Les Miserables episode 5 review: vive la revolution!

The streets explode in violence while love blooms in the rose garden in the penultimate Les Miserables episode. Spoilers in our review…

This review contains spoilers. 

The people of Paris are redecorating. Posters depicting a savage-looking wanted man are being gummed up all over the city. Words like ‘liberty’ and ‘revolution’ are being scrawled in chalk on the walls. In a mass decluttering doubtless inspired by that omnipresent Marie Kondo Netflix series, furniture is being lobbed out of windows and piled up in the streets: tah-bles and chaises and armoires and other vocabulaire de GCSE.

Enfin bref, Paris is a powder keg and episode five is explosion time. It’s also, sadly, death time for Eponine, whose tragic tale ends with the poor girl making good on her no-good father’s lie and actually saving the life of a Baron de Pontmercy in battle. 

The scales of justice in the Les Miserables universe having been unjustly weighted, each gram of happiness requires payment in misery by the tonne. Marius and Cosette’s romance put episode five into extravagant debt, and Eponine’s sacrifice settled their bill. She died so that Marius could live, a final act that finally made the boy take notice of her.  

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Actor Erin Kellyman didn’t even need a belter like On My Own to express Eponine’s tragic infatuation with the only man she’s ever met who didn’t beat or abuse her; she did it all with her eyes. What a waste of a life. Had Eponine been born a century and half later, she might have had foster parents, a level three qualification and a trainee management programme place instead of a death among the rats and the bullet casings. 

Had Cosette been born 150 years later, she’d probably behave exactly the same, give or take swooning into her lover’s arms (without corsets causing our internal organs to slide like burger components into a stack, modern women have far less cause to swoon). Cosette and Marius’ romance felt timeless – teenagers were ever thus. Try your best for them and it’s all secret meetings in the rose bower, stomping off to their bedroom screaming ‘I hate you!’ and joining the revolution. 

Valjean’s woes were those of any parent. Admittedly, most parents don’t attempt to solve those woes by stalking after their daughter’s beloved while packing a knife. We all know who’s waiting for Valjean at the barricade: the very man from whom he has been running. What are the chances? (In this story, approximately 1:1.)

Marius’ grandfather was Valjean’s parallel – also heartbroken about the loss of his child. David Bradley’s character was so glum over his grandson’s absence he barely had the strength to cackle into his filet mignon and toast the imminent deaths of Paris’ idle scum. It was almost, but not quite, enough to make you feel some sympathy for the old goat. 

Also resistant to viewer sympathy is Javert. Almost at its end, this otherwise emotionally well-tuned adaptation has yet to offer any insight as to why the copper is being quite such une tête de dick about Valjean. David Oyelowo’s usual depth and range has been limited here to dyspeptic, teeth-gnashing Rottweiler. Valjean is Javert’s obsession and that’s that. If Les Miserables teaches us anything (other than how easy it is to escape from 19th century French prisons), it’s that the world is an arbitrarily cruel place, and if somebody can relentlessly hunt down and kill your happiness for little apparent reason, they will.  

Cut to: Thenardier’s subterranean kingdom, where, shin-deep in shitty water, the hero of Waterloo was plotting Valjean’s murder for a second time.  

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“Those people, they’re evil,” Cosette told her papa of her former guardians. “I hope I never see them again.” “Don’t worry, the Thenardiers are all in jail and no-one else knows we’re here,” said Valjean, having missed the bit in which all but one of the Thenardiers got out of jail and everyone knows they’re there. If contrivance is the engine of this plot, then dramatic irony is its grease.

So, Paris is burning. Episode five—the most action-stuffed and dynamic of a so-far very action-stuffed and dynamic series—ended in an invigorating mass of drums, bullets and smoke. The workers and students and veterans like Donald Sumpter’s principled Mabeuf (RIP) united to fight for the people’s rights not to starve to death in the streets.

Speaking of food, anyone for a meatball soaked in sleepy juice? Just the thing to make the hours pass until the finale.

Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.