We’re back at the Push to Smart Water Cooler to talk choices (or lack thereof) and comic book callbacks in The Wolf Among Us‘s second episode “Smoke & Mirrors.” As usual, a transcript is available after the jump.
This Water Cooler discussion contains spoilers for The Wolf Among Us episode 2, “Smoke and Mirrors” as well as Bill Willingham’s comic books Fables.
JAYLEE: Welcome to the Push to Smart Water Cooler in this episode, we will be discussing The Wolf Among Us’s second episode, “Smoke & Mirrors.”
STACEY: The second episode of The Wolf Among Us opens with an interrogation that quickly dissolves once we discover that Snow White is actually not dead! And another Fable has been killed in her place. The murder mystery stalls as Bigby focuses his investigation on uncovering the identity of the victim, and the conspiracy surrounding both her and Faith’s employer. In the end, this reveals a dark secret about Fabletown’s acting deputy mayor, Ichabod Crane. Dun dun dun!
JAYLEE: So, just general impressions. The first thing that struck me, that I was surprised at, there weren’t really many choices that impacted where the story was going. Like, in Walking Dead, there’s so many different things that will, like, come and bite you in the ass. But in this one it boiled down to whether you’re going to be a nice guy or you’re going to be aggressive.
JAYLEE: And I feel like part of that is… I like that Telltale isn’t shoehorning choices in for the sake of choices, but I also feel that maybe it has something to do with the fact that there is a canon, this is canonical, and it’s affecting the main characters of a story that is still being written. And that kind of puts them in a situation where they can’t have as much player choice as they would like, because ultimately, certain events have to occur.
STACEY: I will say that there were several prompts on my first playthrough that I missed because I was just sitting there watching and forgot that I was supposed to do something—that’s how, like, UN-interactive it was. Which—I enjoyed it, but I don’t know if it’s necessarily because there is that canon hanging over their heads, or if it’s just kind of… a limit of the formula. And maybe the murder mystery doesn’t have as many options as they were prepared to write maybe? I’m not sure. I did find that some of my choices from the first game paid off kind of unexpectedly in this one. And not in a way that changed the events, but changed dramatically how, like, I READ the events that I ended up watching in this one. For example, in one game I chose Tweedle Dum, and in the other I chose to chase the Woodsman at the end to take as my prime suspect. And with Tweedle Dum, he didn’t give much information, and Bigby ended up doing this huge investigation into the seedy underbelly of Fabletown and eventually discovered that Holly’s sister—that the victim was Holly’s sister, that Holly’s sister was a prostitute, that she had this-and-this client. And when I played my game with the Woodsman, it came out right in the beginning of the interrogation that Lilly was a prostitute and the Woodsman was one of his clients—one of her clients, rather. And then, the whole reason he was upset with Faith in the beginning of the first episode was because she was not Lilly. Which, again, we got to the same information, just in different points in the story that drastically changed… probably would have changed how I read the story if I had only been restrained to one or the other. I thought that was kind of interesting.
JAYLEE: When I first got Snow and that first conversation when I could talk to her, I thought, OK, what the hell happened? Why is she alive? And I tried to talk to her, but I felt like I chose every wrong option. So after the conversation, I’m like, “I have no idea what’s happened!” And even when I got to the autopsy I was like, OK this is starting to make more sense now, and that’s where it came together as opposed to in the conversation where I thought it was supposed to come together.
STACEY: Yeah, it’s quite interesting! At first they kind of just brush it off. It’s like, oh, she’s alive. Why wouldn’t she be alive? It must be somebody else? and once you kind of get into it and you remember ooh yeah, this is Fables. There are glamours and things like that, then it started to make sense. But it was kind of strange, the way it was first presented and it was taken at face value. Like, “Oh, yeah this must be Snow.” Because I was thinking, ok maybe this is a fake Snow? I almost had the opposite idea going on.
JAYLEE: So Ichabod Crane and the big reveal at the end.
STACEY: As soon as they mentioned… they figured out that she was a prostitute and she was in a glamour to look like Snow, I immediately thought of this one side story in Fables called “Cinderella Libertine,” where—and it’s such an innocuous thing in the actual comic—but finally Bigby and Cinderella do a sting on Ichabod Crane who has been on the run at this point in the comics, and they’re capturing him for treason, and then there’s this one weird panel of Bigby, and he says—like, he’s listing out all of his war crimes—and he goes, “not to mention, your involved—like—rape fantasy about Snow!” And it’s such a stupid line, but as soon as I got to that point in the game, I’m like, “Oh my god, Ichabod’s involved! This is the rape fantasy!”
JAYLEE: It was one of those things where I hadn’t read that issue yet, so after I finished, you were like, you need to read this issue. As soon as that happened, and I realized it was Ichabod Crane, I was like, It makes sense! Because of course, you know, they were beheaded! And that’s kind of his thing.
STACEY: Which—that was one thing, though, I wasn’t sure… It would be strange in kinda the retconning for him to just mention the fantasy in the comic if Ichabod actually killed these people?
JAYLEE: I think it was much like Bluebeard where it was kind of… It’s one of many kind of red herrings that I think is going to occur.
STACEY: Yeah, I came away from that having so much appreciation for their game and their knowledge of the comics, but also knowing that there’s no way Ichabod killed these people. There’s still a killer on the loose, and we still don’t know much about who it is, except that he told someone to stop laughing at him.
JAYLEE: I really like how they’re using the canon.
STACEY: Yeah! They’re really using it well.
