Episode Title: "Progress"
Writer: David Zuckerman
Director: Randall Einhorn
Last week, FX announced that "Wilfred" season 2 was starting early with a special preview episode which is out now on various streaming services. Since the embed codes are disabled, you may want to watch it on Hulu before reading the following review. But I'll hold back from spoiling the most pivotal moments of the episode.
To bring everybody up to speed, this show follows Ryan (Elijah Wood); a depressed and sometimes suicidal young man who is the only one who perceives a dog named Wilfred (Jason Gann) as a surly Australian man in a cheap dog suit. Ryan developed a self-destructive friendship with Wilfred while romantically pursuing Wilfred's owner, Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann). But in the season finale, Ryan took a darker turn and attempted to break up Jenna and boyfriend, Drew (Chris Klein) by using the manipulative tricks he learned from Wilfred. As a result, Ryan destroyed the marriage of his sister, Kristen (Dorian Brown), accidentally left Jenna convinced she was pregnant and he led Wilfred to seriously injure himself by leaping in front of a car.
And on top of everything else, Wilfred no longer remembered Ryan; who was also forced to question his own sanity when he discovered that the basement where he spent so much time with Wilfred didn't actually exist.
"Progress" picks up about four months later, with Ryan as a patient at a mental hospital under the care of Dr. Eddy (Robin Williams). For Ryan, this probably brings back unpleasant memories of his mother, Catherine (Mary Steenburgen); who spent most of his childhood at an institutional as well. And while Ryan never voices that connection in this episode, he does show genuine fear when his still unseen father is brought up in conversation.
At the same time, Ryan is haunted by a recurring dream in which he works in an office for a demanding boss, Jeremy (Steven Weber), with Amanda (Allison Mack) and Kevin (Rob Riggle) as his coworkers. For Ryan, it's a return to his legal career and possibly his idea of hell. Back in reality, Jenna shows up to visit Ryan at the institute and she brings along a wheelchair bound Wilfred, who has recovered his memories if not the use of his legs.
When Wilfred offers to explain to Ryan why he's the only person who can see him, Ryan practically runs away and tells Wilfred that he is just the part of himself that lies to him. Even though Ryan seems poised for a recovery, Wilfred's presence seems to cause a breakdown in the reality of Ryan's dream and his waking hours. There are certain parts of this episode that should definitely not be spoiled, so that's as far as we'll go with the recap. But I will say that the reveal of the driver is one of the most hilarious moments in the show's short history.
Gann is once again on his game as Wilfred, who is just as self-serving and duplicitous as ever. But underneath the multiple layers of Wilfred's manipulations, there is still the sense that he cares for Ryan and wants to help him. Wilfred even has an extended riff on the search for truth which he sums up as "keep digging."
Williams is also quite funny in his guest role as Ryan's doctor, but he's not as over-the-top as his usual comedic performances. Dr. Eddy's got a gentle side towards Ryan; which goes away pretty fast after Ryan has a major setback with his mental health. And if Dr. Eddy's point is that Ryan has created his own delusions to escape from reality than it is well taken.
Somewhat surprisingly, "Progress" doesn't completely walk back the events of last season's finale. At least two major characters don't even physically appear in this episode, including Ryan's sister Kristen. The other absent character is a given to come back in the following episode. The question of Ryan's sanity and just how crazy he really is remains open to interpretation by the end of this episode. Ryan even has to literally tear down a wall to get a hopeful message from Wilfred. But if Ryan was cured of all of his delusions now, there wouldn't be much of a series left.
"Progress" was ultimately a very satisfying start to "Wilfred" season 2. The truth about Ryan's mental health is out there, he just needs to keep digging.