Wilfred's Series Finale: Are You Satisfied? What's Your Interpretation of the Ending?

By Jen Trolio

Aug 15, 2014

Wilfred S04E09 and S04E10: "Resistance" and "Happiness"

Wilfred's series finale left me in a weird spot. And just to be clear, by "weird," I mean "slightly confused but also mostly satisfied." I've been watching the show since the beginning, and have largely enjoyed its more routine dog humor as well as its darker exploration of Ryan's mental state. So even though I started to lose interest as Season 4 spiraled further and further into bizarre plots involving cults and dog gods named after Matt Damon—I watched every episode, but often found it difficult to stay invested in the unraveling of an increasingly convoluted mystery—I was still eager to see how the story ended.  

Ultimately, the show's two-part conclusion was full of reveals. Wilfred was indeed a normal dog; the guy in the suit was merely a figment of Ryan's imagination. It was incredibly poignant and sad to watch Jenna, Drew, and Ryan put the cancer-ridden Wilfred to sleep in "Resistance," and his death set everything else in motion. Jenna and Drew got back together and moved to Wisconsin with a newly adopted puppy (too soon, you guys!), while Ryan, alone and depressed, returned to the same dark place where he started the series: The opening moments of "Happiness" saw him whipping up a suicide smoothie. But after a conversation with his mom—during which she dropped quite a few family secrets—Ryan jumped back down the Mataman rabbit hole, embarked on a journey of self-discovery, learned the truth about his birth in a cult, and then accepted the fact that he, like both of his parents, was crazy, so to speak. He made peace with the realization that Wilfred had never existed in the sense that Ryan thought he did. And then he made a conscious decision to keep his canine pal around, in his head, forever. 

At least, that's my interpretation of what happened: I believe that Ryan is now aware that his best friend is an imaginary, talking dog, and he's okay with that—or at least as "okay" as he can be. Perhaps more importantly, I believe that Ryan is still alive. 

It's an important distinction to make, as I've seen some folks suggesting that Ryan was successful in killing himself at the outset of "Happiness." Even series star Elijah Wood initially considered such an outcome, as he discussed in an interview with Vulture:

Do you think Ryan’s dead?

When I read the script, that was my feeling. At the very beginning of the episode, when they recall the pilot, I talked to [executive producer] David [Zuckerman] about this and said, “I have a weird interpretation, but I feel like he actually managed to commit suicide, and that the rest of the episode is him dead.” When I mentioned it to David, he thought, Oh, that’s interesting, and that was not his intention at all. [Laughs.]

That still doesn’t stop people from forming their own interpretations.

I agree. Based on reading the script and working on that episode, it felt definitive without being definitive. If people are looking for answers, and as much as the show is also about Ryan looking for answers, it ends with enough information for you to be satisfied, but still it’s relatively ambiguous.

But after reading that, it seems fairly clear that Ryan survived, ambiguity notwithstanding. It's almost like when Breaking Bad ended and some folks floated the idea that Walter White had frozen to death in that car that wouldn't start, with everything that followed representing the fantasy hallucinations he suffered as he lost consciousness—there will always be viewers who see what they want to see. And if you think about it, doesn't that make "Happiness" the perfect capper to a show about a man whose mental health has been ambiguous for as long as we've known him? Who's long made a habit of seeing what he wants to see?

It's odd, because Wilfred's series finale left me feeling both satisfied and anxious. I'm not really surprised that the talking, pot-smoking version of Wilfred turned out to be imaginary, and I'm actually pretty relieved that the show didn't make him into an actual god or whatever—that it somehow remained grounded in reality. I wonder if what I initially expected was that Wilfred's death would be the catalyst that helped Ryan overcome his mental illness. But I think it's important that Ryan wasn't simply "healed"; instead, he decided to kind of embrace his madness in a more managed fashion. I think that's ultimately why, for me, the finale worked in mysterious ways... just like "dog." 


– I feel compelled to mention that the thought of Ryan having killed himself is supremely uncomfortable to consider in the context of Robin Williams' tragic real-world suicide. I can't help but make the connection, so I'm curious as to how it might've affected my interpretation of Wilfred's finale. 

– I haven' seen the original Australian version of Wilfred; if you have, how did its ending compare to this one, if at all?

– We didn't get to see what was behind the basement/closet door. What do you think Ryan saw?

What's your take on Wilfred's series finale?

