game, playing

Punch and silence (The Wolf Among Us, Episode 1)

Jan1--1

I know Fables. I may not have an encyclopedic knowledge of all of the characters, their interconnected mythologies, and the many relationships they’d had, and in some cases will have, but I know them. I’ve read 133 of the current 135 issues of the series. I’m familiar with this world and these people.

Coming to The Wolf Among Us, then, was a strange experience. It was the characters I know, the places I’ve seen, but nothing was quite like I assumed it would be. My expectations of how this world worked and what I thought would probably happen in the story given what I know of the timeline were subverted. All of which, let me note, I thought were good things overall. I would have disliked it a great deal more had it been a re-imagining of something I knew, if I had to play through a story I’ve already read.

Because, that was the problem, actually. I didn’t really like it. I didn’t hate it or anything like that, but it wasn’t quite what I wanted and I felt it was trying too hard to be something it wasn’t.

Jan1--2

Sure, I enjoyed seeing the world I knew in a game form. I liked hearing the voice-acted roles. I even found enjoyment in seeing the writers trying to negotiate the present conditions of various relationships in view of where they eventually go. That was probably my favorite part. But, overall, it was just trying too much to beat me over the head with its theme: “the wolf among us” in all of its literal and metaphorical meanings.

The opening fight with the Woodsman smacked of the same sudden violence used in opening of The Walking Dead: Season 1. The juxtaposition of a simple conversation and then a life-or-dead struggle. An introduction to a world with a rawness just below the surface. A place where anything could, and probably does, happen. The simmering violence of a “wolf” trapped in the banality of the mundane world.

I can’t help but to think the shock of its violence probably would have worked better had I not been immediately turned off my it. Sure, I knew Bigby was the ‘Big Bad Wolf’ and all, but I also knew, as he tells Colin much later, his job works best when there is the threat of violence from him. More theoretical pain than actually inflicting it as much as he seems to do in this first episode. He more implies he will hurt you than dealing out all the punching that happened a bit too much for me.

Jan1--3

I also couldn’t but wonder, then, if I was polluting my own experience with future knowledge of these characters. I know who, and even when, certain people will die. I’ve read through those battles. I know who lives too, and what happens between certain people. I’ve even seen what happens to their children in one particularly case! I’ve seen both hundreds of years in the past and just as many into the future of this timeline.

Throughout playing, I just kept shaking my head at the screen, “That’s not how Bigby works. He wouldn’t do that.”

In my mind, and from my reading, Bigby doesn’t talk much. It makes him fit this Noir aesthetic of The Wolf Among Us so well. He acts and dresses like a hard-boiled detective in his role as a Sheriff for the Fabletown characters. He doesn’t get much sleep, works all the time, and harbors a not-so-secret love for one of the leading ladies. He is, except for actually being a wolf, nearly a trope in and of himself.

It was this image of him that conflicted so much with the game for me. The frequent use of the shot-reverse-shot film technique, especially with the women, made me frown. Bigby doesn’t, and I actually wrote this down, flirt much. Other than with Snow White, and I did really enjoy the moment they had in the cab in Episode 1, he doesn’t even let his guard down with nearly anyone. He is very much the “lone wolf” at this point in the timeline.

That was where I saw the most direct problem with this episode for me too. The story really wants Bigby to be the leading man in a Noir story, to fight first and ask questions second. To visit all the shady places and threaten people for answers. To not be afraid to unleash the beast within, the “true” self, in the line of getting the job done. Bigby should, if this was a straight-up detective story, be right on the edge of being too old to do footwork, but is still holding on because he knows nothing else — and is probably punishing himself for some ancient supposed sin in the process.

Yet, and here’s the issue for me, that isn’t what Bigby is. Not completely, anyway. The Fables stories work best when they indulge in the banality of everyday life, but then undercut it with the knowledge of these characters being magical in nature. Bigby can be a detective, but he is also a wolf. He would be able, and this was a constant annoyance for me, to sniff the blood and pick up a trail. His keen eyes would have allowed him to see more than the other characters. His senses are both better and, to borrow from some advanced knowledge I have, even partially divine in nature. He is the son of the North Wind, after all.

That he stumbles into fights is understandable to some degree, but being tied so closely to my actions makes him seem rather incompetent. The character, as Bigby, would be better at solving crimes and fighting off attackers than I portrayed him as being able to do. He should have more knowledge and be better at dealing with people he has known for hundreds of years than the game shows him as being through me. This is a man-wolf who has been around for possibly thousands of years. That he deals in the boring, “Huh. This looks like blood,” conversations downgrades both what this character could be and what he has been in other mediums.