Netflix’s new limited series, Maid, revolves around Alex (Margaret Qualley), a mother in her 20s who leaves an emotionally abusive home to protect herself and her daughter Maddy. With ten episodes, the series explores Alex’s struggles to support herself and her daughter, and to come to terms with the abuse she’s been a victim of.
Inspired by Stephanie Land’s memoir, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive, the show admirably constructs each episode as revolving around a specific theme in Alex’s life, often a symbol of her emotional struggle. In doing so, it perfectly encapsulates the character’s feelings and makes it easier for viewers to understand her situation. The show’s significance stands in its portrayal of poverty, domestic violence, and mental illness. It is particularly relevant in its depiction of emotional abuse and trauma, as various characters share the presence of trauma in their lives.
Margaret Qualley drives the narrative masterfully, showing her skilful versatility as an actor. The casting of Andie MacDowell as Paula (Alex’s mother) astutely places Qualley and her real-life mother in front of each other; their chemistry, particularly during emotional scenes, is undeniable. The casting of Nick Robinson as Sean, Maddy’s alcoholic and abusive father, is also worth mentioning, as it shows that anyone can be abusive. The series makes this point by showing Sean at the beginning of his relationship with Alex, as well as his struggles with alcoholism. In doing so, Sean is not just a ‘villain’, but a fully formed character. Similarly, the series plays with the convention of the ‘nice guy’ with Nate, a man whose interest in helping Alex lasts only as long as he believes to have a chance with her romantically. In doing so, the show acknowledges the reality of ‘nice guys’ often being manipulative and having ulterior motives. The show’s only negative element is the fact that Alex’s position as a maid is mostly presented through montages or voiceovers; being an essential part of her story, it perhaps should have been expanded upon.
Molly Smith Metzler, the series’ creator, places Alex at the centre of the narrative, but also astutely transforms her point of view into the audience’s. The direction makes us ‘become’ Alex by, for example, making us unable to comprehend legal language (comically displayed as lawyers repeat the word ‘legal’) or seeing Alex’s bank account balance on screen. And because Alex’s point of view is also ours, it’s impossible for us to judge her decisions – even the ones we might disagree with. The narrative carefully avoids going over the line or accidentally turning Alex’s situation into pitiful: we always remain on her side. Simply, as an audience, we don’t feel for Alex, but with her. It is precisely because of this awareness that Alex’s journey might often seem frustrating: witnessing this woman’s constant hardships makes us wish for a resolution. But one might say that this is exactly the point the show tries to make. Alex’s story needs to be frustrating for us to pay attention, to realise the character’s stride and, most importantly, the reality that someone in a similar situation might not reach the outcome we wish to see.
Visceral, emotional brilliance shines throughout Maid, so much so that some lines and metaphors simply become engraved in one’s mind. The determined narrative of the series and its representation of abuse and resilience make it a must-watch. Just as we stay with Alex for ten episodes, her story stays with us long after its conclusion.
(Image Credit: New York Times/Netflix)