Wilfred Season 3: Do We Really Need To Know What Wilfred Is?

We are four episodes deep into the third season of FX’s existential man/dog buddy comedy Wilfred, and despite a changing of the guard behind the scenes, the crude humor and graceful beats of Ryan’s episodic epiphanies have remained intact. Wilfred is that rare comedy built not only on humor, but on a foundation of mystery. It’s a given that when you have a series about a man who talks to a dog that only he sees as an outlandish Australian man in a dog suit that viewers are going to question exactly what or who Wilfred is. But do we really want a definitive answer to that question? And if we never get one would that make the journey we’re taking with Ryan any less rewarding?

If I’ve learned one thing from watching series with dense mythologies like Lost and Battlestar Galactica, it’s that the questions posed are always more interesting than the answers given. Each season of Wilfred thus far has built to a huge revelatory moment for Ryan, a moment that points not to Wilfred being some mystical foul-mouthed Yoda, but rather a manifestation of Ryan’s mind. Season one’s capper, “Identity,” ended with the revelation that the door to the basement was nothing more than a closet and season two’s “Secrets” revealed that Ryan had been drawing pictures of Wilfred since he was a child.

Fittingly, season three began with a quote by author David Levithan: “The mistake is thinking that there can be an antidote to the uncertainty.” The mythology of the origin of Wilfred is the backbone of this captivating and funny series (and how often can you pair those two adjectives with the same show?), but the more important story will always be whether or not Ryan can become the man he’s meant to be. For me, the question of what Wilfred is isn’t nearly as important as what does Wilfred mean for Ryan? Is his presence making Ryan saner by forcing him to work through the mountain of issues that hold him back from reaching his full potential or does Wilfred represent Ryan’s id. Is he actually the force Ryan needs to be working against if he ever wants to emerge from the basement as a man fit to be a good employee, a guardian for his nephew and someone who can find love?

Always lurking at the corners of Wilfred is the fact that this is a series about a man suffering from mental illness. When we first met Ryan he was trying to end his life, but when his attempt failed he was given the gift of a companion in Wilfred. No matter what his origin story turns out to be (and I personally will always be pulling for the simplest answer, not only because it makes more sense, but because I can’t imagine a more poignant ending to the series than Ryan finally seeing Wilfred just as everyone else does), Wilfred has been an integral part of Ryan’s healing process– sometimes by accident and sometimes by design.

Elijah Wood and Jason Gann have found that buddy comedy sweet spot, and three seasons in it’s easy to get lost in just watching them palling around as they get high in the basement or embark on an insane adventure, like their recent trip to meet Wilfred’s original owner that actually led to them meeting Wilfred’s clone. However, even the silliest moments are laced with a layer of poignancy because we know that Ryan’s best friend, his only real friend besides Jenna, is a dog.

When a series can pull off layer upon layer of comedy, philosophical musings and existential crises, often in a single half-hour, the biggest question of them all becomes the smallest. Maybe Wilfred will turn out to be immortal. Maybe the series will circle back around to some sort of Sixth Sense style twist. Maybe we’ll discover he was just a dog all along. Or maybe we’ll never get an answer.

As long as Ryan continues on his current path of learning, changing and growing between every strange toilet baptismal detour or visit to an insurance agency brothel the series throws at him, then I’m content with the status quo being maintained. Because whatever Wilfred is, he’s awfully fascinating to watch.

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