Friday, July 22, 2011

Wilfred: "Respect"

Season 1, Episode 5
Darkness done right

“Seek respect mainly from thyself, for it comes first from within.”
-Steven H. Coogler

Though I’m sure some of you are probably sick of my droning on about this theory by now, I think that tonight’s episode was the best use of the “Wilfred as Ryan’s subconscious” angle that the show has done so far. For that matter, this was also the best example of an episode following through with its stated theme/title, something that has been causing me increasing annoyance over the past month.

It all starts with Ryan’s humiliation at the hands of an uber-douche he and Jenna run into at the park. (By the way, I’m also kind of annoyed at the show’s continued insistence on a Ryan-Jenna pairing, but that’s mostly because the show introduces it each episode only to throw it away for something more interesting. It’s really half-assed.) Being compelled to win back the respect he once had is perhaps the truest driving emotion we’ve seen from Ryan over the past five episodes. Sure I buy that he wants to become more “manly”, more aggressive and forceful, but those come across as deep-seated emotions that everyman has, not something with a specific origin for Ryan. But wanting respect? We know how much Ryan has fallen in the past few months, so this drive makes a lot more sense.

Which brings us to Wilfred. In the past four episodes, he’s been something of an id, the Tyler Durden to Ryan’s particular form of emasculation. But tonight Wilfred served a different role, as he was closer to an ego, not just pushing Ryan to follow any random impulse, but rather using a methodical bit of plotting to make sure that Ryan is actually able to achieve a realistic, rational, beneficial outcome. You could claim that this means a dramatic shift in Wilfred’s characterization, but considering that he’s just a figment of Ryan’s imagination, and symbol for his cracked mind, I don’t think the normal rules apply here.

Of course, Ryan doesn’t let himself off easy, as his brain has Wilfred create more trouble than he’s worth by blackmailing Ryan and generally creating havoc under the auspices of being a miracle dog.  It’s a nasty cycle that both makes sure that Ryan keeps returning to the hospital where he can get attention, and that he punishes himself for moving up in life by morally suspect means. Wilfred the ego maybe trying to thrust Ryan into his rightful manhood, but Ryan the superego is unwilling to let go of the persona he’s developed due to years of societal pressures and expectations.

Apart from that bit of plotting brilliance, I found that the episode’s approach to dark humor to be much more tempered and deftly handled than last week. While “Acceptance” suffered from broaching a far more taboo topic, and playing it much too straight, “Respect” was smart to cover topic were more used to laughing at – death and the elderly – and giving it a more straightforwardly humorous approach. Sure, there were some moments that were perhaps unnecessarily dark – I’m not exactly sure why the nurse had to die, and the scene with Wilfred and Ryan on the roof suffered for it, even if it did have a great comedic exchange – but all of these dark bits cleverly played into Ryan’s struggle to be a better (or at least more successful) person.

It looks like Wilfred has finally managed to find the right ratio of dark humor to philosophical discussion. Let’s hope the show can keep it up.

Next Week: We (maybe) finally get some actual movement on the Ryan/Jenna pairing. I have no idea how to feel about that.

Quotes, Etc:

I could say that Rashida Jones was adorable in her role tonight, but I might as well tell you that the sky is blue and grass is green.

“That grass down here taste like shit. And the shit tastes like grass.”

“How many people can watch an entire season of The Wire in one sitting? Not many, I’ll wager. That shit is dense.”

“You can’t pee here.” “Why? Everyone else is.”

“Can’t eat cheese, can’t jack morphine, is there anything I can do, Ryan?”

“Officer, I swear, she said she was three.”

“Don’t mind Ruby. She’s been a bitch since the earthquake took her family.”

“Pick me! I just want to die!”

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