JAYLEE: They’re doing it really well, and they’re kind of… for people who have read it, there are these callbacks. And there are kind of these hints at future events for the game of what could happen and definitely what did not happen.
STACEY: and I know I should be worried for the fact that we haven’t made much progress on the murder mystery itself, and we’ve had so many red herrings… and I saw a post on tumblr that they think that guy they passed in the hallway in the very first episode when they’re going to see Faith’s body has something to do with it because he was so suspicious. And at first I wrote that off. Like, that’s just ridiculous. You didn’t read the comics! But now it’s like, you know what? That’s such a procedural drama thing to do. The inconspicuous guy in the beginning or, like, the guy who was so torn up about the murder in the first five minutes is actually the killer! So…
JAYLEE: That’s the thing with murder mysteries. If you don’t show who the murderer is in the early stages, it almost feels like you’re not playing by the rules. We talked about the rules of a zombie game when we talked about The Last of Us, but also with the mystery game, you know, you have to be able to guess who it is. There have to be clues. They can’t just be like, suddenly this random person we’ve never met before in the fifth episode is the killer.
So another thing about this is that they really went to the seedier underbelly of Fabletown. So let’s talk about the Pudding and Pie.
STACEY: Yeah, first of all, really disappointed that the redheaded girl I thought I saw in the trailer A) wasn’t really redheaded, and B) was not Rose Red. I was really excited after that red band trailer. And she was just an incidental character. And I’ve gotta say, this is going to sound really prudish, but I was really surprised for the nudity. I think this is the first TellTale Game to have it?
STACEY: Though obviously they’re going to be doing Game of Thrones, so maybe this is a taste of things to come. But yeah, I was kind of surprised that they went there. Did you trash the place to try to get information from the pimp?
JAYLEE: No, I’m playing as more of a threatening but not actually going through unless I don’t get results.
STACEY: Right. That’s how I’m playing too.
JAYLEE: He’s going around basically with a paddle, and he’s going to… fuck up your shit, basically. And I feel like that is threatening enough, you don’t actually ruin the place.
STACEY: Right. The fact that he is the Big Bad Wolf and there is all that baggage that comes with it. Like, there’s a whole part of the Fable community that he’s not allowed to enter, even though everyone’s supposed to be forgiven for their past crimes in the actual Homelands. And I always… like, I feel like that’s a fine line to being too threatening because I feel like, as a character, he should be aware of that and know that there is that line that he shouldn’t cross, even if he walks. And actually destroying people’s livelihoods and things—or, in the case of the first episode, ripping somebody’s arm off—felt a little bit too far. I did smash the boom box or whatever it was though. I feel like that was the proper payoff for it.
JAYLEE: You need to smash something because this guy’s a creep.
STACEY: And it’s introduced in the beginning of the scene, so it’s like, that’s like the chekhov gun. You gotta do it.
And then we get to see the payoff with Beauty. I was a little disappointed.
JAYLEE: Yes. She has a night job.
STACEY: And whether or not you keep the secret just cumulates in “are you having an affair?!” Come on, guys. What kind of stakes are these?
JAYLEE: It felt a bit like, oh, I don’t know. A bait and switch? In a way. Not like it has to be a big dark secret or anything, but just the way it was handled? And how it doesn’t matter what you did, you’re still going to get in a fight with Beast, and he’s going to, like… break you through the door.
STACEY: Yeah, I um, one thing I did like about that sequence was right after the fight and they realize they are at the murder scene. They immediately snap into, like kind of their attentive roles. And they immediately just do exactly what they’re supposed to and I felt like that was also a callback to the comics? And the idea that, you know, Beast and Beauty would kind of become kind of major players and they assume Bigby and Snow’s positions, and I thought that was a nice little nod to that. Like, yes, these are really capable people that really care about Fabletown and they’re going to get the job done. It’s like yeah, I can see that.
The payoff that I spent so much time agonizing over in the first episode… [laughter] was not nice.
JAYLEE: So, let’s talk a little bit about the kind of problematic virgin/whore thing we’ve got going on. So Snow White isn’t dead—which is awesome.
STACEY: Yeah, she defrosted super fast!
JAYLEE: She wasn’t even in the freezer. She was just hiding in the cupboard. You know, which is great! But at the same time, we have another dead prostitute.
STACEY: Who also, they stress that she did mundy drugs and things like that, so it’s like she’s the lowest of the low.
JAYLEE: Exactly. But I do really love that this kind of went into how there is kind of like a hierarchy of Fables.
STACEY: Yeah, there’s a real classist society.
JAYLEE: The more well known ones—you know—they get all the buzz, but if there’s a problem with just a random troll or an ogre or something, nobody gives a shit. I thought that was really cool to play between, it’s cool that they’re all fables and mythical creatures, but there’s still this haves and have nots push and pull going on.
STACEY: Yeah, I’m really hoping that that pays off in a significant way and that they continue to explore that in a way that isn’t just like, and that’s how Snow White got to be even more powerful and everybody loved her or something, you know?
JAYLEE: Yeah, I’m kind of worried that that’s where this is going to go, because that’s just a common trope where you use people who are disenfranchised in a way to kind of shed the light on in justice, but in the end you’re just raising up the powerful people in a higher position of power and also adoration.
STACEY: She’s the Snow White savior.
JAYLEE: Yeah, oh, that’s great.
So that does it for our Water Cooler discussion of episode two, “Smoke and Mirrors.” If you caught any other comic book callbacks or have any ideas where the series is going, please let us know in the comments. And subscribe to our channel to keep up to date on our latest reviews and discussions.
JACK: Come on, Holly. I need entertainment!