Like a lot of comics, the Fables series has a somewhat noncommittal relationship with death. A lot of fables die and stay dead, sure, but in a world of living fiction, it’s hardly surprising to see some of them return as ghosts, or even be resurrected. In the comics, Bigby Wolf even has a quota for how many times he needs to die before it’ll stick. So though her head turned up on the doorstep of the Woodlands at the end of The Wolf Among Us Episode 1, it’s not particularly surprising when Snow White bursts in on an interrogation regarding her own murder at the beginning of Episode 2.
Still, even if they don’t belong to someone you care about, dead bodies cause problems. Episode 2: Smoke and Mirrors opens with Bigby in a mundy (mundane) police station, being interviewed about the gruesome early morning delivery. It doesn’t take him long to get out and back on the case, but this brief interlude does a good job establishing the dynamics between Fables and normal folk. Bigby can’t afford to let on about his nature, but at the same time you can see how frustrated he is that the cops don’t understand anything.
Bigby gets some time to play off of a few minor antagonists from the comics. We see something of a human side to Ichabod Crane – he’s clearly distraught about Snow’s apparent death, and you can even see flashes of guilt about his treatment of her – but he’s still a sniveling, officious little man. Bigby finds Bluebeard interrogating whichever suspect he chose to apprehend at the end of the last episode. The sheriff takes over questioning while Bluebeard makes snide remarks about his approach, whether he chooses to butter the suspect up or brutalize him. Even if you don’t know the characters, you can see immediately why Bigby would be so suspicious of Bluebeard in the last episode, and I don’t think anyone who plays through this will be surprised at what becomes of Crane.
Faith posed a lot of questions, a lot of them red herrings, which lead to it feeling a little muddled. By contrast, Smoke and Mirrors has a much sharper focus. Though a lot of the threads from the first episode are untangled, it’s all in service of following a single line of questioning: if it’s not Snow lying on that slab, who is it? Why was she killed? More importantly, how and why does she look so much like Snow?
These questions take Bigby up and down the bad end of Fabletown, and get him mixed up with some new unsavory characters. Fables fans will be delighted/disgusted to finally see Jack Horner in the mix, hanging around the Trip Trap bar. Jack – who’s both the series greatest villain and its sole true hero, if you ask him – is his usual irritating self, and you’re given a very tempting opportunity to smash in his stupid, smug face. In this episode he’s only around to stir up trouble, but I’d bet my bottom dollar that he’s working on some yet to be revealed scheme, because Jack ALWAYS has a scheme. Bigby also crosses paths with Georgie Porgie, imagined here as a smarmy, tattooed pimp.
Both characters are real bastards, but what’s interesting and fun about them is that they’re both scrawny, conniving cretins. Whereas Faith exclusively saw Bigby going toe to toe with violent bruisers, Smoke and Mirrors only features one necessary combat encounter. Jack and Georgie both talk a big game, but when push comes to shove (in Jack’s case literally) all it takes is a bit of intimidation to get them to back down. While it’s tempting and certainly cathartic to start smashing things up, it’s enjoyable to hold back and watch these cowards wither under Bigby’s glare.
Telltale’s signature brand of choice is of course ever-present. So far there haven’t been any moral conundrums on the same level as The Walking Dead, and while your choices do shape how characters see Bigby, he’s still working against (or with) centuries of preconceptions. On that front, the choices seem to be more about how Bigby sees himself than anything else, and I found it interesting that my Bigby sort of dialed back his aggression after being chastised by Snow. The more interesting choices lie in deciding where to begin your investigations. If you hold off on examining a crime scene, key evidence might disappear before you get there, while on the other hand witnesses might become uncooperative (or otherwise indisposed) if you don’t get to them in time. It feels as though there’s a much wider range of possibilities than there were in The Walking Dead, and where that game was more of a single shot narrative, The Wolf Among Us feels built to encourage replays. I only hope that Telltale can follow through on this and deliver a wide range of possible conclusions as the season progresses.
Smoke and Mirrors is a solid continuation for The Wolf Among Us. A lot of seeds were planted in Faith, and while a few have borne fruit, most of this episode’s running time is spent tending to them. This episode has a fairly basic story, driven forward by great character writing and a compelling air of mystery, but it’s plain to see that there are many dramatic, earth-shattering moments yet to come. Now that everything’s been set up, I’m excited to see how it’ll all come crashing down.
Version Reviewed: PC