(Note: Many spoilers follow, but I'll try not to blow everything.)
"Cry Wolf," the fifth episode and first-season finale of Telltale Games' point-and-click adventure series "The Wolf Among Us," begins by careening into the limitations of its form.
It ends, however, by expanding them rather brilliantly.
The episode begins where the more tepid fourth, "In Sheep's Clothing," ended: Sheriff Bigby Wolf entering the Crooked Man's fireside lair, surrounded by Tweedledee and Tweedledum, Georgie Porgie, the Jersey Devil and the big bad himself.
After that powder keg predictably goes boom and the menacing Bloody Mary returns to spirit her boss away, Bigby mixes it up with the rogues' gallery before setting off on foot for the Crooked Man's saggy-eyed head.
This first part of the episode is a little too much action for the adventure-based "The Wolf Among Us" to tolerate.
As Bigby clears a room of heavies and hops from rooftop to rooftop down a New York City corridor, the game feels more like a decent quick-time event sequence than the expert web of empathic decision-making that made its first four episodes so uniquely absorbing.
After you deal some form of justice to Faith and Lily's murderer, "Cry Wolf" delivers a one-two worthy of a season finale. First: The showdown with Bloody Mary you knew was coming.
Not only does she un-glamour herself as a bloody-eyed ghoul embedded with shards of mirror like a human stegosaurus, but the encounter soon turns into the Burly Brawl from "The Matrix: Reloaded," hundreds of her spawning all around.
It just gets better: Bigby, whom you thought stopped mutating at his Wolfman Jack impersonation, becomes the Big Bad Wolf, a 30-foot canine who chomps Mary's reflections into dust. Sure, it's more action nudged forward with frantic pushes of the stick and squeezes of the trigger. But it's all too epic to even notice.
That's the action climax. But another soon follows, one truer to the series and to Telltale's oeuvre: One defined by choice.
After carting the Crooked Man into the business office before a mini-mob of Snow White, Beauty and the Beast and other residents of Fabletown, you slowly watch what seems like a summary execution become, appropriately enough, a hard look into the mirror.
As you state your case, The Crooked Man turns it against you and Snow. He doesn't just upend your assertion that he ordered the murders of Faith and Lily — at times he seems to have some of Fabletown convinced that you and Snow are the true bad guys.
As you shimmy around this pitfall of sheriff-dom, sometimes choosing words more for their demagoguery than their legal merit, you start to think you just might lose. That's when things really get good.
I'll stop there. Uneven as it is, and uncertain as its final seconds are, "Cry Wolf" concludes "The Wolf Among Us" on as gripping a note as any other episode in the series or its Telltale cousin, "The Walking Dead."
There certainly are enough unexplored alleys and high-rises of iconic characters in Bill Willingham's "Fables" comic book series — so like Clementine, hopefully Bigby returns for another season.