Les Miserables Episode 2 Recap: The Fall and Fall of Fantine

There was some stuff this week about Marius, the Thernadiers, and, of course, Valjean and Javert, but we all know this is Fantine’s hour, right?

So:

Marius

Poor kid’s being tarted up and made to metaphorically spit upon his dying father in front of some gross relics of the ancien regime. If you needed an illustration of why France wanted and needed a revolution, that dinner party was it.

As I mentioned, Marius’s father is dying, and the nurse persuades granddad to let the boy go see Pontmercy one more time. During the visit, Marius’s father tells him about Thernadier, and how he owes him a debt of gratitude for (supposedly) saving his life. Also, we learn that the baronetcy was gifted by Napoleon. Huh, I would have thought that any titles bestowed by Napoleon would be nullified by his defeat and the reinstatement of the Bourbon monarchy, but I guess not.

The Thernadiers

Fantine is on the move, apparently about four years after having been abandoned. I find myself wondering what she was doing all that time, but I guess we’re not supposed to think too hard about it. Or about how Cosette came to have clothes nice enough that Madame Thernadier comments on them within five minutes of meeting her. I know Fantine’s a seamstress and all, but where’d she get the material? Cutting up her own clothes from her time with Felix, perhaps?

Anyway, Fantine and Cosette arrive at the Thernadiers’ inn and Cosette immediately begins playing with the two Thernadier daughters. Mme T acts all nice and friendly to Fantine and manages to ascertain that she’s from Paris and off looking for work. Also, she’s a widow.

Mme T comments that it’s difficult when you have a kid in tow, adding that Cosette seems to have fallen in very well with her own daughters. Fantine considers this, then asks Mme T to take Cosette in. For a price, of course.

Right on cue, Monsieur Thernadier appears and demands exorbitant sums to keep this little girl. Fantine, back up against a wall, pays up and bids her daughter farewell. It’s a scene so terribly heartbreaking I can barely bring myself to watch the whole thing. I have a kid about this age, and I couldn’t imagine the agony of having to just peel him off my leg and leave him behind indefinitely. I mean, I find it hard to leave him at nursery if he gets worked up, and that’s for just a few hours!

Of course, it takes the Thernadiers no time whatsoever to begin demanding more and more money from this poor woman, all while treating her daughter appallingly.

(As an aside: little Gavroche is apparently the Thernadiers son, which I never knew. Is that in the original novel, or was that made up for this adaptation? I’ve not read the whole novel, just bits of it, so most of what I know of the story comes from the musical, and I’m pretty sure Gavroche was no relation.)

Cosette isn’t the only one treated poorly at this inn. Thernadier is a jerk and a brute of the first order. His wife, who seems to have at least a few more functional brain cells than he does, deigns to point out that they operate a referral business, and no coachman is going to send customers their way if they endlessly cheat everyone who comes through the door. See, even before Tripadvisor, a couple of one star reviews was enough to tank you. For her sensible comment, she gets slapped around pretty badly.

Fantine

Fantine continues on her way and arrives at a nearby town. She’s just in time to see the instalment of a new mayor: none other than Jean Valjean, now living under the alias of Monsieur Madeline. Apparently, over the past few years he’s opened a factory in the town and brought all sorts of prosperity. Everyone loves him, and although he’s tried to keep a relatively low profile, he’s finally been persuaded to become the mayor.

Fantine goes to his factory (which makes jewellery? I think? Out of jet or some other black beading?) and asks for a job. Valjean and his manager question her about her family, and Fantine claims to be entirely alone in the world. They’re like, ‘are you suuuuuure?’ and everyone watching thinks, ‘Jesus, Fantine, just tell him you have a kid and repeat that lie about being a widow!’ But, she does not.

She gets a job, and makes some friends immediately, and it’s all good. But that manager hates her, for some reason, and starts following her around. She tails Fantine to the office of a scrivener, whose job it is to read and write letters for the illiterate. Fantine takes all of Thernadier’s correspondence to him. Through this guy, the manager learns about the Thernadiers. She pays them a visit and learns about Cosette, then brings the information back to Valjean.

