested to Ryan that he return to his old ways because he would be there to keep Ryan from sliding down a slippery slope of morality. But as nasty as Wilfred can be, even he was horrified by Ryan's new amoral persona.
Ryan even used the successful settlement to get a seemingly innocent date with Jenna before hitting a snag: Jenna needed to pass a drug test before returning to work and only Ryan knew that she would fail. So, Ryan brought Kristen over to vent about her failing marriage and she admitted that she had a brief affair, but Kristen added that she loved her husband and wanted to stay with him. When Ryan asked Kristen for fresh urine to fool the drug test, she refused. So, he blackmailed her by threatening to tell Leo the truth about her affair.
This led to a heartbreaking sequence later in which Kristen angrily revealed that she told Leo herself so that Ryan couldn't blackmail her again. But Leo left her and she told Ryan that he was dead to her. Given how controlling that Kristen was to Ryan, there may have been a point when he thought that would be a good thing. I mean, she was a bitch, she accidentally killed his childhood dog, she treated Ryan like crap…
And she loved him.
On some level, Kristen must have really cared for Ryan to constantly leave food at his house when they weren't speaking or to continuously try to find him new work. We've never met their father and their mother only seemed interested in her own delusions; which means that Kristen may have been Ryan's only relative who gave a damn about him. There's a terrific look of horror on Ryan's face when he realizes just how badly he hurt his sister. There are no apologies big enough to create any forgiveness between them.
But that's not all Ryan did. In order to switch the urine samples, he tells Wilfred to do whatever it takes. So the dog throws himself in front of the drug tester's car as she pulls out of Jenna's driveway and he seriously injures himself. As they wait together for word on Wilfred, Ryan and Jenna learn that her sample is clean… and she's pregnant. Or rather Kristen is pregnant; but since Jenna doesn't know the truth, she resigns herself to marriage with Drew.
As for Wilfred, several of his limbs appear to be broken from the accident. And when he wakes up, Wilfred no longer recognizes Ryan. In a panic, Ryan races to his home to read the will that Wilfred left in his basement… only to find that he doesn't have a basement.
That's right… the setting for so many scenes between Ryan and Wilfred may not even exist at all, which brings Ryan's sanity even further into doubt. He had to be a little crazy to be speaking to a talking dog, but this is much worse than he thought. Now Ryan can't even trust the memories of their time together as anything other than a delusion.
In this episode, "Wilfred" challenged its own premise in a very compelling way and it left a lot of unanswered questions for next season. This episode almost single-handedly made the first season a triumph and it redeemed itself for some lackluster outings. It's almost hard to see how the series could continue after this, but I'm eager to see where it's going.
Crave Online Rating: 9 out of 10.