Netflix’s Maid was probably my favourite thing I’ve seen since The Queen’s Gambit last year – with a standout performance by Margaret Qualley, this is not one to be missed.
Produced by Margot Robbie’s production company and created by Molly Smith Metzler, Maid depicts young mother Alex (Margaret Qualley) as she tries to leave an abusive marriage with no support system to help her navigate through it. Through the series we see Alex’s journey from one struggle to another, as she tries to get a job, a place to live, and childcare for her daughter. Without one, she can’t seem to find another and anytime it seems like she has made progress, her and daughter Maddy (Rylea Nevaeh Whittet) ultimately end up back at square one.
Throughout this struggle Alex is held back by troubled ex- husband Sean Boyd (Nick Robinson), mentally unstable mother Paula (Andie MacDowell), and alcoholic father Hank (Billy Burke), and we follow as she gets out from one obstacle only to come face to face with another. She is also not helped as she tries to navigate the systems of help available for those in situations like this – every time she tries to apply for various methods of aid and funding, she is met by one set of red tape after another. This alone is possibly one of the most important points raised throughout this series.
A huge source of stress in Alex’s life is her mother, Paula. Paula is mentally unwell and suffers from bipolar disorder. She is unadmittingly in her own trouble after she has let her boyfriend rent out her house to tenants without any proof that it is her house, and isn’t really in a place to offer child support to her daughter. Played by Andie MacDowell, Qualley’s real-life mother, MacDowell has said that this performance is partly informed by her turbulent relationship with her own mother growing up and she proves through this performance that she was the perfect choice for this role.
This show deals with the topic of abusive relationships in great detail, both through Alex’s journey, that of her parents, and also the others she meets in the shelter she goes to along the way. The character of Danielle (Aimee Carrero), who has escaped from an abusive relationship and who Alex meets in the shelter, serves well in driving the narrative forward. She gives us a full circle moment as we first see her in the shelter, having left her husband but to Alex’s shock and dismay she returns to him. Fast forward to later in the narrative and we see Alex’s own circumstances drive her to do the same thing, highlighting the cycles that take place within these situations.
I also thought it was a good point of discussion that Sean hadn’t actually hit Alex when she decided to leave – the relationship was at a point of being purely emotionally abusive. This raises the point of when does the word abusive come into play, and what consists of emotional abuse – at what point does that put someone in danger? Sean Boyd serves as the antagonist here but we also see him go on a his own journey. Struggling from alcoholism he goes through various states of sobriety, but ultimately doesn’t seem to want it for himself. We find very little reason to empathise with him as time and time again we see him get in the way of the glimmers of hope Alex has found for herself and for Maddy; whether that is by sleeping on the couch in her landlord’s house or by giving back the car she has been by Nate as he is jealous.
I also wanted to mention the character of Nate (Raymond Ablack) – I think he starts a really good conversation of how much of his help was kindness and at what point he did end up wanting something from Alex. Seeming to be a source of kindness in her life, I do believe Nate meant well but got carried away with his feelings and wanting to date her. Although they have chemistry, this isn’t really something he should be acting on, as she is in a place in her life where she really needs to sort herself out first and also wouldn’t be able to contribute to that relationship – a point highlighting by his asking her out and ultimately driving her away.
I was slightly worried as I finished the penultimate episode; when a story peaks too soon usually it’s a sign that things are about to go downhill, fast. I was really glad to see this didn’t happen here – we get to see some hope for her and Maddy as she finally goes off to college and has a fresh start thanks to both Regina and her perseverance.
One of my main critiques of this series was that the break Alex does manage to catch comes by way of client Regina (Anika Noni Rose), who’s house Alex has been contracted to clean. From the beginning Alex has crossed a line – by holding Regina’s dog ransom – however Regina takes pity and ends up being a very good friend and mother figure. I couldn’t help but feel like this was slightly too convenient, that Alex gets a bit more help from Regina than is realistic. I do, however, appreciate that if this were more realistic and Regina had cast her away this would have been the most depressing show ever – narratively we need her to get some sort of a break.
Ultimately this story is sold by Qualley’s standout performance. From the beginning we are on her side as we see a desperate mother doing anything to protect her young daughter at the cost of her own pride, and her own basic needs. It is rare that we see her break throughout this journey, but this struggle is still present on her face and in her eyes throughout. She gives a very present performance, and through it we truly believe that there is nothing more important than the safety and the needs of daughter Maddy.
Overall I would definitely recommend this series – just make sure you’re in the mood for some heavy reflection first.
Maid is available to watch on Netflix.