Johnny Flynn

'Les Miserables' Episode 6 Recap: One Day More

Valjean, in high drama mode (Photo: Courtesy of Robert Viglasky / Lookout Point)

Previously on Les Miserables: Javert’s obsession with Val Jean drives him toward increasingly bizarre behavior, including disguising himself as a revolutionary because he’s convinced his nemesis is, like, trying to bring down the monarchy, or something. Why? IDK, the show never bothers to explain. It also never really bothers to explain much about the pack of students building barricades in the name of the French Republic, nor does it tell us most of their names. (Though you’ll know who Enjolras is if you’ve seen the musical.) None of this super matters since they pretty much all die, and at least the final battle set piece is impressive to watch. Elsewhere, Marius and Cosette are in love, Valjean disapproves, and Thenardier is still alive and not in jail. Whew. Need more detail? Our Episode 5 recap is right this way.

Les Miserables barrels toward its dramatic conclusion with several of the story’s most highly anticipated moments – The fall of the barricades, Marius’ rescue, Valjean and Javert coming face to face again. But as the story hits several of its biggest emotional highlights, there’s kind of a problem. And that is, we’ve run out of time to explain why people are doing the things they’re doing. Maybe the series needed to be an episode or two longer, or it simply spent too much time on Fantine and Valjean’s early days, I don’t know. But, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s hard to care too much about some of these characters when you feel like you don’t know them at all.

'Les Miserables' Episode 5 Recap: Do You Hear the People Sing?

Marius and Cosette in their secret garden rendezvous (Photo:  Courtesy of Robert Viglasky / Lookout Point)

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.

'Les Miserables' Episode 4 Recap: In My Life

Cosette (Photo: Courtesy of Robert Viglasky / Lookout Point)

Previously on Les Miserables: After another several-year stint in prison, Valjean breaks out, retrieves his bottomless secret stash of money – seriously were those candlesticks made of diamonds?? – and heads to Montfermeil to finally rescue Fantine’s daughter. Getting a tiny child to care for is the saving of Jean Valjean’s character as he suddenly becomes gruff, caring and kind of adorable instead of just feral and self-centered. Unfortunately, Javert is still stalking Valjean across the entire countryside of France and this eventually drives Valjean and Cosette to take shelter in a kind nunnery, where the Mother Superior breaks something like a hundred years of tradition by letting a man into their holy building and lying to the police. I guess Valjean must have a really nice face?

It’s unfortunate for Les Miserables that the worst part of its story is something that no adaptation has yet quite figured out how to fix, given that this character is a key piece of so many of its major arcs. And that is the fact that Marius Pontmercy is the worst.

'Les Miserables' Episode 3 Recap: Castle on a Cloud

Valjean and Cosette (Photo: Courtesy of Laurence Cendrowicz / Lookout Point)

Previously on Les Miserables: Fantine exhibits terrible judgment by leaving her young daughter in the care of the Thenardiers, the trashiest and most selfish couple on Earth, while attempting to earn a living for them both. She ends up working for Valjean, who has somehow reinvented himself as some kind of successful businessman and politician in the six years since we last saw them, but she ultimately loses her job, her hair, and her front teeth, before becoming a sex worker, catching consumption and being forced to physically fight dudes in the street before winding up dying in a hospital. Elsewhere, Javert pops back up to tell the new Monseiur le Mayor that a man claiming to be former convict Jean Val Jean is arrested for robbing a child in a different town. Everything is terrible, basically, because that’s really the sort of story this is. Need more details? Our recap of Episode 2 is here.

The third episode of Les Miserables goes a long way toward humanizing the previously offputting and largely feral Jean Valjean. That it does this through the insertion of a small, charming child into his life is a trope and a half, but since it also means Dominic West gets to both talk to dolls and smile occasionally, it’s easy enough to deal with.

'Les Miserables' Episode 2 Recap: I Dreamed A Dream

Fantine and young Cosette (Photo: Courtesy of Robert Viglasky / Lookout Point)

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. 

'Les Miserables' Episode 1 Recap: At the End of the Day

Valjean and Javert face off for the first of many times (Photo: Courtesy of Robert Viglasky / Lookout Point)

When news of a new Les Miserables adaptation broke last year, it’s doubtful that any of us immediately cheered. There are so many versions of this story out there, including an award-winning 2012 feature film with an all-star cast. We probably all assumed that if Hugo’s work still has anything interesting left to say, we’ve pretty much seen it already.

Well, Masterpiece is here to prove us all wrong about that. This sumptuous new BBC take on Les Mis feels like something entirely different from its very first episode, fueled by an unexpectedly gritty realism and an honest eye toward the real world these characters inhabit.