Maid, Netflix’s new ten-part mini-series strikes the perfect balance of tackling difficult themes whilst still being enjoyable to watch. The series is inspired by Stephanie Land’s best-selling memoir, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive.
The show portrays the story of Alex (Margaret Qualley), whose life falls apart after she flees her abusive boyfriend Sean (Nick Robinson) in the middle of the night with their two-year-old daughter, Maddy (Rylea Nevaeh Whittet).
With no money, no job, and nowhere to go, they move into a domestic violence shelter. Alex enters a frustrating cycle: she cannot get subsidised housing without a job, but she can’t get a job without childcare for her daughter, which she can’t afford without a job. Finally, Alex secures a job as a maid and begins cleaning houses to support herself and her child.
Obstacle after obstacle arises. Moving in and out of accommodation, struggling with her relationship with Sean, her absent father and especially her mother, Paula. Paula is played by actress Margaret Qualley’s actual mother, Andie MacDowell. Her character is first presented as an unreliable artist, but gradually it’s revealed she has undiagnosed bipolar disorder and that she was abused by Alex’s father.
The female relationships that Alex makes along her journey highlight the different kinds of women that exist around the system. From Danielle, the fellow victim of abuse, Denise the wise DV shelter owner, to Yolanda, Alex’s uncompromising boss. Finally, there is the unusual relationship between Alex and the rich and unlikable Regina, whose life is also falling apart but in a different way.
My favourite moments were when Alex would read from her journal, her thoughts poetic, and you see her talent and potential to be a writer. I felt that the soundtrack was well chosen and suited the mood of the show, with it successfully used to encourage specific emotions for the viewer.
The acting was superb. With Qualley not being a megastar, it gave the show an authentic feel and her portrayal of Alex was convincing without being overly dramatic. Rylea Nevaeh Whittet who is only a young child was also impressive and her interactions with Qualley were extremely natural.
The plot of the show is intriguing and original, and the series has been celebrated for its candid portrayal of emotional abuse. It gives an insight into single parenthood and the bureaucracy and red tape that smothers the minimal help on offer to women and their children. It is almost exhausting to watch how unfit the system is and the hoops Alex has to jump through. When you imagine living it, it’s truly shocking.
The critiques of the show are few and far between. Some viewers think that Alex’s maid job was slightly glamourised, with the physicality of the work not stressed enough and mostly used to support other plotlines.
Mike Hale writing for the New York Times raised an interesting point that perhaps Maid would have made a better two-hour movie, rather than a ten-part series. But that is the nature of Netflix’s production style currently.
Overall, the sensitivity, the authenticity, and the excellent acting make this series a must-watch and it is a poignant demonstration of the hardship faced by many.
Illustration: Rosie Bromiley