This week brings two new episodes of FX’s Wilfred, though the first, “Compassion,” is far more significant than the second, so this review focuses on the first. In “Compassion,” Ryan (Elijah Wood) picks up his mother (Mary Steenburgen, Curb Your Enthusiasm) from the mental institution where she has been living these past twenty years. Finding it hard to deal with her eccentricities, Ryan tries to take her back. But Wilfred (Jason Gann) has grown attached, and arranges for Mom to discover Ryan’s suicide letter. Soon, Ryan ends up being treated by his mother’s doctor (John Michael Higgins, Happily Divorced), though in the end, they both return home.
This is a very important episode because it reveals just how much Ryan is like his mother. Despite Mom telling Ryan he looks like Dad, Ryan is said to have been very close to his mother while growing up. She took him to belly dancing classes and other events she considers “bonding,” but he thinks, with the perspective of age, are just “weird.” Removed from her direct influence for two decades, Ryan may have escaped some of the specifics that befell his mom, but the seeds are planted, and it might explain why he is such a loner.
The clincher in “Compassion” is, in the final scene, Mom is shown speaking with her cat (Rhea Perlman, Cheers), whom she sees as a woman in a cat costume. This is exactly like Ryan’s relationship with Wilfred. While next week’s new episode, “Doubt,” will confusingly suggests a handful of other theories as to why Ryan sees Wilfred the way he does, “Compassion” offers the explanation that Ryan has inherited his mother’s mental disease. It remains to be seen if Wilfred will ever explain definitively what is going on, but this episode points to a simple possibility, and the simplest answer is often correct.
So does that mean Ryan is doomed to see Wilfred as a man in a dog suit his entire life? What happens when Wilfred dies, as all dogs do eventually, much sooner than humans? Why has it taken until now for this illusion to manifest itself in Ryan’s brain? Is there a trigger? Did Mom try to commit suicide, too?
The biggest miss in “Compassion” is leaving out Kristen (Dorian Brown), Ryan’s sister, Kristen, is not around nearly as much as she should be, and with a family reunion episode, now would be the perfect time to bring her back. Plus, it would be nice to get the chance to compare Kristen to Mom, and Kristen to Ryan. It would really have been a neat look at the dynamic of the family, and a clue to if Kristen has some of the same issues that Ryan and Mom share. Unfortunately, this does not happen. But perhaps it still can, down the line?
Wilfred airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.