‘Wilfred’ Recap: Compassion

Mary SteenburgenS1E9: Wilfred takes a few steps forward with the addition of fantastic guest star Mary Steenburgen and a few higher questions, but squanders most of that momentum in the end.

Jenna leaves Wilfred with Ryan for the weekend while she goes to Vegas with Drew, so they visit Ryan’s mother, Katherine (Steenburgen), at the mental institution where she chose to stay after an incident when she crawled up the chimney at a dinner party when Ryan was a kid. Ryan and Wilfred both share a sense of abandonment with Jenna in Las Vegas and Ryan’s mother in the psychiatric facility and there lies the catalyst for the whole episode, which purports to be about compassion but is really more about mommy issues.

“Mrs. Newman is my slave name. You can call me Katherine.” –Katherine

Wilfred, is initally against Ryan helping his mother become re-accustomed to the real world, and because Ryan is a lemming, he says Katherine should stay at the mental facility because he’s “got a lot going on.” But as soon as she soothes Wilfred’s hot spot with a tea bag, he’s on team mom and convinces Ryan to help her out.

She comes over and makes him his favorite childhood breakfast, peanut butter and fishstick tacos (no wonder he’s so screwed up), and he replies like some 15 year old kid who’s too cool for his mom saying he eats “breakfast food for breakfast now.” Ryan’s annoyed at how his mom is embarrassing and he gets annoyed that she’s hanging her underwear in his backyard and of course, it gets worse. He comes home to find her doing an interpretive paint dance in his front yard while his neighbors upload videos to YouTube. While Ryan whines and complains like a snot-nosed teen, Wilfred joins his new mommy – he’s suddenly become enamored with her – in her paint dance and things get really weird for a minute there.

Jenna comes home early and meets Katharine, but Wilfred doesn’t seem all that excited to see her. It seems he found a new “mommy.” And I get that he’s supposed to be this depraved impersonation of your typical man’s best friend, but did he have to make out like that with Ryan’s mom? His behavior is just plain gratuitous sometimes.

At dinner with Jenna and Katharine, Wilfred continues to dote on Katharine as she tells embarrassing stories about Ryan, including how he tried to masturbate to Mona from Who’s the Boss and how he used take belly dancing classes with her. He finally breaks down and yells at her to just be normal and says she’s crazy. (And it’s at this moment that Wilfred starts paying attention to Jenna again. “I wonder if she really has to pee” – brilliant.) She can’t put into words how she feels, so she expresses it physically, by mooning him. Once again, this seems a little beneath the concept, but Steenburgen’s so great in this episode that I’ll forgive it.

“I’d say that Jenna, masturbation and the post office are all pieces of the puzzle.” –Katherine’s doctor

Mom leaves and Wilfred offers and interesting notion: Katherine was about Ryan’s age when she had her mental breakdown, and people always said that Ryan would grow up to be just like her. Maybe the reason he’s so fearful and angry with his mom is because he’s worried he’s just like her and that he’s going to go crazy too. Bingo.

He tries to take his mother back to the wellness center, but it turns out they’re going there to evaluate his mental state. Wilfred conveniently chewed on his old suicide note from episode one, which also includes a diatribe about the post office trying to facilitate mind control, which is pretty disturbing. Ryan freaks out and says Wilfred set him up because he’s trying to steal his mother. This clear case of confusing Wilfred for a person is finally put on trial and it of course signals to the doctor than he needs an evaluation period of 72 hours, just like his mother had. Well at least they’re finally addressing the obvious issue we’ve been wondering about for weeks; it’s just too bad they didn’t carry it through.

Of course, the doctor doesn’t find that he’s all that crazy, so he lets Ryan out and tells him he needs to find someone to talk to. So Ryan looks longingly at Wilfred – the symptom of his insanity is also the solution. I would have liked it if they actually threw in the challenge of the doctor keeping him at the facility longer, questioning his sanity and making us question our own for accepting that Wilfred is this talking animal with a raunchy vocabulary. But alas, the issue is resolved and it’s on to the next one.

The last two seconds in which Katherine goes back to the mental institution because she’s more comfortable there and she talks to her cat, who takes the form of Rhea Perlman, was somewhat satisfying in that Ryan really does get it from somewhere. But at the same time it broke down the mystique of his affliction and it was just a little self-indulgent on the show’s part, which is actually pretty indicative of the ongoing issue with this quirky series.