Previously on Les Miserables: Cosette – now considerably older – convinces her adopted dad that she’s tired of life penned up in a convent and wants to see the world. She and Valjean move to a splashy new flat that none of us can tell how they afford, and she catches the eye of the world’s most boring youth, Marius Pontmercy, on their daily constitutionals around a local park. Valjean is unhappy, Cosette feels oppressed, and Marius whines about his lack of love life to his pseudo-revolutionary friends at the pub. Elsewhere, it turns out that the now-broke Thenardiers are Marius’ next-door neighbors and he watches them both discover and try to rob and murder Valjean when he stops by to distribute some charity. Paris is wild, y’all! If you need a longer explanation of what went down, our recap of Episode 4 is this way.
After four episodes, it feels like Les Miserables is finally ready to acknowledge the most bizarre thing that’s going on in this particular adaptation, and that is the fact that Javert has straight up lost his mind.
Those of us who know the basic facts of Les Mis are already aware that Javert’s obsession with Jean Valjean is a major driver of the story. But at least the novel and its musical adaptation take some care to tell us why Javert feels like this. Part of it is because of his extremely aggressive love of duty and justice – he truly believes that the world is made a better place when people who break the law are held accountable. (No matter how dumb and/or unreasonable their original crimes might have been.)
Unfortunately, this particular version has given us almost no idea what’s going on in this Javert’s mind, or what sort of things drive him. Here, he’s so engulfed by his – almost completely unexplained – desire to catch Valjean that it honestly makes no sense. Even his coworkers and underlings are all (finally) starting to look at him a little weird when he insists that extremely crazy things – like Valjean being behind the growing civil unrest in the streets – are true.
It would be one thing if the show were really leaning into the idea that Valean is Javert’s white whale, his one that got away, the only prisoner he lost over the course of an illustrious career or something. But…nope. Javert’s just super sure that this is the worst bad guy in France, despite the fact that, you know, actual murderers and heavy duty thieves appear to be running around quite freely and escaping jail with impunity. (Looking at you, Thenardier.)
I mean, Javert decides to join the revolution in disguise because he’s convinced Valjean is somehow their leader and he’ll track him down that way. And he’s way more concerned about that possibility than the fact that people are a.) dying in the streets and b.) actively attempting to overthrow the government. (Again.) There’s really no way to read this other than straight up insane. (At least in, you know, other versions, Javert joining the rebels is part of a plan to spy on the students and try to stop them.) And despite David Oyelowo’s best efforts to give his Javert a believably righteous fury, the story just hasn’t spent enough time with him for any of it to land. He has no layers, and almost no identifiable personality traits beyond his Valjean fixation.
It’s honestly a shame. (Javert is really one of my favorite characters in this story. Just…not this version of it.)
In other things that finally happened this week, Marius and Cosette manage to sort out a way to meet in secret, thanks to the help of Thenardier’s daughter Eponine, who is probably smarter than both of them put together. The young lovebirds are certainly pretty together and generally seem sweet but their romance is so over the top – Marius writes the world’s worst love letter! Cosette literally faints during their first meeting! – it’s honestly hard to watch without laughing. I mean, I guess on some level he’s slightly more worthwhile than his irritating revolutionary friends whose names I only know because of the musical version of this story. (Spoiler alert: Enjolras is much more inspiring and much less annoying on stage.)
On some level, watching Cosette try to sneak around, lie to her father, yell mean insults and physically fight Valjean when he won’t let her go outside is pretty entertaining. Same for Marius’ “lol nothing matters” decision to go die on the barricades because he thinks Cosette has moved away. These kids! What the heck! They kind of deserve each other, which is maybe why this whole thing works.
Unfortunately, as revolution breaks out in the streets, the episode starts to drag a bit. Sure, the giant crowd sequence surrounding General LaMarque’s funeral and the building of the barricade are impressive, visually. But we barely know any of these characters and…probably don’t care if they get shot. (I mean, did anyone think that extremely patriotic old man was long for this world?) The other problem is that Les Miserables doesn’t do much to explain the things the students and poor people are fighting for very well, and since most of us know very little about this particular French uprising, it’s hard to even sympathize with this folks very much, beyond the fact that they’re all young and idealistic.
To be fair, this isn’t a problem that’s unique to this particular Les Mis, either. At least the musical can convey the feeling of some of this through song. (The emotional fervor of “Do You Hear the People Sing” really does cover a multitude of sins, is what I'm saying.) All the show can do is kill off a girl whose perspective it never really valued in the first place in the name of a boy’s story. But, hey, at least everyone’s secrets are going to come to a head next week. Drama!
What did you think of this episode of Les Miserables? Let’s discuss!