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'Les Miserables' Episode 1 Recap: Un-Break My Heart

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Fantine, before everything goes to crap. (Masterpiece / PBS)

Hi there! You might remember me from my VictoriaDownton Abbey or Poldark recaps. Since those shows wrapped, I've felt a void in my spirit that can only be filled by PBS-approved British imports, so I'm going to try falling in love again; this time, with the new adaptation of Les Miserables. I hope you'll join me. Let's do this!

It's the summer of June 1815! Put your bathing suit away though because things are BLEAK. We've been plopped into the day right after the Battle of Waterloo, where Napoleon was officially canceled, 65,000 people died and a 20-year-long war was finally put to a bloody end. Mom, can you come and pick me up? I'm scared.

What's worse than a series of panoramic shots of mutilated, dead soldiers as far as the eye can see? Close-up shots of dead horses with their eyes open, that's what! Because being scarred for life by Artex's death scene in The Neverending Story just wasn't enough.

Oh, great, it gets worse; another horse blinks slowly as it takes its agonizing last breaths. I expect gruesome horse deaths from Game of Thrones, but not Masterpiece Theater! Toto, we're not in Cornwall with Ross Poldark anymore.


A robber runs around stealing trinkets from the dead, until one of the corpses is like, Um, what the hell, I'm still (barely) alive. By the way, who won the war? Turns out there's no nice way to say, "Not you."

Fast forward to some point in the future. We're now in Paris and I don't see a single dying horse (hallelujah!). Things are still bleak though. Think of the opening "Bonjour!" sequence from Disney's Beauty and the Beast, but everyone is starving too much to deliver a hearty good morning, let alone sing one.

It's less of this:

And more of this:

In short, the struggle is very real.

The nearly dead dude from earlier has a name—Pontmercy—and somehow managed to survive. You'd think things could only get better after being left for dead under the weight of a deceased horse, but Pontmercy's life still sucks. His #TeamMonarchy father-in-law has his curly ponytailed wig in a twist over Pontmercy's allegiance to #TeamBonaparte and bans him from ever seeing his son. Homeboy just went to equine hell and back; can we cut him some slack?

I'll take that as a no. Can someone throw a dead horse on #TeamMonarchy father-in-law already?

Outside, a girl named Fantine excitedly makes plans with her two friends. I don't know much about the story of Les Miserables, but I do know a lot about Anne Hathaway's 2013 Oscar campaign for playing this role. I won't spoil anything for those more clueless than I, but let's just say: soak up any shots of Fantine smiling and enjoying her long hair while you can.

Over in a place called Toulon, Prisoner #24601 is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Not only is he in chains, being marched out of a disease-ridden boat to do hard labor in the sun all day, but annoying kids have to be brats on top of everything else!

Hello? Yes, I'd like to order another dead horse. You can deliver that to the top of this little kid's head. Okay, great, thank you!

At the quarry job site, Prisoner #24601 watches guards taunt and beat his fellow prisoners for no reason. He thinks to himself, I know this series has the word "miserable" in the title, but enough is enough. Prisoner #24601 uses his pick-ax to unleash an avalanche of boulders on one of the guards. Everyone is horrified by the man's screams except for Prisoner #24601, who looks on while making this face:

No one can get the guard out from under the rocks, so Prisoner #24601 lifts the rocks with his back while turning a scary red color.

The Hulk, but crimson. I'm into it (and a little scared).

That night, the lead prison guard, Javert, taunts Prisoner #24601: You thought you were going to be released early for being heroic? LOL, never gonna happen! P.S. I bet I would be a better criminal than you!

Um, okay. Next time, just say "Nanny nanny boo boo" and let this poor man go back to bed the planks of wood he is forced to sleep on.

Prisoner #24601 is apparently serving a 19-year sentence for stealing a measly piece of bread. Thank goodness we no longer live in a society where people receive absurdly long jail sentences for minor crimes. Oh, wait...

Meanwhile, at a rave in Paris, three guys check out Fantine and her friends. They agree Fantine is a virgin and one of them decides to—I'm guessing—ruin her life. They all dance until daybreak and Fantine seems happy. I'm already devastated about whatever's about to happen to her.

At work the next day, Fantine is all;

One of her friends tries to get real with her, explaining that fancy men only want one thing from working girls like them, and it's not a hand in marriage. Now that that's cleared up, someone should also tell Fantine that, even though she could totally play a convincing Belle, this isn't a Disney production and her happy ending is most definitely going to get lost in the mail.

Despite her friend's warning, Fantine hangs out with Felix again.

Felix: "You look like an angel."

Fantine: "My friend said I shouldn't believe a word you say."


Felix: "Before I met you, I sought nothing but my own selfish pleasure. Now, I want to dedicate my life to you."


Felix: "You see, I'm a poet. I hope to be famous one day. And you will be my Muse."


Felix: "I wonder if you know how I'm suffering. Are you going to be merciful, Fantine? Will you take pity on me?"

Fantine: "I don't want you to be sad. You promise you'll be good to be, Felix?"

Felix: "On my life."


Fantine falls for it.

Back in Toulon, Javert makes an uncomfortable amount of eye contact with Prisoner #24601 while another prisoner is executed by a firing squad. This series is in desperate need of some cute puppy relief. I'm gonna place this darling image of my favorite Masterpiece pup, Poldark's Horace the Pug, here as a form of cleansing.

Ahhh. I feel better, don't you?

Over at #TeamRoyalist HQ, Pontmercy's father-in-law is brainwashing Pontmercy's son, Marius, with classist propaganda. He's also getting him drunk.

Napoleon: Scoundrel.

Daddy: Scoundrel.