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  • devitadanilo Dec 02, 2014

    Wilfred is hands down my favorite show the meaning I got from wilfred is you live in your own reality and not trying to Conform to society is what makes ryan the happiest and for that matter us as well... ryan is almost a perfectly functioning human for the most part he is .... The only inconsistency that I saw in wilfred is in the episode when ryan goes to the nursing home and that black lady kills her self bc there was no way ryan could have killed which could actually mean that wilfred is dog god can't remeber the name it might be manamat but all in all wilfred is cinematic gold that is poetic it's not often you see a show conclude and for that matter one as convoluted and cliff hanging as wilfred I wouldn't normally post on here but I haven't met anyone who's finished wilfred and I am the biggest wilfred fan I've prol seen every episode at least 5 times and when season for I am going to cop that cuz it's a show that I watch over and over and always pick up new meaning I just wish that fx didn't bitch out and constrain the writers on the last season ie they casted a different actress for the mother which really pissed me off but that's due to rating and like I said I'm the only who watched wilfred that I know

  • numberonecubsfa Sep 19, 2014

    The entirety of season 4 really dragged the whole series down. Gone was pretty much all the humor. In its place was this increasingly surreal and uncomfortable atmosphere, and this uninteresting story about dog cults and secrets....snore.

    What made the show work at its best was towing the line between story and the question of his sanity. When we were never quite sure if he was really talking to Wilfred, or if this was some extension of him trying to deal with his problems and using Wilfred as an outlet to work them out for himself.

    As one who has seen both shows, I would put the Australian series ahead of the American one. The question of Adam's (the guy in that series) sanity, whether he was really talking to the dog or was crazy, was only ever hinted at. We would go through these scenarios with this man trying to fit into his girlfriend's life while competing with this dog. Whether he was real or not, it still worked as a story and you still liked the characters. That made it all the more fun when they'd occasionally present you with a scenario that made you wonder what was happening. Sometimes it was clearly fake. Other times he clearly knew things he couldn't have learned from anyone else but Wilfred. With an ending that was just vague enough.

    American Wilfred peaked by the end of season 2. I rather wish it had stopped there.

  • Connie62 Sep 15, 2014

    I've been trying to reply to modarkajo, but I've been having issues - so here's what I've been trying to write: I need to re-watch these episodes. But on the dog story, is it possible that Ryan was sneaking around Jenna's home, peeking in the window (being quite jealous of Drew), and heard Drew tell the story and then had Wilfred lie to him for some reason?

  • christiangoen Sep 15, 2014

    Wilfred may never achieve Lost's post-finale following, or Breaking Bad's ratings, but it still managed to have a bigger impact on me than either of the two.

    The ending of Resistance was my favorite episode of the entire series, and I damn near shed a tear at the end, something that only Lost had previously managed. While Happiness was nowhere near as good as it's predecessor, it managed to clear things up, saving a lot of diehard Wilfred fans a lot of time speculating.

    Overall, Wilfred was... unique. Many people will go their entire life not giving the show about a guy talking to a dog a chance, and that's fine, because I know that, in the end, this series genuinely moved me.

  • Connie62 Sep 14, 2014

    Great comments! I'm late to the game, but I've been really mesmerized by the last couple episodes! It's been making me think a lot!

    I feel that no one could have done a better job than Elijah Wood! How excellent was he?!? Wow! He's the MAIN reason I will re-watch all seasons again!!
    And another reason I'll be re-watching - now I want to see if they did know what they were doing from the beginning! So, I will watch very carefully. I'm thinking they did know what they were doing ... and it's going to be a lot darker now. Because now I'll know that so much that happens will be Ryan's doing! It will be so very disturbing and sickening and sad.
    I suggest watching "A Beautiful Mind", which is based on a true story. Schizophrenia is unbelievable! They truly see the person and fully believe what is happening. So, Ryan was doing pretty much everything but was unaware of his involvement until the end.
    I think Ryan was going into the closet constantly - whenever we saw him in the non-existent basement, etc. - and this is where he really cut loose. He took Wilfred, the real dog, into this tiny closet and smoked dope! Who knows how many hours at a time - with no windows. No wonder Wilfred got lung cancer! It's so sad. But Elijah makes Ryan hard to be angry at! You don't know WHAT to think now. He was, essentially, abusing this real dog - without even knowing it. It's the mental illness. Elijah pulled it off!!
    I believe Jenna was very bad for him. She didn't know up from down! Who lets a stranger take their dog constantly? Apparently Jenna didn't even smell the marijuana on her dog! Deep down I don't think she cared ... until Wilfred died. Probably guilt. And then she gets another puppy, just like that? Yes, it was Drew who got the puppy, but she went for it.
    The last scene when Ryan opens the closet door -- he did not look down -- I agree that he saw the closet only - a place where he will enter and escape to his crazy, fun world, whether the basement or the beach - in this case the beach.
    And, is it just me, or was the smile Ryan had very reminiscent of the wonderful Elijah Wood's Frodo - probably the most innocent, happiest smile he had in the whole series? It meant a lot to me.
    Now that Ryan knows the truth, he seems contented - as disturbing as it may be. Hopefully he will not ever get another real dog - a dog that he could yet again unknowingly frighten and abuse - and instead can face his mental illness and accept it with happiness - alone.

