This article contains spoilers for The Time Traveler’s Wife episode 2.
The Time Traveler’s Wife episode 2 focused on the tragic fate of Henry’s mother, Annette, and rendered her death more accurately to the book than the film. In 2003, author Audrey Niffenegger published her debut novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife. The book was a hit, inspiring a 2009 movie and now an HBO series written and produced by Steven Moffat of Doctor Who fame.
The core concept of The Time Traveler’s Wife is an intriguing one. It stars Henry and Clare, a couple who are brought together because of Henry’s ability to travel in time. There’s a sense in which it is a fate story, not a love story, because neither ever truly chose the other; on a surface level, time is fixed in The Time Traveler’s Wife, meaning Henry’s time travel precludes free will. Clare first met the man she was destined to marry when she was a child, while Henry met a 20-year old who burst on the scene declaring herself to be his future wife.
There is a backdrop of tragedy to The Time Traveler’s Wife. Henry lost his mother, Annette, when he was just eight years old. His powers saved his life when they triggered, with him jumping out of the car crash that killed her. This lies at the heart of The Time Traveler’s Wife episode 2, as Henry acknowledges the painful reality he must revisit every time he is drawn back to see his mother die again.
There have already been hints The Time Traveler’s Wife will change major book details as the series continues, but episode 2 is actually remarkably true to the book. The accident is never seen, but it is described by Henry when he admits why he struggles to cope with Christmastime. It is because, when he was just eight years old, his mother died when a Corvette crashed into the back of their car. The impact shoved their car forward into the back of a truck, “an open pickup truck, full of scrap metal. When we hit it, a large sheet of steel flew off the back of the truck, came through our windshield, and decapitated my mother.” It would have killed Henry too had he not time traveled at that exact moment, although he was left with a scar on his forehead. The TV series is perfectly faithful to the book, with only one exception: it actually shows the accident rather than simply recounting it.
The 2009 movie starring Eric Bana and Doctor Strange‘s Rachel McAdams was not quite so faithful. In that version, the accident was overly dramatized, with Annette’s car spinning out of control. Henry disappears in the stress of the moment, and she’s distracted by the shock of it all, looking the wrong way and so failing to spot an imminent collision. In 2009’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, there’s a sense in which Henry’s power is actually responsible for his mother’s death; thankfully that’s entirely absent from both the novel and the TV series.
According to Henry, certain key moments exert a sort of gravitational pull upon a time traveler. Consequently, he has revisited his mother’s death on countless occasions. This idea is stressed in the book, and it comes up in both the 2009 movie and HBO’s The Time Traveler’s Wife. The latter represents it rather more effectively, showing different versions of Henry watching the tragedy unfold. There’s a little bleak humor when a 42-year-old Henry crashes to the ground out of sight during the funeral. It’s likely this version of Henry in Time Traveler’s Wife lost his feet; they were amputated to save his life after he suffered hypothermia and frostbite. This point isn’t stressed at all in the book, but its inclusion serves a dark purpose, subtly reminding viewers of Henry’s own fate – and suggesting he will continue being haunted by his mother’s death until the day he dies himself. It’s played as dark humor, but it really is a lot darker than it seems at first glance.
The Time Traveler’s Wife episode 2 adds a whole new element to Niffenegger’s story, a striking scene in which Henry visits his mother in the past when she was performing at a concert. He persuades his mother to leave a message for Clare, a concept that seems more akin to Doctor Who than The Time Traveler’s Wife. Naturally, Annette doesn’t know she’s talking to her future son, or that Clare will be his wife, but for Clare, the moment is a poignant one in which she feels as though Annette speaks to her from beyond the grave. It’s a beautiful moment of connection, even if it isn’t in the book at all.
The Time Traveler’s Wife further reveals that Henry has interacted with his mother on a number of occasions. In fact, his parents actually got so used to seeing him walking around that they assumed he was a neighbor of some sort, albeit one whose appearance kept changing. At one point, Henry’s father speculated he was undergoing chemotherapy, explaining the dramatic changes in his physical appearance. Thankfully, it’s never implied that Henry was seen naked in public by them, a small mercy.
This, too, is lifted straight from Niffenegger’s novel – although, as with the accident, Moffat has opted to “show, not tell.” Henry admits the ability to see his mother is one of the few blessings that come from time travel. “I’ve seen her hundreds of times since she died,” he told his father. “I see her walking around the neighborhood, with you, with me. She goes to the park and learns scores, she shops, she has coffee with Mara at Tia’s. I see her with Uncle Ish. I see her at Julliard. I hear her sing!” This revelation is actually a key moment in The Time Traveler’s Wife because the realization his wife is still out there in some strange sense helps Henry’s dad begin to recover at last from his grief.
New episodes of The Time Traveler’s Wife air on HBO Sundays at 9PM EST and release on HBO Max afterward. Subscribe to HBO Max here.