Wilfred: "Responsibility"

(Episode 4.09)

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This final season has found Wilfred oscillating between mythology-heavy installments that drive its overarching plot forward and more standalone, character-based half-hours that wrap up character arcs both major and minor. After the big revelation (or not revelation) of Bruce as Krungle last week, it seems only natural that we would now switch to a character-centric story this week. Unlike other similar episodes, which occasional felt a bit like the show treading water, “Responsibility” succeeds in large part because it’s the kind of episode that takes advantage of the history we have with the characters and delivers a surprisingly touching little vignette as a result.

First thing’s first: like last week, this entry also features a major bit of re-casting. Whereas Ryan’s mother, Catherine, was played by Mary Steenburgen in earlier seasons, this episode finds the role being filled by Mimi Rogers. Unlike the Bruce switcheroo last week, the writers actually hang a lantern on the situation by having their characters directly acknowledge the change.

“Your mom looks different,” Wilfred comments. “Did she have a cleanse?”

Moreover, the issue with Billy Baldwin stepping into Bruce’s role was that the character was so thoroughly defined by Dwight Yoakam’s presence and eccentric mannerisms. Catherine Newman, on the other hand, was equally eccentric but more in keeping with a certain archetype. And while Steenburgen did a fantastic job of mining the character for equal parts broad comedy and pathos, Rogers proves herself just as adept here, bringing her own brand of vibrant mania to the role. Also, the fact that Catherine would look different after being treated properly and falling in love again does make some modicum of narrative sense. What’s more, her character works phenomenally well with Dorian Brown’s Kristen. On paper, the idea of Kristen finally reconciling with her mother when she is played by a completely different actress sounds like a real obstacle. Luckily, the two actresses have such great chemistry that they easily manage to communicate the characters’ lengthy history. Thus, their emotional beats end up landing in spite of everything going against it.

The episode itself begins with Catherine checking herself out of the sanitarium. Kristen is, of course, very resistant to this idea, but Ryan tries to keep an open mind. Upon picking her up from the institution, Wilfred takes umbrage with Dr. Cahill’s three-legged dog, who he jealously views as being a magnet for affection (Wilfred’s harping on the dog becomes important later). Things get more complicated when Ryan and Kristen realize that their mother is now carrying on a sexual relationship with Dr. Cahill (who, yes, still never misses a chance to mention how he was gang-raped). Kristen threatens to report the therapist and have their mother thrown back into the sanitarium, and Ryan—despite Wilfred’s suggestions that he should let the two work it out themselves— attempts to play peacemaker by gently convincing Cahill to break up with Catherine.

The plan seems to go off without a hitch until, of course, Wilfred messes up the situation by sending Cahill a message on Facebook that drives him to stumble back to the house and ask Catherine to marry him. From here, Kristen and Catherine launch into another shouting match. This time, Ryan follows Wilfred’s advice and lets them hash it out. Sure enough, the truth behind their heated exchange comes bursting forth. Kristen is upset that her life has gone to shambles and is frustrated that her mother can find love and be happy and she can’t. The two tearfully embrace and set aside their acrimonious relationship.

Just as the episode looks to be wrapping up without any substantial changes, we get a last-minute game-changer. Jenna greets Ryan and Wilfred from outside her house and tosses them keys, which end up falling in the middle of the street. Wilfred, with his dog-like fervor, runs to get them and ends up being slammed by an oncoming car. When he arises, we see that his arm has been torn off and is spurting blood. As Ryan and Jenna watch in horror, Wilfred rejoices—he’s now a three-legged dog himself. It’s certainly a shocker of an ending and leaves one wondering how this will affect the show going forward, especially since there are now only three episodes remaining.

“Responsibility” may not boast the mind-bending experimentations of episodes like “Answers” or “Forward,” but it is an excellent demonstration of what the show is capable of achieving with merely a tight, effective script and some stellar actors at the top of their game. It encapsulates all that’s good about the show, being simultaneously laugh-out-loud funny, heartbreaking and—with the advent of its final seconds—surprising. Furthermore, it’s also a great reminder that, beneath all the dark comedy and frequently crass sense of humor, Wilfred remains one of the most earnest and heartfelt shows on TV.

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