  • Connie62 Sep 14, 2014

    I tried to have spacing between the paragraphs, but it didn't work.

  • Connie62 Sep 14, 2014

  • modarkajo Sep 14, 2014

    I've watch them all 4 seasons within the last two weeks, and I must admit.. I enjoyed every single second of it, the ending was quite brilliant, I couldn't ask for a better one, glad the didn't keep up with the cult thing, and that would have totally ruin the show, however since I watched all the episodes at once, I met some flaws in the theory of Wilfred being Ryan's subconscious mind, for example..
    In the episode "Control" Wilfred told Ryan a story about two dogs.. later that nigh Drew told Ryan the same story (the real version of the story because Wilfred was lying) and Ryan was surprised.. the point is Ryan didn't know the story and your subconscious mind can't tell you a story that really exists but you've never heard of, same goes for the nicknames of the people in the neighborhood, and that three legged pink pig Ryan found when he went to that crib to meet Wilfred's clone
    And finally.. your subconscious can't tie you to the chair tightly as Wilfred did, I hope there someone out there who can answer those questions.
    Anyway I will truly miss this series, Jason Gann amazing performance was terrific, the whole show is unforgettable, I wonder if will ever see something like it again

  • nicholasgonzalez9026 Sep 12, 2014

    So... I just watched all of season 4 today and at first I was a bit disappointed in the ending. Seeing Wilfred die in the second to last episode was very hard for me. I lost my mom to lung cancer 7 months ago and I couldn't help breaking down seeing Ryan sitting with his best friend who was being put to sleep in the same fashion that doctors helped my mom pass peacefully. Then I started to think about how the main theme in the show was Ryan's happiness. All along I expected the show to end as some sort of big dream that he was having, induced by the drugs he took to kill himself in season 1. I expected him to eventually awake in the same desperate and glum situation with a new perspective and will to live better. That would have been an easy out and I am pleased that for once I didn't completely predict the ending.

    To me it is obvious that Ryan was mentally ill. The scene where they show him looking back doing all the things that we saw Wilfred doing all along is proof of this. Wilfred was his neighbors dog, but the pot-smoking imaginary friend that we grew to love was always a part of Ryan that did in fact seek true happiness. I think this is the point of the show, besides making us laugh (which is kinda the same goal, right?). True happiness is something we need to find inside us. Life is a bitch. People will die, friends will betray us, and we will fall in love with people who don't return that love to us. That doesn't mean life's not worth living. After every failure there is something to be learned and if you keep trying to be happy and you are honest with yourself, even the craziest most delusional people can achieve happiness.

    As for the basement, I believe when Ryan opened the door he did in fact see just a closet. The reason he laughed it off was his newly found realization that he was indeed crazy, but okay with that. Because now he knew that Wilfred was just a manifestation of his mind and subconscious and a part of him striving to achieve happiness. I liked that he embraced that and decided to keep that part of himself alive.

    Another question the show made us ponder was whether or not Wilfred was God. As any christian will tell you, God is a part of us all, and inside each of us. He wants us to be happy and live a "good" life in his image and for him. God speaks to us in our own voice inside our head and heart. So in a way, maybe Wilfred was God's way of speaking to Ryan, helping him find himself, and his true happiness. Despite all the crazy antics between Wilfred and Ryan and all the trouble they got in along the way I still like to think that it was all part of a master plan. A plan that despite everything appearing to be falling apart and hopeless had Ryan somehow smiling and finding a reason to be happy. doG works in mysterious ways.

  • matthewmckeever3 Aug 28, 2014

    Why compare it to Robin Williams Suicide. I have to say, my first thought is you included "Robin Williams" so that your article would come up in google searches for him. I hope that is not the case.

  • ScottJohnson5908 Aug 20, 2014

    I was pleased with the ending. I know a lot of people wanted some kind of happy ending, Ryan gets Jenna, he regains his sanity and they live happily ever after. Well, life isn't all happy endings. I appreciated the fact that in the end Ryan realizes he's crazy, and decides to embrace it. Wilfred was in his mind, the basement was in his mind, Bruce was in his mind. Ryan created Wilfred to keep from committing suicide the first time, and he only tried again after Wilfred died. So to keep himself alive he had to come to terms with the fact that Wilfred wasn't real. In the end he decided it was better to be crazy than dead.

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