I’ve been neglectful of Bigby Wolf these past weeks. The latest chapter in his fairytale detective story has sat unplayed as I’ve helped coordinate a filmmaking competition here in beautiful, overcast Christchurch. So the moment I realised I had a few spare hours to play through The Wolf Among Us’ third episode was one of delight.
It’s a familiar delight, as “A Crooked Mile” is largely a retread of the previous episode’s structure. We’re still dutifully clicking on things, interrogating characters with varying degrees of violence, and barely suppressing our lupine rage. After the previous episode’s cliffhanger reveal of Ichabod Crane as the prime suspect in a string of Fabletown murders, there’s remarkably little urgency. For this wheel-spinning middle chapter, The Wolf Among Us sits back, chuckling at a crack it’s made in the middle of an epic joke, while its audience restlessly waits for the punchline.
The bulk of “A Crooked Mile” - an appropriate title, given its meandering storytelling - revolves around getting to a meeting between Ichabod Crane and a mysterious glamour-producing witch (a strong, independent character whom I look forward to meeting again). Bigby knows when the meeting is, but not where. It’s up to you to figure that out.
In improv, we’d call this kind of behaviour “bridging”: going about a whole lot of busywork when it’d be more efficient and exciting to just get to the point. We get plenty of illuminating character moments - crashing a Fable funeral, comforting a drunk troll, making a dodgy deal with a burglar - but they’re repeated pitstops in what should be a propulsive race against the clock. Major events like the Tweedles’ attack on the funeral are nullified immediately after they happen, and we reach the meeting feeling like nothing has actually happened.
Midway through the episode you’re presented with a Big Three-Way Choice. Do you head to the pub to rummage around in a dead troll’s belongings? Break into Crane’s apartment seeking financial statements and Snow White-themed masturbatory aids? Or storm the Tweedles’ office to presumably do something violent, the nature of which I’m not certain of because I didn’t go there? These choices don’t have any emotional weight behind them, and seem equally likely to yield useful clues. The attempts to create tension by throwing loose cannon Bluebeard at the destination unchosen, and by having a literal ticking clock appear on screen, fail to raise the stakes, as it's never clear what the consequences of failure are.
But if this episode lacks urgency, it makes up for it with its deepening portrait of Ichabod Crane. It was hard to get properly shocked at the previous episode’s cliffhanger because Crane had been thoroughly built up as a pervy asshole. He doesn’t get any less pervy in “A Crooked Mile,” but he definitely transitions from menacing asshole to pathetic, snivelling dick. Far from outright evil, he comes across here as obsessively attached to Snow like an even more passive-aggressive Hello M'Lady: discomfiting, but not outright dangerous - at least, not yet. It's a one-way relationship the likes of which games haven't really explored.
Crane is creepy as hell and definitely in need of a court order or two (or at least a good smack around the mutton chops), but when he denies direct involvement in the murders, I believe him. Seeing his gangly frame in a heap, whimpering over his ruined pseudo-romantic fantasy, it’s impossible to buy him as a killer. There’s that, and the fact that there isn’t any evidence to pin him as anything more than a lazy landlord and a skeevy stalker.
With that avenue of questioning more or less out of the way, the end of the episode comes along swinging a clumsy reveal, some excellent action and the first actual narrative advance of the episode. Just as Bigby claps Crane in irons, who should show up but Bloody Mary herself - without even being called five times. We know she’s Bloody Mary from her ham-fisted introductory monologue about how she’s Bloody Mary and, boy, should you be scared.
But Bigby ain’t scared of no urban legend - he’s just mad, and finally abandons his David Naughton skin for his true Rick Baker form, in a quick-time action sequence of frightening power. We haven’t seen Bigby like this, and seeing him repeatedly pummel characters into brick walls immediately illustrates why people consider him such a fuckup. Worst of all, Snow White sees everything, and you can bet she’s disappointed. The violence escalates and escalates until a silver bullet brings about the thrilling promise of a player-character switch, but no such narrative risks are taken this time.
Instead, Bigby grits his teeth and Crane is taken hostage by the Cooked Man, who, one must assume, is the new, actual Big Bad. (Can we call the villain the Big Bad when the player character is literally the Big Bad Wolf?) This final half-reveal suggests we might actually be getting somewhere now. With only two episodes left after this seasonal midpoint, the Story Vomit Comet has to start plummeting back to Earth.
Who is the Crooked Man? Does Bloody Mary have a purpose beyond self-exposition? What’s "Creeper" Crane’s part in all this anyhow? Can Hieronymus Merkin forget Mercy Humppe and find true happiness? All these questions and probably fewer will be answered next time on...The Wolf Among Us.