Valjean and Javert

Now, normally Valjean would have probably been fairly forgiving about this, but he’s a bit stressed out. Shortly after the arrival of Fantine, a new head of police for the town presented himself, and it’s none other than Javert. Valjean nearly craps himself at the sight of the man, but Javert fails to recognise him, despite the fact that he’s apparently been devoting himself to tracking Valjean down for the crime of stealing that little boy’s coin last episode.

Valjean and Javert have a chat about the state of the town. Seems that, thanks to Valjean’s willingness to employ anyone who wants a job, there’s very little crime in the town.

(This kind of begs the question of why there are so many prostitutes. I mean, sure, it’s possible at least some of the women are performing this sort of work because they want to, but that’s kind of doubtful. Being a street prostitute in the 19th century was seriously grim, and dangerous. So, do they just not want to work in the factory? Is sewing beads really so much worse than having to service strangers in the cold and wet?)

I digress. Javert kind of mocks the notion that providing jobs has cut down on crime, because he believes that thieves steal not out of desperation but because it’s just their nature. How long has this man been a policeman? Has he not observed that that simply isn’t the case? Has he not noticed how many people, especially petty criminals, are just desperate and poor? Or can he simply not see it because he’s incapable of thinking in shades of grey?

Valjean says they’ll just have to disagree here.

Not long after, a man gets trapped under a broken cart, and only Valjean, with his superior strength, is able to lift it off. Javert watches this and gets an, ‘Oh, I’ve got my man!’ look on his face.

He races off to Paris to visit his superior and ask how he should proceed. The man tells Javert that Valjean has already been re-arrested, and he really needs to leave the good mayor alone. Javert is baffled but leaves Paris so he can continue to stare menacingly at the real Valjean.

So, yeah, Valjean’s pretty stressed out. He’s already making plans to flee, hiding all his cash and the candlesticks out in the woods and wondering what to do here. So, when his manager comes to him with the story of Fantine’s lie, he kind of loses it and fires Fantine on the spot. Which is a terrible thing to do the minute you find out an employee has a dependent.

Poor Fantine gets desperate fast. The Thernadiers are demanding more and more money, and now she has no job. She sells her hair and her front teeth, and finally goes on the game. It’s… rough to watch. This woman is just dead inside.

Eventually, inevitably, a group of rich douchebags comes along, and one of them begins taunting her. Fantine reminds him that what she’s doing is not a goddamn hobby, so if he’s just going to be an asshole, maybe move along? He responds by shoving snow down her dress, and she, quite reasonably, responds to that by attacking him.

Javert is a man whom empathy has given a hard pass to

I mean, she’s a tiny, consumptive woman who’s probably severely malnourished at this point, so her attacking this man is like a fly landing on him, but he kicks up a fuss and brings Javert running. Javert loves himself a criminal, so he really lays it down with Fantine, who screams and begs him not to lock her up, because she has a child to provide for. He couldn’t possibly care less, because this is a man whom empathy has given a hard pass to.

The commotion finally brings Valjean out of his house, and once Fantine sees him she’s just done. She spits and screams at him, accusing him of doing this to her. Valjean is horrified and immediately offers to take her in and take care of her.

Fantine is taken to the hospital, where it quickly becomes clear that she doesn’t have very long to live. She asks Valjean she really wants to see Cosette again.

And this is when Javert shows up and asks for a moment of Valjean’s time. He tells Valjean that he had falsely accused him of being a prisoner, but it seems he was mistaken and he’s ready to face the consequences. Valjean is surprised and asks what changed his mind, which is how he learns that some other poor bastard is suspected of being him and is due to stand trial the following day. Well, now, this is a conundrum, isn’t it?

Valjean goes home and immediately burns his old identification papers. Why the hell didn’t he do that years ago? Seems pretty stupid to keep them around. Out of the flames falls the coin he stole from that little boy years ago. He picks it up and winces as it burns his hand. Oh, they symbolism!

The next day, he tells his manager he wants her to go fetch Cosette so Fantine can see her daughter one last time. He is off to a nearby town, where the poor bastard accused of being Jean Valjean is about to stand trial.



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