December 3, 2021 | LIFE | By Carlee Castillo | Illustration by Sierra Romero
Warning: This article discusses emotional abuse.
Mental illness, domestic abuse, and poverty appear at the forefront of Netflix’s new miniseries, “Maid.” The series, which premiered Oct. 1, depicts the unwavering perseverance of a single mother. “Maid” is adapted from Stephanie Land’s memoir, “Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive.”
Across it’s roughly 10-hour duration, protagonists Alex (Margaret Qualley) and her daughter, Maddy (Rylea Nevaeh Whittet) undertake a tumultuous journey through the precincts of poverty. Finally at her end with the abusive, alcoholic father of her daughter, Alex ventures into a world unknown in order to ensure the safety of her child.
Without money, housing, and employment — all necessities withheld by her previous boyfriend — Alex and Maddy rove from apartments, shelters, and ferry station floors. Alex eventually finds employment as a maid, thus initiating titular reflections in her notebook.
Watching the show often feels incredibly frustrating, mirroring the exasperation of Alex throughout her journey. As a protagonist she is disjointed, and so is her venture to safety and recovery. Alex’s relationships are excruciating, especially that between her and her mother, Paula (played by Qualley’s real life mother, Andie MacDowell).
Paula struggles with untreated bipolar disorder and the lingering effects of domestic violence. Similarly, the connections between Alex and her maid service clients are tumultuous. At the forefront of Alex’s professional life is Regina. Characterized as elitist and often unpleasant, Regina also provides Alex with friendship and employment. She relates to her as a struggling mother and often voices her inability to adequately care for her newborn son.
Motherhood is presented through multiple lenses in the series; specifically that of mental illness, class, and race.
Despite Alex’s frustration with life, she displays no frustration towards her daughter or rage towards those who have wronged her. Rather, she is depicted as almost a preternaturally perfect mother and patient woman. By creating a stark distinction between Alex and the other mothers of the show, “Maid” falters in that it does not allow good mothers to make mistakes.
The Hollywood Reporter details similar grievances, stating, “As a smart, pretty, young white American woman who never fails to work hard or put her kid first, Alex does little to challenge the usual assumptions about who does or doesn’t ‘deserve’ to be poor.”
The authenticity of the show and complexity of its protagonist may have been furthered by exploring the fury of disadvantaged motherhood. Nonetheless, Margaret Qually delivers a riveting performance, presenting a multifaceted and strong female character.
The show also takes care to demonstrate the legitimacy of emotional abuse. So often diminished, emotional abuse victims can be unaware of their own situation.
By definition, emotional abuse can involve excessive controlling behavior, isolation of a partner, intimidation, and more. A recent survey conducted by the National Domestic Violence Hotline indicates that 87% of its 571 respondents have felt fearful or uncomfortable in a past relationship. 63% of these respondents identify as women.
Emotional abuse is an obscenely prevalent form of intimate partner violence, yet many deprioritize its seriousness. “Maid” reinforces the legitimacy of emotional abuse and demonstrates this complex conflict realistically.
After witnessing manipulative behavior first-hand between Alex and her ex-boyfriend, Alex’s father refuses to allocate culpability. However, Alex is also encouraged to move into a domestic violence shelter for women by professionals due to identical instances.
“Maid” illuminates the problematic discourse surrounding emotional abuse, while intentionally demonstrating its severity. Most importantly, “Maid” demonstrates that although progress is often not linear, it is possible to escape abusive environments. Whether due to Margeret Qualley’s acting or cleaning skills, it is clear why this series is so critically acclaimed.