MAID Series Review
written by: Catrina Malone
Maid, a Netflix series gaining enormous attention and acclaim, offers an emotional and attention grabbing starting point for a necessary and authentic examination of domestic abuse. The riveting drama is a fictionalized account of the suffering, hard work, and determination of a young mother, Alex, played by Margaret Qualley, and supported by a talented supporting cast. The opening scene highlights Alex’s middle-of-the-night escape from an abusive relationship, holding her 3-year-old daughter close, Maddy, played by the sweet Rylea Nevaeh Whittet in her first film. Alex has $18.00 to her name, a beat-up car, and an unsecured future.
Maid is one story. However, this film touches many hearts because we know that people of all ages, races, genders, and range of socioeconomic background experience the brutality and devastation of domestic violence.
Created by gifted writer Molly Smith Metzler (Orange Is the New Black and Shameless), the script was inspired by author Stephanie Land’s best-selling memoir, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive, a true depiction of an escape from torment and the ability to survive by becoming a maid.
Newly released and wide-viewed, the 10-episode Netflix mini-series offers testimony that well-acted drama can both be entertaining, but still educate and inform. By showing a mother and daughter viewers care about and relate to, the series’ focus is domestic violence intensified by poverty, alcoholism, mental illness, and the realities of a flawed, contradictory, and inadequate bureaucratic system. This portrayal offers viewers insight into the pain and fear of those abused, as well as the angering administrative dilemma of the so-called system that is meant to help.
Viewers experience Alex’s terror about finding housing and providing necessary medical care for Maddy. We feel the impact of meager funding to provide food. We root for her as she fights shame and exhaustion, and we are humbled by her as she faces necessary work, even when it sickens her, and endures nasty treatment by her co-worker and employer, Tracy Vilar.
We delight in her sense of humor and are grateful when she experiences kindness and sees the beauty of love. We fall in love with other beautiful characters, such as Alex’s shelter director, Denise (BJ Harrison). We watch as Alex learns that although she has never been physically abused, emotional abuse is indeed domestic abuse. With Denise’s skill and devotion, Alex receives free legal guidance and prepares for a custody court case with all stakes against her.
While watching Maid, I found beauty in the mesmerizing script and its depiction. I saw truth in the engrossing protagonist, enriching backstories, effective flashbacks, and constant stakes. I appreciate that viewers will be appalled by the vivid trauma seen in Maid and uplifted by its resolve. And surely, resonate with those imprisoned by domestic violators and to feel inspired to reach out for help and make the first steps to set themselves free.
Alex’s self-destructive decisions, though painful to view, are far less than those of Paula, Alex’s bipolar mom, played by Andie MacDowell, Qualley’s mother in real life. (In certain shots, their resemblance is uncanny.) Alex is devoted to Paula, an artist who sees her mania as a free spirit and refuses medication.
There are various script flaws in the depiction of Paula, whose abuse by Alex’s estranged dad, Hank (Billy Burke), traumatized the young Alex. We learn that after Paula left him when Alex was young, she continued to be used and manipulated by dishonest, disreputable men. Yet, she remained a free spirit and her beauty remained intact. Although Paula has brief bursts of affection for her daughter and granddaughter, her paranoia overtakes her. She lashes out cruelly at Alex, and any sustained contact is impossible. To heal from parental abuse and rejection—to no longer fear standing alone, Alex needs far more than the time-limited support and insights of a highly competent, devoted social worker and a few group therapy sessions.
Further, Sean (Nick Robinson) is an unrealistic example of a violent perpetrator. Typically, an inability to control rage results in threats that a partner’s determination to leave will result in grave physical impairment or death. Or in many cases, the rage is displaced and projected onto those who are aiding the partner who is seeking refuge. This in addition with Sean’s alcoholism would have truly heightened the stakes and created more depth for Sean’s character.
Sean is different. Yes, we see his capacity for cruelty and the harm he can inflict. Yet, Sean also has true (not contrived) insight into reasons for this abuse, and both the capacity for kindness and for love. This core is real, not a manipulation to seduce and con. A moving indicator, which appears more script than real life—Sean experiences Maddy’s reliance on Alex as the primary parent, relinquishes his custody fight, gives full custody to Alex, and supports their leaving the area for Alex to take advantage of a full college scholarship. He promises to visit. With therapy, coupled with regular AA meetings, Sean can heal, recover, and keep this promise.
Offering her beloved Maddy safety and security is Alex’s life force, a force that so many moms share. But most little ones who have experienced abusive homes have suffered to such an extent that they understandably are not as trusting and giving as Maddy. And sadly, many children suffer from physical illness (as we see when Maddy becomes ill from unhealthy conditions in the transitional housing where she and Alex live) and emotional difficulties that further deplete their moms.
My primary fears about this popular, engrossing series--with a feel-good resolve--rest with the power of extraordinary drama, when misleading. I fear that funding resources will expect all who suffer abuse to free themselves in the relatively short period evidenced by Alex, will judge harshly when they cannot, and subsequently will not appreciate and support the necessity for generous, long-term financial support for shelters and professional services for families in dire need. There is another fear--that those enduring abuse and violence will watch this series and believe that, like Sean, their violators will keep their ongoing promises and change. Not all will. While the last fear--that those who are unfamiliar with the realities of domestic violence, will see this series as a direct representation of domestic violence, instead of the light dusting of the topic that this series is. But this series indeed is an incredible piece of work with powerful and empathetic performances from both Margaret Qualley, Andie MacDowell.