Warning: Spoilers for The Time Traveler’s Wife Season 1, Episode 1 follow. The Time Traveler’s Wife features a love story with an unusual structure. While one character lives life in chronological order, the other drops in and out of timelines willy-nilly. It does make a love affair hard, as Claire, stuck on the slow path of linear time, constantly waits for her husband, Henry, to drop in again. But why is Henry time-traveling in the first place? According to the original The Time-Traveler's Wife book, Henry has an actual disorder that causes such temporal disturbances to his life.
The series opened with an interview with Henry and Claire, at two very different ages. Claire is in her mid-30s, while Henry looks to be going on 75 or so. That’s an awkward juxtaposition, as the two met when she was 20 and he was 30. But then again, everything about them has been awkward since, on their first date, she informed him they were married. Or at least, they would be married in the future. How did she know? He told her. But you know, not the present-day him on this date. That Henry had a girlfriend, Ingrid, or currently does, though one assumes not for long.
On the other hand, the Future Henry has all the answers, and he stepped in after the date crashed and burned to make sure Claire didn’t give up. Just because younger Henry had his head up his read end (or does currently) at being told he’s met his future spouse, that was not a good reason to give up on the love they will eventually have.
Before you sit down and consider the implications of Future Henry meddling in Present Henry’s love life and how much Past Claire's (and Past Henry's) futures have been affected by it, the first question is simple: How? How in heaven’s name are Past Henry, Present Henry, and Future Henry bopping about the timeline?
One could get into dimensional theories of Linear Time as the fourth dimension, Time Squared as the fifth dimension, making the sixth dimension Time Travel. But thankfully, The Time Traveler’s Wife doesn’t do that. The Time Traveler’s Wife is what’s known as a “terminal romance,” the kind of true love that’s cut short by one partner having an illness that takes them from their partner too soon. (1970’s Love Story is a classic of the genre.)
But where stories like The Fault In Our Stars have one of the two lovers dying of cancer, Henry has a genetic disorder that causes him to become unstuck in time. It’s a little like the science fiction version of hemophilia. One causes your blood platelets to not clot with each other; the other causes your existence to not clot with the timeline. Even worse, tt’s only his body that unsticks; his clothes remain behind each time.
Henry’s life is like a shuffled deck of cards; who knows what minute will follow the preceding one. It certainly makes having a love affair — or at least having one in any semblance of order — challenging, to say the least. No wonder Future Henry took matters into his own hands to make sure it worked out.
The Time Traveler’s Wife continues with new episodes on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and streaming the next day on HBO Max.