Episode Title: "Compassion"
Writer: Patricia Breen
Director: Victor Nelli, Jr.
Part of "Wilfred's" charm has been its refusal to state whether Ryan (Elijah Wood) sees Wilfred (Jason Gann) as an anthropomorphic dog because he's crazy or if there's something special about Wilfred himself. And there are times when even the writers themselves don't seem to know what's causing Ryan's visions. But this week's first episode seems to come down heavily on the side of mental illness.
After twenty years of voluntary treatment at a mental institution, Ryan's mother, Katherine (Mary Steenburgen) is finally ready to come back to the outside world. Ryan is initially horrified at the prospect of his mother's return, especially since in the past she had shown up at his school dressed for Halloween multiple times a year and sequestered herself in a chimney to escape the pressure and social expectations of her husband.
To a certain extent, Ryan is afraid of his mother not just because he's worried that she'll embarrass him (which she most certainly does), but also out of fear that he'll end up just like her. In that regard, Ryan's not off to a good start if his best and only friend is a dog that only he can talk to. But Katherine is his mother, so he relents and decides to bring her to his home.
Almost immediately, Katherine escalates the level of weirdness in Ryan's life. He comes home to find a crowd of neighbors on his lawn watching Katherine splatter herself with paint and roll around on a canvas for social expression. However, Wilfred projects his own mother issues on to Katherine and he joins her in the paint spectacle. Wilfred even rejects his owner, Jenna ( Fiona Gubelmann) and adopts Katherine as his new "mom."
In the weird landscape of this series, other people may not be able to see Wilfred as a man, but Jenna clearly reacts to his behavior here. However, Wilfred's weirdness is soon overshadowed by Katherine's story about young Ryan's first attempt at masturbation and Katherine's insistence that everyone masturbates, even Jenna. Finally pushed to his breaking point, Ryan insists that his mother return to the mental institution.
Once again, Ryan's plans are foiled because of Wilfred. The doctor at the hospital is more concerned about Ryan's mental well being than that of his mother's. In a call back from the pilot, Katherine discovered Ryan's discarded suicide notes (being chewed by Wilfred) along with an insane diatribe against the post office presumably written by Wilfred himself. Ryan's protests that the dog is responsible and trying to steal his mother only make things worse and he gets carted away for a three day psych evaluation… just like his mother years before.
For once, Ryan is saved by his meager life style, when even the doctor admits that the fact he had no health insurance led to Ryan's release. As a person who is probably a little crazy at best, Ryan broke the cardinal rule of hiding your mental illness: never say the s*** out loud! People can only assume you're insane until you open your mouth and prove it.
However, the experience seems to have calmed Ryan down enough that he understands what his mother went through and why she'll never be able to fully reintegrate into the outside world. After reconciling with her, Ryan leaves her behind… and then the twist comes.
Katherine sees her cat, Mittens (Rhea Perlman) as an anthropomorphic woman in a cat suit who has a foul mouth. And finally, "Wilfred" makes sense as a series. Ryan's visions of Wilfred as a man in a dog suit are almost definitely inherited from his mother. The most likely reason is that Ryan is on the razor's edge of sanity without much holding him down to reality. A more charitable explanation might be that both Ryan and his mother are simply "sensitive" to their respective animals and able to perceive their behaviors as a form of communication.
Yeah… I didn't buy that last explanation either. So, crazy it is!
Regardless, this was one of the more enjoyable episodes of "Wilfred" since its premiere. The series has been a little hit and miss as of late, but it may finally be finding itself.
Crave Online Rating: 8 out of 10.