Episode 1 of The Time Traveler’s Wife openly admits the central problem with Audrey Niffenegger’s story – a problem in every adaptation.
This article contains spoilers for The Time Traveler’s Wife episode 1.
The Time Traveler’s Wife Episode 1 openly acknowledges the problem with its own story – but can’t do anything about it. Time travel serves as the primary plot device for countless sci-fis, but it rarely inspires a romance. Audrey Niffenegger’s first novel The Time Traveler’s Wife, published in 2003, is one of the exceptions; so influential that he inspired Doctor Who Showrunner Steven Moffat to create Doctor’s Wife River Song, led to a 2009 film adaptation starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams, and has now become an HBO television show written and produced by Moffat himself.
There is a sense in which The Time Traveler’s Wife can’t really be considered a love story, though. Neither of its two main characters possess any sense of agency, simply because of time travel. Clare met a future version of Henry when she was just a child, and she formed herself around that relationship, knowing that for most of her life, he was the man she was destined to marry. Henry, on the other hand, first meets Clare at the age of 28; she bursts onto the scene like a thunderbolt, insisting that she is his bride-to-be, and from that moment begins the process of turning him into the Henry she already knows he will be.
It’s a fascinating concept, but there are actually some rather troubling implications. by Steven Moffat The Time Traveler’s Wife engages directly with these, albeit in a rather ironic way. This is because, unfortunately, the issues are at the very heart of the story. The Time Traveler’s Wife episode 1 shows the first two encounters – including one in which an adult Henry visits six-year-old Clare. The two immediately bond, with the episode showing Clare initially believing she is going to get clothes for an imaginary friend. Thus begins the rather disturbing story of how a grown man encourages a little girl to forge her identity around him, over the years, until she finally becomes the wife he has need. On reflection, it is very difficult to consider this as anything other than a grooming process. Yet while this core feature of the source material is undeniable, HBO’s adaptation at least tries to grapple with the concept.
How HBO’s time traveler’s wife is trying to fix history
This problematic aspect of the narrative ultimately undermined the original film and left some critics worried. Dialog in HBO The Time Traveler’s Wife openly acknowledges this, Clare insisting that she is “groomingher pony doll and Henry giving a distinctly uncomfortable reaction. It’s a self-aware joke, but it’s rather dark. However, it does at least show that the show is all too aware of its uncomfortable implications.
In truth, there is absolutely no way The Time Traveler’s Wife to resolve this problem. This strange, interdependent and distinctly unhealthy relationship is at the very heart of The Time Traveler’s Wife, each destined to be with the other. Henry sincerely believes he has no choice but to do what he already knows he has done, given that he met the adult Clare and she told him all about their first meeting in its own timeline. There is no freedom of choice, only fate – like the dramatic end of The Time Traveler’s Wife Episode 1 demonstrates this. All The Time Traveler’s Wife can do is admit there’s a problem, point the finger at it, shrug it off, and move on – that’s exactly what Episode 1 does.
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