At this point, the story starts to rely very heavily on the ‘only 50 people in France’ rule. Basically, this rule applies when there are so many crazy coincidences involving people knowing/meeting up with/crossing paths with each other that the only possible explanation is that there are very few people in the world to begin with. Now, the story’s employed this a fair bit already (Sister Semplice just happens to have moved from that little town in the countryside to the very convent Valjean sneaks into in a moment of panic? Javert just so happens to keep getting assigned to every town Valjean decides to live in?), but this episode seriously dialled it up to 11. It’s ok, though, because it’s still good and we just go with it.
It’s been around 10 years or so, and Valjean and Cosette seem to have a really nice life in the convent. But as Cosette’s school friends start to grow up and go away, she begins to yearn for a life outside this place. She begs Valjean to take her away, and because he can refuse her nothing, he does.
He buys a house in a very nice part of town, which is rather clever because Javert, with his very strict notions on lawbreakers and how they live, is unlikely to look for Valjean amongst the respectable bourgeoisie. It’s ok for a little while, but then Cosette begins to chafe at the restrictions there. Again, she begs to be taken out, so Valjean takes her shopping and for regular walks in the Luxembourg Gardens.
Javert, with his very strict notions on lawbreakers and how they live, is unlikely to look for Valjean amongst the respectable bourgeoisie
(I’m just going to take a moment to note something that kind of bugged me: why does Valjean keep changing his relationship to Cosette? He’s told some people she’s his granddaughter, others she’s his niece, and she calls him Papa. Why not just say she’s his daughter and be done with it? He looks the right age, and it wouldn’t have been odd back then for a father to have been on the older side anyway. Why keep changing the story? Seems like he’s just making life more complicated for himself.)
Somewhere in here, Valjean gets it into his head to possibly come clean to Cosette about his past, which seems like a terrible idea. I mean, she seems like a sweet girl and all, but I’m not sure I’d trust her with that big and potentially explosive a secret. He takes her, at dawn, to witness a chain gang being brought into the city. Her disgust at the sight of them pretty much nixes any notion of him being completely honest with her.
The Luxembourg Gardens are a busy place! Aside from Cosette and Valjean, it looks like the Thenardiers have a gang operating there. At least, their daughters are working there, as pickpockets/beggars/whatever is required. One daughter, Eponine, checks out Cosette and Valjean as they pass.
Cosette, meanwhile, is checking someone out too…
Marius is now a law student, going about his life when an old man recognises him at church and takes it upon himself to tell Marius all about how his dad was a hero in Napoleon’s army. That one conversation is all it takes to erase more than a decade’s worth of his grandfather teaching Marius that his father was a worthless traitor, so I guess granddad wasn’t really all that committed. Marius returns home, confronts the old man, and completely repudiates everything he’s been taught. He gets kicked out.
Apparently he operates by the ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ principle, because he starts hanging out with straight-up revolutionaries. Enjolras in particular is very keen on, well, something fairly socialist, by the sound of things.
With the help of a friend, Marius finds rooms in the same place where Valjean and Cosette lived when they first arrived in Paris. And the Thenardiers live just next door! Small world!
Eponine comes over one night with a note from her father begging for money. Marius gives her what he can, and she takes it back to her horrible father.
Thenardier has plans. He sends Eponine with another letter to Valjean, imploring him for help. He’s doing this not because he knows who Valjean is, but because Eponine thought he looked like a soft touch when she saw him in the park.
Valjean is a soft touch. He heads to the Thenardiers’ place with Cosette to see how they can help. I find it completely implausible that Cosette and Eponine wouldn’t recognise each other. Yes, they’re both a bit older, but the changes in one’s looks between childhood and teenhood aren’t typically so drastic that you wouldn’t know someone whom you lived with for years as soon as you saw them again.
Even stranger, it takes all the adults a while to recognise each other. It finally happens, around the same time Cosette recognises Thenardier (come on, she would have known him the second she walked through the door!) Thenardier threatens to reveal who Valjean is (although… how does he know he’s Valjean? Does he? I don’t remember if Javert mentioned it) if Valjean doesn’t pay them off. Valjean agrees to return later with the payoff.
Marius overhears the shakedown and reports the Thenardiers to the police. Or, rather, to one policeman: Javert. Javert tells Marius they need to catch these people committing a crime, so he gives Marius two pistols and tells him to fire one in the air when something nefarious is going down. Javert will wait outside, ready to apprehend these people.
Marius returns home and lies in wait. Valjean arrives with more money for Thenardier, but the man’s gathered his gang and is just going to keep going after more. This seems really stupid of him, considering what happened the last time he pushed his luck with Valjean, but I guess we all know that Thenardier’s not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer.
As things start to get violent, Marius gets ready to fire. But wait! He catches sight of the old inn sign in the Thenardiers’ room, which depicts Monsieur carrying Marius’s father to safety on his back (which never happened). He also hears Thenardier announce that he was a hero at Waterloo. So now Marius is so conflicted! Should he rat out the man who may have saved his father’s life in order to save the father of his crush? So hard!
Ultimately, he does fire the pistol, but not before Valjean manages to kick the absolute shit out of Thenardier and his goons. The police burst in and Valjean escapes. Thenardier is arrested, but tells Javert that the real prize has gotten away.
Valjean returns home, and Javert visits Thenardier in his cell and tells him to start talking.