Warning: this Review contains the time traveler’s wife spoilers.
The Time Traveler’s Wife Episode 1 Review
The Time Traveler’s Wife, HBO’s new miniseries adaptation based on Audrey Niffenegger’s novel of the same name, is taking full advantage of the extended time serialized television offers in regards to telling a story involving multiple timelines. The opening episode assumes viewers have not read the novel or seen the previous movie adaptation, but it makes the jumps in time easier to follow if you have the background of either or both. This miniseries is not for people who have already made their mind up to hate the premise but it’s for the readers of the novel who wanted more character development from the movie.
Henry DeTamble (Theo James) is the time traveler in the title. His powers of time travel are limited to his actual lifespan, give or take a few years. Henry also can’t control when he does travel forward or back and disappears anywhere from minutes to months at a time. When he travels he appears naked and often has to steal clothes and supplies to survive until he returns to his current timeline. Clare Abshire (Rose Leslie) is the wife in the title. Clare doesn’t have powers so she sees Henry as an older man in her past and as a younger man in her present life. She knows some parts of Henry’s story but not how her own future will unfold. The friendship and/or romantic bond between them is what drives the story versus exploring other worlds or altering history.
Although some viewers may feel the time hops are too confusing to follow, episode one provides guide marks in the form of title cards on the lower right-hand corner of the scene so you know Henry or Clare’s age when perspectives or timelines shift. Differences in hair or clothing styles also indicate where the viewer is in the timeline. The episode favors transitions via Henry’s movements and conversation versus fading to black or other more visually jarring methods. Viewers who want a linear story may find The Time Traveler’s Wife is not for them.
The episode starts with a much older Henry and Clare filming a documentary on his life as a time traveler, then shifts to the main timeline. Claire is 20 years old and an art student in Chicago, and 28-year-old Henry is the librarian she asks for help with locating an illustrated copy of Chaucer’s tales. Henry’s co-workers have noticed his disappearing acts in the form of leaving clothes randomly on the floor. Clare is surprised to meet Henry because this is the youngest version of him she’s seen. Despite this awkwardness, Henry agrees to go out on a date with her. Their dinner conversation moves from the Chaucer book to reconciling where in time they’re meeting. Clare tells Henry that she’s seen him 152 times as an older man during her childhood. Henry is confused about how much of a connection they have but it’s clear that sparks are flying in the present as Henry invites her to come up to his apartment.
As a former Doctor Who showrunner, screenwriter Steven Moffat is no stranger to time travel stories. In fact, one could argue that this is his second adaptation of The Time Traveler’s Wife novel, the first being in Season 2 episode ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’, the stories of Amy Pond – who as a child met a much older Eleventh Doctor in Season Five premiere ‘The Eleventh Hour’ – and of the Doctor’s wife, River Song. Henry asks Clare when they first officially met and there is a flashback to six-year-old Clare running through the fields behind her house. She hears Henry stirring in the bushes and then asks her to steal some clothes from his house so he can get dressed. This flashback largely dodges the question of how problematic it is that six-year-old Clare is friendly with a much older man. Henry and Clare are in reality only eight years apart in age but the decision to start the main story when Clare is 20 clearly reflects some thought to mitigate these concerns, though not a full analysis. Viewers who’ve read the novel will see the original book cover recreated in these scenes, which are designed to establish how Henry’s powers work and the evolution of his relationship with Clare.
The story moves back to 20-year-old Clare and 28-year-old Henry as she asks him if she’s seen dinosaurs or any other wonders of the past. Henry replies the closest to the dinosaurs he’s seen was at the natural history museum when he was seven. He goes to bed and then travels back in time to the museum where 28-year-old Henry shows him the ropes of time travel. When 28-year-old Henry returns to 20-year-old Clare he steals another guy’s clothes and flowers to give to Clare for their date. Clare clearly has been waiting for years to go on a date and hook up with Henry. Unfortunately for Clare, the satisfaction of finally sleeping with Henry wears off quickly when she finds the evidence of his other girlfriend Ingrid. She throws a shoe at him and leaves for a bar nearby. They argue for a bit and Claire realizes that things she doesn’t know about fully yet have to happen before 28-year-old Henry becomes 36-year-old Henry. Older Henry is watching younger Henry through the window as he’s trying to reconcile with Clare.
James and Leslie perfectly capture Henry and Clare from the novel. Henry may be a jerk but he’s also clearly scared about the future. Clare has clearly made the hard choice to stick with someone who won’t always be there.
The episode ends with a flashforward to the documentary describing how Henry can’t stay in one place all the time. 28-year-old Henry then walks down an alley near the bar and finds a pair of feet stuck to the floor foreshadowing something further in the future. Although the audience knows Henry and Clare have a future together, there are still enough questions for the audience to want to check out the rest of the episodes. How did Henry receive his powers? What does Clare do when Henry is traveling through time? When will the foreshadowed wedding happen? Who is Ingrid? We’ll hopefully find out next time on The Time Traveler’s Wife.
The Time Traveler’s Wife continues next Sunday the 22nd of May on HBO Max, and Monday the 23rd of May on Sky Atlantic in the UK.