the wolf among us

Episode 4: A Wolf in Andy Griffith’s Clothing

by Jed Pressgrove

Note: Consider watching The Andy Griffith Show if you haven’t.

Similar to the doctor who saves Sheriff Bigby, the latest entry of The Wolf Among Us (“In Sheep’s Clothing”) sews up the wound caused by Episode 3’s dumb, hackneyed violence. Although Episode 4 has a fight scene that could have been cut, it refrains from Episode 3’s tired comparisons of Bigby and the X-Men favorite, Wolverine. In fact, Episode 4 gives Bigby the potential to resemble a more profound character. Players who choose to make Bigby unsympathetic to Fabletown’s citizens will miss the most interesting development of the series: Bigby as Andy Griffith (not in attitude, but in purpose).

Before Episode 4, The Wolf Among Us couldn’t make a clear statement about community, power, or responsibility. Eric Swain’s review of Episode 3 provides insight into this lack of focus:

The Wolf Among Us has been rather obviously about the economic inequality plaguing Fabletown and how the power structures in place have either been inept, willfully blind, or actively complicit in the plight of the downtrodden and soon to be downtrodden. I feel like no matter how obvious this theme is and the messaging of it may be, it is lost due to the presentation of the murder mystery that is central to the plot of the game.

While I disagree with Swain that The Wolf Among Us has “obviously” been about these things from the beginning, he is correct about Telltale allowing the murder mystery — and corresponding trashy elements — to overshadow social inquiry. Up until Episode 4, The Wolf Among Us has been a tease as far as power structures are concerned, getting no help from Auntie Greenleaf’s deceit or Bloody Mary’s moronic appearance. But Telltale has finally gotten serious about addressing the politics of class. “Either way I’m getting screwed,” laments Toad, who doesn’t see hope in the above-the-law Crooked Man or Snow White’s business office. Clearly, Fabletown needs an Andy Griffith, an authority figure who keeps the community together while consciously avoiding power trips. If you’re convicted to turn Bigby into Andy Griffith, The Wolf Among Us becomes as much about community well-being as personal redemption. By explicitly tying Bigby’s morality to the preservation of community, Episode 4 surpasses Episode 2 as the strongest entry in the series.

At long last, Telltale’s preselected big choices have lost their obviousness and dominant relevance, meaning that Episode 4 requires more consistent moral thought than its predecessors. To keep the Fabletown community together, Episode 4 is all about what you say to people — or what you don’t say, a distinction Andy Griffith knows all too well. Although Snow White isn’t comical like Barney Fife, she has a similar by-the-books shortsightedness that can be held in check by withholding information. Following White’s strict mandates in Episode 4 is not only toxic to the confused Fabletown community; it confines you to another tired video game about order.

Like Andy Griffith, Bigby can see that order doesn’t always gel with the realization of community. Consider that you have the opportunity to let characters like Toad and Colin be themselves. Refusing to disconnect these characters from the community is reminiscent of Andy Griffith giving Otis, the town drunk, the responsibility to put himself in a jail cell. A trickier moment in Episode 4 is when you meet Tiny Tim, who works as a doorman for the Crooked Man. The game forces you to consider Tim’s disenfranchisement as a disabled Fable in light of his troubling association with the criminal mastermind. To be an Andy Griffith for Tim, you have to walk a line between order and respect. Even the pretentious Beauty and Beast deserve a better community leader. Beauty and Beast resemble duped Americans whose aspirations were exploited by subprime loans. “We were royalty once,” they cry. For a Wolf in Andy Griffith’s clothing, their debt isn’t as important as taking down a predatory lender in the community.

The great message of The Andy Griffith Show is that not everything should be done by the book. Of course, the show is much more family-friendly than The Wolf Among Us, regardless of your choices as Bigby. But playing as close as you can to Andy Griffith in The Wolf Among Us reveals a lesson about community: people first, rules second. By the end of Episode 4, Bigby can transform into a paragon of ironic wholesomeness: although Andy Griffith rarely smoked in his show, Bigby lighting a cigarette while facing a crime boss and his gang recalls how Griffith, no matter what, was cool, collected, and strong. Despite the Episode 5 preview leading me to believe that The Wolf Among Us might get very stupid again, Episode 4 shares a compelling fantasy about community leadership. Doesn’t that beat everything?

Episode 3: The Wolf Among Us Stumbles

by Jed Pressgrove

No one could blame the latest Wolf Among Us episode if it were simply trashy, but I wouldn’t let my garbageman play this. The monotonous violence that essentially bookends this entry (“A Crooked Mile”) suggests that inspiration can be fleeting in Telltale’s rigid format. The decision to release adventures in five-episode shells clearly favors business over creativity. Only a few moments of hesitation and reflection keep Episode 3 from being straight-up filler.

Telltale thankfully hasn’t forgotten the hook of The Wolf Among Us — how the soul and duty of the Big Bad Wolf are intertwined. Even in this weak episode, the moral fiber of the game remains far more sophisticated than The Walking Dead’s sentimental and violent babysitting simulation. That a simple choice about respect for the dead is considered a major decision highlights a subtlety in The Wolf Among Us that most games don’t have (A Game of Cat and Mouse comes to mind as an exception). Moreover, the influence of Snow White on one’s actions is legitimately powerful, as pointed out by Alexa Ray Corriea.

Unfortunately, The Wolf Among Us also seems to be interested in being a dumb action show, which doesn’t work given the increasing gravity of its story. The gunshots in this new episode have a Harrison Bergeron effect, dulling the game’s intellectual senses. Forget about the annoying button mashing: the violence demonstrates little more than the fact that we can liken the Big Bad Wolf to the indestructible X-Men character, Wolverine (as if the hair, attitude, and Jean Grey/Snow White similarity weren’t enough). The last big decision is simultaneously an unimaginative Berserker Rage reference and a holdover of The Walking Dead’s corny “Whoya gonna save/kill?” dynamic. This lame conclusion is punctuated by a new character who comes onto the scene like a Dragon Ball Z villain, full of boring, idiotic things to say. Yep, this isn’t trash; it’s more like litter.

The limited commentary on class struggle can’t overcome how dull the investigations are compared to those of the first two episodes. The single exception is the investigation of Auntie Greenleaf’s house. This scene, however, exploits political tensions as opposed to presenting the moral and legal concerns of the situation coherently.

The Wolf Among Us has become more sentimental and obvious with this glaring fragment of a game. Even without endings, the previous two episodes were unique, energizing stories. Episode 3 is Telltale playing that old television trick of fulfilling the obligation of a numbered episode. Asking ourselves why we crave another episode can tell us a lot about the last one we experienced.