Margaret Qualley (Once Upon A Time in Hollywood) holds her own in Maid — a Netflix adaptation of Stephanie Land’s bestselling memoir Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive. Qualley — on-screen and real-life daughter of actress Andie MacDowell — is Alex Russell, a young mother attempting to extricate herself from an abusive relationship with daughter Maddy’s father Sean (Love Simon’s Nick Robinson).
I watched Maid twice. The first watch was marked by what I can only describe as anxiety. This ten-episode series is presented almost exclusively from Alex’s point of view. As viewers, we feel like participants in Alex’s newfound single parenthood as much as we are witnesses to it. In Maid, we are enveloped in the protagonist’s scramble for all of the following: income, social security benefits, custody rights and a place to live. For the most part, the ticket to each of these is a low-paid, labour intensive house cleaning job with a lousy employer called Value Maids.
Beyond the second-hand stress of Alex’s attempts at obtaining security for her daughter, the viewer is also confronted with the complexities of Alex’s family dynamics. Nearly every relationship in Alex’s life — save for the one she has with Maddy — is in some way unsafe. Well-meaning, eccentric, capricious mother Paula (Andie MacDowell) is loving but completely unreliable. Alex’s father Hank provides stability on the face of things, but his involvement in her life serves little else but the opening of old wounds. Maid examines the ways that we tend to recreate early familial bonds in our own lives. For Alex, this involves confronting how her father perpetuated abuse similar to that of her ex-partner Sean.
Maid avoids clear delineations. In this story, every character — even those who perpetuate harm — are given grace and the chance for redemption. Contrary to our protagonist Alex, Sean and Hank are ultimately defined by their inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to discontinue the cycle of abuse. At points, we root for Sean and believe in his potential for change… until we don’t. It is a testament to the writing on this series that we engage with characters who perpetuate harm through a broad lens. More than that, it speaks to the nature of abuse, and lends to a greater understanding of why victims and survivors stay in abusive situations. As viewers, as in life, we want to see the best in people. Though there are disappointments, there are also surprises — see Alex’s wealthy, out-of-touch client Regina (Anika Noni Rose) who ends up leaving a lasting impact. The scenes between Qualley and Rose are a particular highlight.
Maid is perhaps the best series I’ve seen in a long time. Not only for its writing and capacity to tell hard truths, but for the acting. In the age of Hollywood nepotism, Margaret Qualley shows up and proves to be an excellent scene partner to her mother Andie MacDowell. Nick Robinson is also particularly engaging as Sean and adept at embodying a troubled alcoholic. The Netflix series also leaves viewers feeling enraged about the countless hoops that family violence victims and survivors must jump through. As much as I felt anxious following Alex’s journey, I felt equally and endlessly frustrated.
Because of its content and viewers’ secondhand experience of anxiety and frustration, Maid is a tough watch, at times. Fortunately, Qualley skillfully takes us through Alex’s journey of joy and healing, too.
Originally published for RMITV: In Review.