The following contains spoilers from Episode 4 of The Time Traveler’s Wife (adapted by Steven Moffat and directed by David Nutter)
The Time Traveler’s Wife Episode 4 begins with Henry (Theo James) posing the idea that no one has agency when they are falling in love. Hence why people use the word “falling.” The show doesn’t fully grasp free will and continues to insist that the relationship between Henry and Clare (Rose Leslie) is romantically serendipitous. They met and fell in love, but they just did some things out of order. No one involved, fictitious or otherwise, seems to think there’s anything wrong with that.
In theory, there are a multitude of ways to fall in love. The most common is the meet, date, propose, and marry path. Couples meet at the wrong time and do things out of order. That’s nothing extraordinary. Rarely do we meet the people we date when we feel ready for them. The difference between that and the relationship between Henry and Clare has already been covered in every episode review on this site. It’s a problem the show continues to point out and tries to smooth over in a way that only ends up making the issue more glaring.
This episode in particular highlights Henry’s general unlikeableness. Plain and simple, Henry is rude to almost everyone he encounters. This episode has Henry and Clare, when they are 28 and 24 respectively, hosting a dinner party so Henry can meet Clare’s friends. Henry immediately makes jokes at the expense of Clare’s friend/roommate, Charisse (Natasha Lopez), and Charisse’s boyfriend, Gomez (Desmin Borges). Henry pouts to Clare that her friends hate him, but he doesn’t even try to make a decent impression. Henry’s attitude makes it difficult to understand Clare’s love for him, or even her desire to put up with him at any age.
The dinner party is an absolute disaster due to the unexpected arrival of Future Henry and Ingrid (Chelsea Frei), Present Henry’s girlfriend. It seems that Present Henry hasn’t found it within himself to break up with Ingrid, even though he and Clare are dating. It’s difficult to understand why the writer thinks that this man should even remotely be considered as a romantic interest.
The episode also shows 41-year-old Henry traveling back in time to the spot where he usually meets Clare. This is the last time they’ll be here before Clare and Henry meet in the linear timeline two years later. What’s also different about this meeting is that Clare is now 18 and she’s excited about what this birthday means for her relationship with Henry. Henry, for his part, isn’t sure how to act around her. He is clearly aware of Clare’s desires, but wants to maintain boundaries. It sets an uncomfortable tone for the scene. It’s as if Henry has been thinking about Clare in a sexual way prior to this encounter, but now that she’s of legal age, he can act on it.
Clare insinuates that she wants to have sex, but Henry says that he has rules for himself about what he can and cannot do when he’s time traveling. One of those rules appears to be not sleeping with Younger Clare, but they end up kissing and he is swept up in the moment. Henry abruptly stops kissing her and says he can’t have sex with her in the clearing where he’s seen her grow up, where he taught her French verbs, and where they were playing checkers just last week. He even calls it grooming, but the self-awareness ends there. Henry’s issue is with the location, not the actual act of having sex with an 18-year-old when he’s in his 40s. It’s clearly not that much of an issue because they do end up having sex.
Henry also encourages Clare to experience life and have sex with other people in the two years between her 18th birthday and when they will meet again. It’s bizarre that Henry thinks Clare needs his permission to do this, but the glimpse that the audience gets into those two years is even stranger. Gomez and Charisse both make an appearance and it seems as though they’ve all been friends for a long time. Clare and Gomez sleep together even though Gomez and Charisse are dating. Clare feels terrible about this and regrets it, as she should. However, her regret doesn’t fully come from sleeping with her best friend’s boyfriend. She feels guilty about cheating on Henry even though she has not met Henry in the linear timeline yet.
Not long after her night with Gomez, Clare sleeps with Charisse. There is no mention of what that means for Charisse and Gomez’s relationship and no moment of self-discovery for Clare. Maybe Clare identifies as bisexual or queer or just something other than straight, but the audience will never know. Calling the series The Time Traveler’s Wife implies that the focus is on Clare, but it never has been. Henry has been calling the shots since she was six years old.
The series is unique in that it has more time than the book and the 2009 movie to tell Clare’s story. Episodes 3 and 4 were set up to show the audience what Clare was like without Henry’s presence by focusing on times when he wasn’t in her life. Both episodes ultimately shy away from giving Clare the agency they claimed has been hers all along.