There’s much more to Les Misérables than the cat-and-mouse game and twisted fates of Jean Valjean and Javert—but how to keep track of it all? From Pontmercy to Petit Gervais, candlesticks to Cossette, catch up on the essential moments of Episode 1. Plus see some of the episode’s filming locations, learn some real history, and find out which of the musical’s songs fit Episode 1’s action!
Episode 1 Recap: Everything you need to know
1. Javert: “Listen to me. Whatever you think, you can never win.”
After 19 years of hard labor, the convict Jean Valjean is soon to be released from Toulon’s brutal prison colony. But before leaving, he comes to the attention of the extremely intense prison guard Javert when he frees a trapped guard by lifting a massive beam that had fallen on him. Afflicted with a deep personal hatred for Valjean, Javert warns him that he’ll be back in prison within a year’s time…this time for life.
2. Bishop: “You don’t think it’s possible that kindness and love can change a man?”
Released and roaming the French countryside in search of work and shelter, Jean Valjean finds only prejudice and hatred until he encounters kindness from the Bishop of Digne. In return, he steals from him, and when he’s arrested and brought back, the bishop gives him a pair of silver candlesticks, and his humanity. The bishop urges him to embrace goodness.
3. Valjean: “Ah, God, what have I done?”
The bishop’s lesson doesn’t sink in until Jean Valjean has robbed an innocent boy of his coin. Valjean is devastated by regret. While it’s too late to return Petit Gervais’ forty sous, it’s not too late for Valjean to devote his life to goodness.
4. Pontmercy: “If we both survive…you can call on me. I swear it.”
Thenardier the thief accidentally saves the life of Pontmercy, a colonel in Napoleon’s army, as he scavenges among the dead after the Battle of Waterloo.
5. Gillenormand: “He will be brought up to curse your very name, Pontmercy!”
When Pontmercy tries to retrieve his son, Marius, from his grandfather, Gillenormand, he’s met with utter contempt. As a royalist, Gillenormand despises Pontmercy for his support of Napoleon. He threatens to disinherit his grandson if Pontmercy sees the boy, and kicks the father out.
6. Fantine: “Oh, Cosette, Cosette, whatever are we going to do now?”
Fantine, a young working-class Parisian dressmaker, meets the upper-class dandy Felix, who seduces the naïve beauty in record time. When Felix and his appallingly awful friends dump their girlfriends with astonishing cruelty, he leaves her with a broken heart and an infant daughter, Cosette.
For Fans of the Musical
Here are the songs that match Episode 1’s action:
Work Song “Look down, look down / Don’t look them in the eye!”
What Have I Done? “Jean Valjean is nothing now / Another story must begin!”
Real History: Qu’est-ce que c’est ?
What was the Bagne of Toulon?
From 1748 to 1873, the notorious Bagne of Toulon operated as a prison colony in the southeastern French town of Toulon, on the Mediterranean coast. Before the era of the Bagne, convicted French criminals were sentenced to serve their time rowing the great naval fleet’s galleys. When the galleys were replaced by sailing ships, they were decommissioned and used to house prisoners on- and offshore. There, prisoners served out their sentences in wretched conditions, enduring brutal hard labor, splitting stones, digging and constructing foundations for buildings, and operating treadmills and wheels. They were chained, branded, and sometimes executed.
What was a grisette?
In 19th century Paris, “grisette” was the term for a specific type of independent young working woman. Without family connections or support, she made her own way in the world; she made her own wages—often working as a seamstress; and she made her own rules around romantic relationships. Neither upper nor lower class, grisettes associated with the artists, poets, and students of the bohemian culture, often taking lovers. Yet eventually, marriage within the bourgeoisie provided financial security that work or lovers couldn’t do long-term, preventing the dire circumstances into which Fantine falls in Les Misérables.
Episode 1 Locations
See where some of Episode 1’s scenes were filmed and get inside information about the real-life locations and the filming.