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‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ Series Review: Greatest Romance of All Time

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The thing about time is that for most of us, it’s linear. Living is experienced from point A to point B. You grow up, live, and then die. Every love is sequential, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The experiences in The Time Traveler’s Wife are anything but linear, especially the love. I have been a fan of this story since I read Audrey Niffenegger’s novel of the same name back in high school. The pages have been crinkled with multiple readings, the pages tear-soaked from many nights of sobbing.

So I was skeptical when HBO announced they were developing a series based on a personal beloved favorite. Having already had a film treatment that was good but not great, I wasn’t sure what to think. Due to my love of Doctor Who, another favorite show about a time traveler, I was intrigued when Steven Moffat was attached as the writer.

While Moffat gave me Matt Smith as the Doctor, his years as Doctor Who’s head writer were plagued with issues with the writing for women and romance aspects. However, the past complaints did not stop me from diving in, willing to give Steven Moffat another chance to make me fall in love with time all over again.

[Warning: Spoilers from the first season of The Time Traveler’s Wife are below! Please read on at your own risk. Otherwise, you can read my review of the premiere. ]

Falling in love with a time traveler

Clare Abshire (Rose Leslie) has been in love with the same man her entire life, though not in the way you may think. Her relationship with Henry (Theo James) begins one summer day when she is six years old and he is in his thirties. He randomly appears in the field behind her house, naked as the day he was born. After convincing her to find him some clothes, Henry explains to her that he is a time traveler who has no control over the powers bestowed on him. All he knows about time traveling is that he disappears and appears at any time, however, stress can play a factor, and he usually returns to people or places that are significant to him.

Providing Clare with a list of dates, Henry informs her that he will return to this clearing over a hundred and fifty-two times before she turns 18 years old. Their relationship blossoms from there, however for Clare it’s more a mentor and a friend, but, turns into a deeper love as she approaches adulthood. For Henry, this is the child version of his wife, the person he loves more than anything. Eventually, these rendezvouses come to an end with the promise of a two-year wait until Clare finds Henry properly in his sequential timeline. For him, the love is more linear.

Clare falls in love with the older, kinder Henry. An individual who has been softened to life’s edges because of the relationship and love he has experienced with her. So when she finally meets Henry when she is 20 years old and he is 28, she’s shocked at how far he is from her Henry. He’s jaded, sarcastic, and very rude. Part of the struggle Clare goes through for most of the show is learning to love the person behind the idea. She wants the comfort of older Henry but has to work through the difficult parts to achieve that comfort. Watching Clare and Henry find peace and balance with each other is one of the best parts of this human-driven story.

Upping the mystery from The Time Traveler’s Wife novel

When I discovered that Moffat was attached to the project, I knew the focus would shift a bit from the novel. The book was entirely focused on the relationship between Clare and Henry, but the show added many sci-fi elements to round out the story.

Moffat played with the time travel aspect, such as an entire episode devoted to the death of Henry’s mother Annette, played by Kate Siegel. This event is one that Henry fixates on, returning to the scene multiple times throughout his life. However knowing he can’t change anything, Henry tortures himself every time by observing it over and over. For many reasons that episode is hard to watch. 

Moffat also adds to the mystery by teasing Henry’s fate with hints of it throughout the show. At the end of the first episode, ice over decapitated feet lay in the street not far from where he is standing. This is spooky enough, but the knowledge that parts of Henry can still travel through time even if removed from the body makes it even more terrifying. The look that James gives at seeing the feet was perfect. He knows one day he will be unable to run when he jumps time, meaning he is likely to find himself in more trouble than usual. 

You also get a glimpse of him getting shot by Clare’s father on an early winter morning when she’s a young girl. We don’t see the ramifications of that fateful night, but it most definitely will be a story to explore if the show comes back for a season two. 

All this to say that even though The Time Traveler’s Wife is at its core a human-centric story, the science fiction aspects were more developed over the six episodes than either the book or the film. Moffat did an excellent job expanding on the source material in a way that felt natural but broadened the story from strictly a romance.

The Time Traveler's Wife Episode 6
Theo James as Henry and Rose Leslie as Clare from episode 6 of The Time Traveler’s Wife (HBO).

The best parts of time traveling

Being one of my favorite novels, I was expecting to dislike some aspects of this show. However, this show blew me away in almost every way. Rose Leslie and Theo James were unbelievably stellar as the two main characters. Theo James reminded me of Tatiana Maslany in Orphan Black. All of his roles may have been Henry, however, each age was so distinctly different from the others. You see him develop from an angry young adult to a warm and welcoming middle-aged man.

Rose Leslie pushes the boundaries on who Clare is as a person. She’s fiery and passionate about her love for Henry but is also someone feeling trapped in the universe’s design. Plenty of times throughout the show we see Clare attempting to change the trajectory set out for her, a path that removes all autonomy from her as a person. The scene where she drives the car in the wrong direction on the freeway was one of these heart-pounding moments. Tempting fate, because even though she loves Henry she hates being in a cage even more.

The entire supporting cast was exceptional as well. There wasn’t a moment that felt off or weakened by a missed beat from these professionals. Every minute of this show oozed emotion and just top-notch acting, making the story about a time traveler feel incredibly more real.

The use of color in this show was something I wasn’t entirely expecting, but it enhanced the show in many ways. The clearing behind Clare’s house was full of vibrant yellows, oranges, and greens. Henry’s tended to dress more in darker tones, such as black, browns, and different shades of blue. Clare was more vibrant, with yellows, light blues, and reds. Her appearance was of someone not afraid to stand out, while Henry is someone who would do anything to fade into the background. 

Overall impressions of The Time Traveler’s Wife

The Time Traveler’s Wife is my current favorite show. The amount of work and love everyone involved in the series put into it is felt in every single scene. My only complaint about the series is that I wish there was more. This season, which I thought was labeled a miniseries, ended with so much story left. I hope that a second season is already in development because I need more of Clare, Henry, and the epic love story between them.

If you have been thinking about watching it, but haven’t done so yet, I urge you to check it out. The show teaches us that our time is precious, so spend your time watching something new and extraordinary, instead of those old reruns.

The Time Traveler’s Wife is now on HBO and HBOmax. What did you think of the series? Let us know in the comments or on social media!

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Brian Kitson

Working hard to bring you the latest news and thoughtful analysis of all things nerdy!

Brian Kitson has 365 posts and counting. See all posts by Brian Kitson