Wilfred: The Series

Against expectation for the surreal series, Wilfred somehow managed to stick the landing. Most of the ambiguity of the series fades away as viewers watch the last two episodes. A sense of hopefulness is found in place of the uneasiness. Elijah Wood’s Ryan and Jason Gann’s Wilfred are both in a better place, both separate from each other yet always together. To be frank, it’s amazing that such a vulgar, seemingly pointless series managed such a perfect ending for itself. Even more amazing is how fitting it was for the week that it aired.

From its onset, Wilfred has largely been about mental health. The last season’s theme has been about Ryan’s path to happiness, but that was just a way to talk about pulling Ryan out of his depression without being too heavy handed about it. After all, the series starts with Ryan’s failed suicide attempt. From that moment on, we know that Ryan suffers from major depressive disorder, and Wilfred is likely a psychotic feature. In a twist revealed throughout the series, the paranoid delusion that is Wilfred is actually healthy path he must take toward his recovery.

Ryan isn’t the only person who is unhappy. His sister Kristen, largely presented as a complete pain, is revealed to be deeply unhappy about willing to pull everyone down around her because she doesn’t believe anyone else should be allowed to have the happiness she can’t have. Jenna, Ryan’s next door neighbor and owner of Wilfred, is also unhappy despite her bubbly facade. We got glimpses of that over the course of the four seasons. A true reveal was when she admitted to Ryan that she knew Ryan had a crush on her and she took advantage of that for free dog care and other favors. You might ask what kind of person does that. Well, the same kind of person who remains with the same man she does not love because it is easy and comfortable. She doesn’t love herself, but she wants others to love her without her having to actually do any work for it.

The most powerful moment in the series happens when Ryan sith with Wilfred as he passes away. Immediately following a dream sequence in which Ryan and Wilfred play fetch, we watch Ryan sit there over a real a dog – no longer a guy in a dog suit. Reality sets in. Wilfred was always a dog. Ryan projected what he needed onto this mangy dog this whole time because he needed a companion. He needed to know that he was not alone. And in this moment Ryan is able to see things a bit more clearly, even if he doesn’t realize it yet.

Shortly after is when he discovers that Jenna, with whom he had just started a relationship, is returning to her ex-husband. Instead of just accepting that this was another failure, he tells Jenna that this is because she is afraid to take risks and actually try to work at being happy. It’s a very bold move Ryan. It’s a bold move for anyone who has ever suffered from depression. He stopped internalizing.

I'm not going to lie to you. I teared up at this scene. It was probably the most perfect moment the series has ever captured.

Depression is a difficult subject to discuss considering the obvious stigma around it. However, it needs to be discussed. Depression is often described as internalized anger. In a way, it’s self-centered and self-indulgent. The world revolves around the person dealing with depression, and it’s usually only the bad parts of the world. In the beginning of the series, Ryan looked at Jenna and thought that she could never be with a person like him. He was the reason he couldn’t be happy with someone. It never dawned on him that other people have their own problems, too. It’s not his fault. In an episode in the final season, Ryan believed he always had to interfere with the fights his sister and mother had, and their failure to get along was his fault as the peacekeeper. When he stepped back, thanks to the advice of Wilfred, he discovered that their problems were their own. It’s not his fault.

“It’s not your fault,” are the words spoken by Robin Williams’ Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting, which were again spoken by the same character in the season two premiere of Wilfred during an elongated dream sequence. It took two additional years for Ryan to realize the truth in these words. He wasn’t at fault for all of the things in his life. Ironically, though, he was at fault for a majority of the crazy shenanigans he and we as the audience perceived as the fault of Wilfred, though. This is a good realization. These were instances in which Ryan was holding himself back and, seemingly, punishing himself for not listening to his better instincts as voiced by Wilfred.

The end of the series first shows a world without Wilfred, as Ryan rejects the persistent delusion of a talking dog man (man dog?) and tries to live a normal life. A desire for sameness is a destructive force that causes depression. It’s a longing for what everyone else has and rejection for what one has to offer as an individual. Accepting the uniqueness of oneself, or at least not perceiving one’s lot in life as unacceptable, is a therapeutic goal. In Wilfred this is portrayed by Ryan realizing that living life like everyone else is boring. He finds Wilfred again and accepts him into his life. In this way, Ryan becomes whole. He becomes a fully realized person. You have to love yourself first before you can really be happy.

I found this to be a very a important message to deliver this week. Robin Williams’ death by suicide seems to be slowly building momentum toward larger discussions about mental health and possibly the removal of the stigma surrounding frank discussions about depression. People need to realize that anyone can suffer from depression, from people born into lives of poverty to the rich and famous. Because it’s difficult to talk about, people often suffer alone. No amount of money or social support can fix that if people are still perceived as being aberrations when trying to discuss it. And when people see it as being their own faults, they think they deserve to suffer alone if they can’t “fix” it. In their minds, it’s all their fault. Not everyone has someone who understands, and not everyone is able to recognize that there is someone who understands. Not everyone is lucky enough to have someone right there to lean on, imaginary dog man or otherwise.

Wilfred somehow works as a vulgar comedy about suffering through and recovering from major depression. It’s a highly stylized account of the disorder that can be used to impart some level of understanding, but it’s definitely not a goto piece of fiction for actually teaching people about it. In the end, it’s a fairly brilliant series that comes highly recommended.

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