Previously on Les Miserables: A new gritty version of Victor Hugo’s classic tale kicked off – by taking its time. The series first episode introduces us to Jean Valjean, prisoner given 19 years hard time for stealing bread, and a starry-eyed young Parisian named Fantine, who wants more from life than the world her lower class status has promised her. Freed from prison, Valjean struggles to find work, as Fantine falls in love with Felix, a posh young man slumming it for the few years before the necessities of his social standing kick in. A kind priest buys Valjean’s salvation by gifting him candlesticks and silverware to start a new life, while Fantine is left abandoned, unmarried and with a young daughter to raise. Need more details? Our Episode 1 recap is here.
The thing about Les Miserables the musical is, despite the fact that it’s full of death and sadness, it’s been restructured as a story about hope. It’s full of songs about love, and hope, and the power of resistance to reshape the world into something better than we found it. Do you hear the people sing? and all that. That’s the version of this story that most of us know. Yes, Fantine dies. As does Enjolras. So do most of the boys at the barricades. But that’s okay, because everyone’s brought back together in the end, to sing a song of triumph. Their deaths meant something, stood for something greater than themselves, mattered. The sweeping tricolore promises freedom, hope and a new world for all, at the end.
The novel, Les Miserables, is not entirely like that, and this episode underscores that fact in spades.