Episode 1 of The Time Traveler’s Wife begins with a video of Clare and Henry talking about their relationship. We’re shown several shots of Henry being plunged through time. Whenever it happens, his wife Clare is left alone, next to the pile of clothes he’s left behind.
Henry is a time traveler. He can’t control when and where he travels to, but it’s always during his own lifetime. Sometimes he’s gone for hours. Sometimes for days, weeks, or months.
When Clare is 20 years old, she visits the Newberry Library. 28-year-old Henry, who works there, meets her for the first time. She tells him her name is Clare Abshire, and she’s known him for 14 years. This version of himself is the youngest she’s ever seen him.
They plan to get dinner that night. Henry cleans his apartment in preparation, obviously expecting something to happen between him and Clare.
For a moment while cleaning, he sees blood all over his bathroom. When he checks again, the blood is gone.
At dinner, Clare hands him a journal of 152 dates that he dictated to her. It’s the dates that he would be showing up to see her.
She then tells him she’s going to marry him. He’s already told her that they get married in the future. He asks about the first time she met him.
A 6-year-old Clare plays in a field close to her home when she hears retching sounds. It’s a 36-year-old Henry, who promises her he’s a friend. He’s met her as a child several times before. Henry explains to the girl that he’s going to reappear many times in the future. She agrees to meet him (with clothes) every time.
Explaining his quirk to Clare makes Henry remember how time traveling was explained to him.
A 7-year-old Henry lies in bed, when suddenly he’s time traveling. He meets an older version of himself, who explains everything to him.
28-year-old Henry is then transported back, right before his date with Clare.
After dinner, Henry brings her to his apartment. He finds it all unkempt again and has to reclean it while she stays blindfolded.
They have sex, but Clare then finds another woman’s bra in his bathroom. It belongs to his girlfriend, Ingrid. It turns out that Henry thinks Clare sounds a bit crazy to call herself his wife. He still wanted to sleep with her, though. Calling him an asshole, Clare storms out angrily.
The 36-year-old Henry who just introduced himself to 6-year-old Clare for the first time suddenly appears at the same time this argument between Clare and 28-year-old Henry takes place. He watches Clare storm away.
Clare goes to a local bar to grab a drink. 36-year-old Henry approaches her. She asks him if he was keeping the secret that he’s an asshole. She’s angry. After all, she formed her identity around him. But he says he did the same.
He tries to persuade her to give his younger self another chance. The Henry she fought with is scared. His life has been terrifying.
He then talks to his younger self and tells him he’s found the love of his life, but younger Henry isn’t so receptive to his advice. Then the older Henry returns home to his timeline, where Clare is 28.
Just as the 36-year-old disappears, the 28-year-old hears something in an alleyway and goes to inspect it. It’s his own severed feet.
The Episode Review
Having already inspired the 2009 movie, Audrey Niffenegger’s novel The Time Traveler’s Wife now receives its second adaption, this time as an HBO TV series. Steven Moffat’s credit as the series’ writer should serve as no surprise to fans of Doctor Who; the first episode of The Time Traveler’s Wife contains remarkable similarities to the Doctor’s storylines with Amy and River.
But what works for one time-travel series won’t necessarily work for another. As the framework for a romance, the time traveling premise for this show falls flat and even comes across as… creepy?
The series does make one very self-aware joke about grooming, as if to acknowledge that grooming isn’t what’s happening between Henry and Clare. Still, one can’t avoid that nagging discomfort when a 20-year-old Clare reveals that she’s known Henry since he was 6–and she’s long known that she would become his wife.
The show introduces some interesting concepts, such as Henry’s perceiving himself as “the bad guy” because he has to do whatever he can to survive. Much of this intrigue, however, becomes lost in the pilot episode’s tendency to info dump.
Here’s hoping the future episodes expound on both Henry’s and Clare’s complicated relationship with time travel–and with each other–in a more satisfying way.