Netflix’s ten-part series Maid is an uncomfortable watch, portraying what feels like a hopeless cycle of poverty and family abuse. While set in America with its very different welfare systems to Australia, the underlying themes of hardship certainly ring true here too.
Adapted from the 2019 memoir of Stephanie Land, the series casts real-life mother and daughter, Andie MacDowell and Margaret Qualley, in what comes across as an honest portrayal of the relentless hard work living in poverty can be.
What struck me about this show was the way it tackled issues around emotional abuse – abuse that doesn’t leave any physical scars. Alex becomes a single mum with a two-year-old daughter after fleeing her abusive boyfriend in the middle of the night. When offered a space at a domestic violence shelter, she is genuinely surprised that her experience is classed as abusive because her boyfriend, Sean, never physically attacked her.
The series explores why women return to abusive partners, without judgement, but with a sensitivity that teaches the viewer compassion and understanding of a highly complex situation.
On top of dealing with an unreliable mother who suffers undiagnosed bipolar disorder, her ex, unstable living conditions, and the laborious work of cleaning rich people’s houses for minimum wage, Alex is met with red tape in the welfare system at every turn.
As soon as she makes some progress in one area, she is knocked back in another. We can literally see her bank balance decline on screen as she makes a purchase or pays a bill, and feel her confusion of legal language as the fate of her daughter’s care rests in the hands of a lawyer and judge who’s fast-talking make for even faster decision-making.
The series does also portray hope, while sparing the viewer of a traditional ‘happily ever after’.
Alex meets some amazing women through a domestic violence shelter she lives in with her daughter who give this story something to hold onto.
While trying not to give too much of the ending away, she also makes friends with a wealthy client after supporting her through her own struggles. Highlighting the all-true concept of ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’, Alex’s hope for a brighter future only begins when her wealthy client offers to help with legal support.
Maid is beautiful, hard, viewing, which led me to the verge of tears too many times to count.