The new Netflix comedy-drama mini-series, Maid, makes me wonder how many young mothers are out there like Alex (Margaret Qualley): living with only $12 to their name and feeling absolutely alone in the world.
Inspired by real events and based on Stephanie Land’s memoir: Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive, the series, created by Molly Smith Metzler, is a harrowing look at the effects of abuse.
In the first episode, Alex escapes an emotionally abusive relationship in the middle of the night and tries to take care of her two—almost-three-year-old—daughter, Maddy (Rylea Nevaeh Whittet.) Sean (Nick Robinson,) her alcoholic boyfriend, doesn’t take the news lightly and gets a lawyer to try to gain custody of his daughter. The obstacles are exceedingly high as Alex deals with court custody issues while working endlessly as a maid (and still receiving low pay) in order to support her and her daughter. These deterrents make Maid a tragic yet gripping narrative.
When Alex first runs away from her boyfriend, taking her daughter with her, we see the amount of total money she has at the corner of the screen: $12.35. Each time Alex buys something new, such as food or cleaning supplies for her maid position, her budget quickly dwindles on the screen until she’s left with $2.10. Showing her budget on screen effectively underlines how much Alex struggles in her quest to independently provide for her daughter.
The best part about Maid is Alex and Maddy’s sweet mother-daughter bonding. Alex will do anything for Maddie—spending every penny to give Maddie a good life— and Maddy herself is a cute, innocent kid who has to live back and forth between her separated parents.
Maid looks to inform the audience on the levels of abuse someone in a toxic relationship can suffer. Alex initially thought she didn’t qualify to live in the homeless shelters designed for victims of domestic violence (the DV center) because Sean had never actually hit her, but came close to. She discovers from the people in charge of the center that abuse can come in different forms—physical violence does not equal all abuse. As one character put it: “Emotional abuse is abuse.”
Watching the series will hopefully give viewers greater empathy on how others might be suffering—just because the evidence of it isn’t obvious, it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
The drama shares a horrifying reality: people continuously return to their abusive partners. They may run away, seek help (and feel liberated by doing so) and then fall back into that cycle of abuse. We see it happen with the character Danielle (Aimee Carrero,) previously physically abused by her boyfriend and then found a safe haven at the home at the DV center. We also see Alex continuously going back to Sean. While Sean means well and seems to love Alex, with his alcoholism, Alex doesn’t always feel comfortable around him and doesn’t believe he’s responsible enough to be Maddy’s guardian.
Another powerful message in Maid is the idea that nobody’s lives are truly perfect. Alex thinks the woman whose house she cleans—Regina (Anika Noni Rose)—is the embodiment of the ideal life. She lives in a giant mansion, has a large fridge full of fresh, delicious food, has beautiful furniture, jewelry, clothes, and, most of all, she doesn’t have to worry about money. On the other hand, paychecks are the only thing Alex can think about (when she’s not thinking about Maddy).
But Regina’s life is far from flawless. She doesn’t have time to do anything but work, and her partner doesn’t reciprocate emotionally like she thought he would. Regina and Alex bond on Thanksgiving night, both of them lonely and having a terrible holiday.
Maid reminds us that humans prefer close connections, whether that be family or friends, more than something simple as a lavish home or a bunch of cash. Having money may be great, but we live for the people close to us.
The show can be frustrating at times. Paula (Andie MacDowell,) Alex’s “undiagnosed bi-polar” mother (as Alex puts it,) constantly blabbers about herself and doesn’t listen to her own daughter’s problems. At first, Paula’s outrageousness was funny, and some of the things she said were so out there, but as the show went on, the character can get on your nerves. Paula’s lines seem to be intentionally irritating as Alex gets fed up with her from time to time, but MacDowell delivers her parts effectively.
Even though Paula may be irritating—why won’t she put herself in Alex’s shoes for once?—it’s easy to sympathize with her and understand she’s been through tough times. Paula deals with mental illness (an assumption at first but later confirmed in the series,) and in the past, she had been in an abusive relationship as well. She loves Alex, but she has an odd way of showing her affection. Paula’s lack of observation toward others may be frustrating but through the exploration of her mental illness, we’re given greater context.
Everything Alex does is to benefit her daughter, whether that be work or finding a stable home. It’s commendable watching Alex never give up to give Maddy a sustainable life, continuing to work day after day, despite all of her hurdles. While in the beginning, Alex couldn’t even admit Sean abused her, she learns how to finally stand up for herself in this admiring, uplifting story.
Maid is a powerful show. Alex has many people help her along her endeavor—her father (somewhat,) Regina, and Nate, who offers her a place to sleep at one point and a car. The friendships Alex forms show that she isn’t completely alone, but has people to turn to. Alex receiving help from people is comforting to watch. Ultimately, the story of a mother taking care of her daughter under dire circumstances, watching the two’s relationship unfold, and Alex’s dedication to Maddy is worth the watch alone.
Season 1 of Maid is available on Netflix.