This wine: Crisp with notes of pear and a nice tart finish.

All of a sudden we're hit with a sped-up montage of clouds moving, icicles melting and Fantine losing her virginity. Boom, it's a year later. Time flies after you discover the joys of sex with a man who's no good for you, I guess. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Back in Toulon, Prisoner #24601 has finally served his entire 19 years and is being released. He strips off his prisoner uniform and Javert can't help but sneak a peek.

With only a handful of francs to his name (which is Jean Valjean by the way...)

...Valjean wanders the French countryside, which is full of haters. Every villager he comes across is too busy giving him a dirty look to give him a helping hand. So he tries to make his own way, offering to help haul barrels of ale into a tavern for an entire afternoon for some change. After all the work is done, the owners grossly underpay him because he's an ex-convict. Or maybe they just have a thing against bold beards?

That night, Valjean is turned away from every inn in town. (Bethlehem called. They want their heartlessness back.) While trying to get some shut-eye on a public bench, a cute old lady is like, Hey, sorry that all my neighbors are a-holes. Try that house over there.

Inside that house over there, a bishop is having a low-key Netflix and chill night in. His maid is cluing him into all the town gossip: My holy dude, today there was this creepy crimson Hulk guy with a really ugly face walking around town. Because What Would Jesus Do? bracelets haven't been invented yet, none of us have to feel bad about not wanting to help him. That's how religion works, right?

Just then, Valjean shows up like Hey, who was just talking smack about my face?

Thankfully, unlike his maid and neighbors, the bishop is woke. He's not a fan of the prison industrial complex and offers Valjean a meal and a guest room. Valjean looks all around for Ashton Kutcher, convinced that he's being Punk'd. 19 years without even a smidge of kindness would make anyone paranoid.

Woke Bishop and Valjean get into a debate about whether love and kindness can change a man.

Woke Bishop: Eat pray love is my philosophy! Hm, maybe I should write a polarizing memoir and call it that!

Valjean: Sounds like something terrible I would never read! I'd be into something called Eat Curse Hate though.

They agree to disagree for now and head to bed. Woke Bishop gives Valjean the room next to his and even leaves the door between their rooms open as a sign of trust. Am I the only one who wants this guy to be my grandpa and read to me?

At this point, Valjean is looking under the bed and behind the curtains for Ashton Kutcher. There's no way someone would be this nice for no reason, right?

Once Woke Bishop is asleep and dreaming of meeting a hottie in Bali (the last section of his insufferable memoir isn't going to write itself!), Valjean steals all the silverware and sneaks out.

The next morning, because he's a wonderful person, Woke Bishop sees the theft and betrayal as an opportunity to fall in love with eating with his hands. Someone canonize this man already!

While St. Woke Bishop is enjoying some finger food, there's a knock at the door. It's a bunch of cops, who've caught Valjean and all the pilfered silverware.

St. Woke Bishop: "Welcome back! I'm glad to see you! You forgot to take the candlesticks, didn't you?"

He then explains to the cops that he wants Valjean to have anything he wants.

After the cops leave, St. Woke Bishop tells Valjean that the best way to repay him is to become a good man and live a good life. Valjean's face has an allergic reaction to all this kindness:

Valjean storms out with all his loot and St. Woke Bishop gets back to smiling while eating with his fingers. Bless his heart.

Back in Paris, Fantine and her friends are on a triple date with Felix and his bros. They all run around and kiss and pee in the woods and eat a fancy meal together. All the while, the boys keep alluding to a big surprise they have in store. Finally, they leave the dining room to go get it, leaving the girls to guess what it could be (something pretty? gold necklaces? a vow of feminism?).

Moments later, a waiter comes in with an envelope with "This is the surprise" written on it. The letter reads:

This was fun and all, but rich men don't marry poor whores. HA HA HA! Talk to you never!

Actually, ghosting Fantine and her friends like that earns them not just a brief animated gif but the entire song:

Rot in hell, Felix and friends!

Speaking of rude men, on a country road, Valjean steals a little boy's money and laughs about it. Then he hears the church bells from the distant town and remembers sweet, old, fork-less St. Woke Bishop. Valjean finally feels a sense of shame and tries barking after the robbed little boy, but it's too late. Valjean realizes how badly he needs to rehabilitate (and bathe) himself. For now, doing child's pose in the middle of the road will have to be enough.

Back in Paris, Fantine returns home, broken-hearted, and a woman with a baby says, "Here's maman!"

Fantine and Felix have a baby together???? Things just got a whole lot more (les) miserable(s).

Fantine takes her daughter upstairs and sobs, "Oh, Cosette, whatever are we going to do now?" Probably suffer a lot and then die while Felix is off somewhere enjoying bonbons!

Once more, with feeling:

End scene!

After every episode, it’s only right to reward characters who’ve impressed and diss the ones that haven’t, so here goes:

PIECE OF COAL: Felix And His Bros. Roll out the guillotine. 

HONORABLE MENTION: All Those Dead Horses. I hope pony heaven is full of oats or whatever y'all are into. Miss you!

BRONZE: Marius Pontmercy. A wine sommelier by the age of four? What a legend.

SILVER: Fantine. Here's a silver lining to go with that silver medal: Brutal breakups lead to great breakup albums. Write your Jagged Little Pill, sister!

GOLD: St. Woke Bishop. Tied with Mister Rogers for Nicest Neighbor Ever. I can't wait to read his memoir.


Until next week! If you miss my thoughts on Les Miserables or pop culture in general, follow me on Twitter @xcusemybeauty, listen to my podcast The Cooler or read my other recaps (Poldark, Victoria, Downton Abbey and—coming soon—Game of Thrones)!

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