[28 July 2014]
Noir isn’t about deduction or reasoning or putting the pieces together from the clues to get the whole picture. It’s about shaking the trees and seeing what falls out. Noir detectives don’t know what’s up in those branches. They think they do. They think it’s the answers to a riddle, but often those answers are surprising. There’s always a catch. There’s always a complication. There’s always a complete inversion of what they thought they knew. What falls out is never what they want. They want answers and what they get is truth. It’s only now, in these final acts of The Wolf Among us, that the game’s protagonist Bigby Wolf knows whose trees he is shaking and where they need shaking.
Shake the tress and see what falls out. This is essentially what the last two episodes of the Wolf Among Us have us doing. More specifically, episode 4 is about seeking out the last vestiges of the Crooked Man’s syndicate in an effort to confront the man himself. Once everything crumbles around Bigby in that episode, he begins picking up the pieces in episode 5. Questions like “Who?” and “Why?” are irrelevant at this point. We know those answers. The only question that remains is: “What are we going to do about it?”
Resolution is the name of the game. The final two episodes of the season are not as standalone as the episodic structure might lead you to believe. They are really two segments of a final act. Episode 4, “In Sheep’s Clothing”, is the set up for that final act and episode 5,” Cry Wolf,” is the spike.
After almost dying in the encounter at the end of episode 3, Bigby is patched up by Dr. Swineheart and told that another scuffle like that could be the end of him. However, before he can heal, he has to get back out there once again to shake those trees. The fourth episode allows the player to tie up the game’s subplots. In it, we meet up with the last of our fellow Fable citizens whose lives have been effected by the case, and they get the opportunity to take the stresses of the previous events of the season out on Bigby, while also expressing their hopes for the future.
As much as episode 4 feels like a bit of aimless wandering, it is necessary or episode 5 wouldn’t have the significance that it does. We both need to see Bigby as weakened and vulnerable to give the final episode a sense of real danger, and as noted before, we need to resolve the stories of all the secondary characters that the case has touched.
The Wolf Among Us is more than a simple murder mystery. The good and noble lawman hunts down a bad guy, but the game’s themes are more complicated than that. It offers a critique of political systems that systemically ignore pleas for help from its citizens. While the Crooked Man’s organization exploited people to a horrifying degree, culminating in two murders, it is the government turning a blind eye that allowed those events to happen. Likewise, Bigby’s nature and history has always been a point of contention for the community, exacerbated now by this case. The constant fight between his bestial nature and his better nature is of concern to the very people he has sworn to protect. The series ends the only way it could, by not putting the nominal criminal on trail, but also the system itself and it’s representatives, calling into question the nature of political and social justice.
In the mythos of the Fables universe, the Fabletown Compact is a magic that binds the community together. Old animosities and grudges are forgotten in a new, more seemingly mundane world. But magic, as strong as it is, can be broken. The truth of what Fabletown had become was buried and hidden away from sight. it seeped into the foundation of the community, and now that the rot has come to light, the battle is for the soul of that community, as a question arises about whether their social contract can hold. Those are the stakes in the game. The final battle is not an enemy we can punch or blow away, though Bigby does that as well, but occurs in the form of a town meeting where discussion is raised about Fabletown’s future.
As each scene of The Wolf Among Us has built towards the greater whole of the episode, each episode has built toward the greater whole of the game. The world is always moving forward, regardless if we, as players and Bigby, are ready or prepared for it to do so or not. The game keeps its choices wrapped in mystery, its consequences often ambiguous, and its goals similarly obscure.
It is often said that it’s the journey, not the destination that matters. The destination does matter. One needs it to put the journey in a proper context. Only in hindsight can actions be judged, as we in turn are judged. We shake the trees and what falls out, falls on us. The various pieces of The Wolf Among Us may not have worked perfectly on their own, but only because it is a work that works best when seen in its full context. In the end, the biggest problem I have with the game is that it was only available in pieces for so long.