Netflix’s new mini-series is a reminder of the struggles faced by those who have survived abuse and the system’s inadequacy to aid them
Alex Rusell (Margaret Qualley) is a single mother who is struggling to make ends meet after leaving an abusive relationship. Her full-time job as a maid does help her get a semblance of security for her daughter, Maddy. However, it is far from ideal as she makes a valiant effort to navigate through the system’s red tape, which is designed to help people like her but has, unfortunately, become counterproductive.
The story about a single mother fighting the system and society has been done several times on film and television, in productions such as Room, Erin Brockovich, and several others. Maid, however, offers something unique in how the narrative is structured around the protagonist, Alex Russell, and the world the viewers are exposed to is entirely through her point of view and how she processes everything happening around her. It cannot be stressed enough about the importance of the actor playing the lead role immersing themselves in a role such as this, and Margaret Qualley does it with ease.
Qualley carries the entire series on her shoulders and keeps the narrative moving forward with how she interacts with the various characters in Alex’s life. These supporting characters aren’t given accurate character portrayals, and this is by choice. The writer and creator, Molly Smith Metzler, has created these characters as how Alex sees them. It is one of the reasons why certain characters appear to be empathetic at times and cold-hearted at others. Alex’s mother, Paula, for instance, has mood swings that feel exaggerated even with her undiagnosed bipolar disorder.
Alex’s abusive ex-boyfriend, Sean (Nick Robinson), is probably the best case study to analyse this aspect of the show, in fact, Sean personifies the message the narrative is trying to convey. Sean is initially shown as a violent alcoholic, then as a sympathetic father who suffers from PTSD, then as a devout and selfless partner, and then as a raging alcoholic yet again. The variation in how Sean is portrayed is a gauge of how Alex views Sean at that particular point in time of the narrative. By no means is Alex an unreliable narrator, but it is aimed at emphasising how victims of abuse more often than not return to the abuser.
The series also explores how the various government aid programmes, set up for victims of abuse and those living below the poverty line in the United States, have become a maze of never-ending procedures that at times feel almost redundant. The series also attacks the disparity in wealth between the classes. A dialogue from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises where Selina Kyle asks Bruce how he could, “…live so large, and leave so little for the rest of us”, is brought to life in a particular scene in Maid where Alex is forced to throw unimaginable portions of food while working as a maid at an expensive house when she couldn’t even afford breakfast.
Even though the narrative could have been trimmed down, there are overwhelming positives to take from it. The grounded narrative, for instance, contains no particular character that helps Alex catch her lucky break, nor do all of the characters ill-treat her. There is a mix of good and bad characters, and she has had to fight for everything, for herself and her daughter Maddy. The constant struggle against the vicious cycle of abuse and poverty is the principal theme of this well-written tale based on a memoir by Stephanie Land.
The mini-series is a well-executed story that takes a deep dive into social issues that are very relevant to contemporary USA, and the rest of the world to an extent. It is different for countries like India because the social fabric is different from the western world. Regardless, Maid offers insight into several themes that is relevant to almost everything corner of the globe.