Bruce is back! Well…sort of.
So, yeah, let’s go ahead and address the elephant in the room. Indeed, “Patterns” features the much-anticipated return of fan-favorite Bruce, the eccentric and mysterious figure who seemingly serves as the only other human capable of seeing Wilfred’s “man dog” form. Played to great effect by Dwight Yoakam in previous seasons, this episode finds him replaced by Billy Baldwin (initially decked out in Dwight Yoakam-esque skin prosthetics). Whether this is an example of schedules not aligning properly or a purposeful attempt by the writers to emphasize Bruce’s enigmatic character, I’m not sure. Ryan doesn’t seem to address it much so, perhaps, we shouldn’t either. Nonetheless, while Baldwin is perfectly fine in the role, bringing the proper devilish energy to all of Bruce’s antics, I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss Yoakam’s take. Considering the series is nearing its end, it would be nice to have the original actor back for one last hurrah. Here’s hoping that’s still in the cards.
But let’s talk about the episode. It begins with Ryan realizing that the air-headed Genevieve (Julie Hagerty, brilliant as always) may be complicit in his father’s Grey Shepard antics. He eventually learns that she’s been depositing money into a specific location every month for the past 30 years. What’s more, the blackmailer has now ordered all the remaining money be delivered during the next drop-off.
Meanwhile, Ryan is also dealing with the return of Jenna who, after failing to win back Drew, attempts to reinstate the old relationship between the two of them. Wilfred, in turn, reacts to Jenna’s newly clingy nature by engaging in games with Bruce. In a move that’s far from subtle given it’s the show’s last year, the games this time around are called “End Games.” Inevitably, it reaches the point where Ryan must make a difficult choice—help Jenna find Wilfred, who has run off again, or stake-out Genevieve’s drop-off and potentially discover the identity of the mysterious blackmailer. Ryan settles on finding Wilfred and learns that he’s fallen for one of Bruce’s traps and been sent to a “kill shelter.”
Then, the big moment comes. Ryan slowly begins piecing together the strange parts of Bruce’s behavior—he dribbles liquid when he drinks, he starts flailing his legs when being tickled, etc. It’s at this point that Bruce reveals he’s still wearing prosthetic skin and underneath it all is a man-dog costume. He claims to be Krungle, the Trickster God.
Just when you think Wilfred has given a definitive answer, however, it instantly backtracks. It turns out Wilfred told Bruce about “Krungle”; as such, this could merely be an extension of one of Bruce’s bizarre games. The situation gets even more complicated when Ryan, using a GPS that Wilfred installed in the drop-off money, tracks down a man who looks like a prosthetic-clad Bruce. When Ryan tries to unmask him, he discovers that it’s not make-up. The “not Bruce” then murmurs about how Ryan is as crazy as his mother, thus dropping us even deeper into “WTF” territory.
“Patterns” is a curious episode. In re-introducing Bruce and his games, it recalls some of the show’s finer moments while understanding that audiences will be looking for something more than a simple retread. In this way, the reveal of Bruce-as-Krungle adds a nice subversive twist to the proceedings, even if it does take a bit longer to get there than I cared for.
More than anything, however, the episode is about Ryan attempting to break the toxic emotional cycle that is his relationship with Jenna. Seeing Ryan try to politely brush her off for dinner is a nice reminder that, though the show engages in many absurdist plotlines and peculiar mythologies, it’s very much a human story where the surreal moments reflect and augment the show’s melancholy core.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.