Netflix’s Maid is an unfiltered portrayal of single motherhood

Margaret Qualley gives a stunning performance in this 10-part drama about a young mum who escapes an abusive relationship.


Roxanne Sancto


A mother will do anything for her children. Even if it means waking in the dead of night and silently escaping the only place she’s called home for years, in favour of the backseat of her car. To escape the hands that once held her dear after watching them rise and fall, resting on a chest that is now filled with rage. Waiting for the right moment to tiptoe into safety.

She blames herself for having excused the kind of rage that can no longer be contained behind a veil of alcohol, and now comes spilling over the surface like hot lava, dangerously snaking its way towards her – and worse yet, her daughter. Physically, it hasn’t quite reached her yet, but deep down she knows it’s only a matter of time and that fear – the knowledge that, soon, there will be no more ground in sight – is just as damaging.

As Maid alludes to in a mention of Charles Bukowski, ‘love is a dog from hell’, and no one knows this better than protagonist Alex (Margaret Qualley). This limited series, created by Molly Smith Metzler and based on Stephanie Land’s memoir ‘Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive’, is an unfiltered portrayal of single motherhood – as moving as it is infuriating in its depiction of the relentless “fuckery” women in this position are exposed to when they finally pack their bags and seek help.

Alex’s partner accuses her of overreacting, of acting “crazy”. Supposed friends excuse his abusive behaviour, blaming it on his drinking, telling her not to be a bitch. When she finally lands at social services and is pressed as to why she did not file a police report, her matter-of-fact answer already suggests a lack of faith in the system and her own understanding of what constitutes abuse (“And say what, that he didn’t hit me?”).

(…) the terror of one person
Aching in one place

Read any privileged motherhood blog and two of the main pieces of advice that are repeatedly drilled into new mothers are a) “it takes a village” and b) “ask for help”. But as Alex can vouch for, motherhood can be incredibly lonely – even more so when in an abusive relationship. A village is not an option for childcare when it is non-existent, or consistent of people exhibiting lower levels of emotional maturity than Alex’s two-year-old daughter. Like her bipolar mother Paula (Andie MacDowell), for example.

With a minuscule attention span and an even shorter fuse, Paula is only capable of being the fun – never responsible – mother or grandma, as long as it doesn’t interfere with her own agenda. In the throes of her manic highs, she is barely aware of those around her and, if she is, she merely perceives them as props to further her own ambition of the day. At her lowest ebb, these props turn into pawns upon which she can unleash her pain.

As for the art of asking, well, it’s no wonder so many women are forced to stay in dangerous environments. So often they simply cannot afford to jump through the hoops of a broken system, or don’t want to risk it siding with the abuser, as is the case when Alex’s ex Sean (Nick Robinson) files for custody over their daughter. While Alex has moments in which she would prefer to curl up in a ball on the carpeted floor of the shelter she finds herself, she can’t afford to do that either because she has a little girl to take care of. And that’s all that matters. Her funds are running increasingly low, as a rolling tally in the top right corner of the screen constantly reminds us.

The rich are not good to the rich
The poor are not good to the poor

For her to be able to apply to subsidised housing she needs to have proof of employment, and without employment she can’t apply for childcare (you see where things might get difficult here). So she takes on a job at a maid’s service that allows for at least some flexibility, scrubbing a crystal Mac Mansion for a measly $12 an hour. For a little over $36 in total, she allows herself to be belittled by a woman so rich she can afford to throw out a fridge full of perfectly good food, when Alex can’t remember the last time she had a full meal.

For her daughter Maddie (Rylea Nevaeh Whittet), she will scrape fossilised rats off of the floor from behind toilets overflowing with squatter’s faeces until it makes her vomit. Every time she feels like she can’t go on, every time she feels she is going to break under the strain of being a single mum, she reaches deeper into her well of inner-strength – like so many mothers out there do.

Fellow shelter mum Danielle (Aimee Carrero) preaches the importance of feeling and accepting her anger. Mothers often have the tendency to bury their own emotions as a means to spare their children from their perceived ugliness, not realising that they are hypersensitive to anything that might be bubbling beneath the surface. Alex has spent so long putting herself aside, she has genuinely forgotten how to express real anger and admit to her own vulnerability.

When she finally does let a fraction of her frustration out by standing up for what she is rightfully owed, a fleeting sense of empowerment is immediately visible on her wrought face. Through Danielle and the shelter’s manager Denise (BJ Harrison), she is finally coming to accept that “abuse for real” comes in many different forms, as does the healing journey.

our educational system tells us
that we can all be
big-ass winners
it hasn’t told us about the gutters

All Alex sees are the means by which to get through her day to day struggles – getting to and from work without a car, paying for cleaning supplies out of her own pocket, running from government office to social service institutions, waiting in line for hours she cannot afford to waste. All society sees is a poor mother struggling, lugging a Dyson vacuum cleaner around and smelling like crap.

Few of the judgemental eyes on her stop to consider where she came from; what brought her here today. They don’t recognise a well-read, clever young woman who blew through the syllabus of the college she never got to attend for pleasure; they don’t see her hopes and dreams of becoming a writer, the consolation she finds in the spoken and written word. They see a maid uniform and ask her whether she can read.

Maid’s greatest strength is that it is essentially a one-woman show. Margaret Qualley is nothing short of sublime. She owns this role, adopting the body language of both the fierce lioness and the broken child forced to be an adult too soon. Even though the series relies on too many tropes and looses intensity over its 10 episodes, it hits exactly where intended, and is approachable in the way it brings us in on the no-bullshit experience of Alex fighting her way through a complex judicial system that seems to designed to hinder women like her.

*Quotes taken from Charles Bukowski’s ‘The Crunch’

Published 3 Oct 2021

Tags: Andie MacDowell Maid Margaret Qualley Molly Smith Metzler Netflix

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