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?
AIRED ON 8/13/2014
Season 4 : Episode 10