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‘Maid’ review: A star is born in Margaret Qualley

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Based on Stephanie Land’s memoir, the Netflix mini-series is riveting for its performances, and the exploration of damage caused by the unending circle of abuse

Watching the extraordinarily gripping limited series Maid, one is struck once again by how different the lives of domestic workers are in India and the US. They are practically worlds apart. Alex (Margaret Qualley), the protagonist, has a route map out of her rock-bottom in the form of government aid, student loans and an education. That is something no domestic worker in India can aspire to in their wildest dreams.

Once you put that chasm of difference aside, you are quickly drawn into Alex’s world as she leaves her abusive boyfriend Sean (Nick Robinson), with her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Maddie (Rylea Nevaeh Whittet), in the middle of the night.

With no skills (Bryan Mills, where are you?) and a complicated process to get government aid, which sounds straight out of Catch-22, Alex approaches Value Maids, a cleaning service for the well-heeled. Her no-nonsense boss, Yolanda (Tracy Vilar), tells her the ground rules and sends her on her way.

As Alex cleans gracious mansions with killer views, she learns about the people she works for, including Regina (Anika Noni Rose), a high-profile lawyer, and a strange, barefoot burglar who was abused as a child. Seeing Regina come apart on Thanksgiving makes Alex realise money is no barrier to unhappiness and exploitation.

Maid

  • Episodes: 10
  • Creator: Molly Smith Metzler
  • Starring: Margaret Qualley, Nick Robinson, Anika Noni Rose, Tracy Vilar, Billy Burke, Andie MacDowell, Rylea Nevaeh Whittet, Xavier De Guzman, Raymond Ablack, BJ Harrison, Aimee Carrero, Mozhan Marnò
  • Storyline: A young woman builds a life for herself and her daughter after leaving an abusive relationship

Simultaneously, we get to learn about Alex’s strained relationship with her father, Hank, (Billy Burke) and her free-spirited mum, Paula (Andie MacDowell), who is undiagnosed bipolar. Alex takes time to accept that she is a victim of domestic violence, as Sean has not hit her (yet), and emotional abuse qualifies as abuse just like physical violence. As Danielle (Aimee Carrero), who stays in the same domestic violence shelter as Alex says, “Before hitting you, they hit near you”.

Alex’s journey to self-actualisation is paved with friends such as Denise (BJ Harrison) who runs the shelter and Nate (Raymond Ablack) whose help is not completely altruistic. Thanks to Regina, Alex is able to have Tara (Mozhan Marnò), a tough lawyer in her corner.

Based on Stephanie Land’s memoir, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive, the show is riveting for the performances and exploration of the damage caused by the unending circle of abuse. While the show is a revelation on living below the poverty line, thankfully without resorting to poverty porn, one has to ask the question of how different would Alex’s experience have been had she not been white.

Motherhood is also a strong motif in the show. Alex’s raison d’être is to give Maddie a good life, but she also is a mother to Paula, who needs to be rescued from herself.

Qualley carries the show on her shoulders, and the work she has put into creating a relationship with four-year-old Whittet shows in the chemistry between the two. That Whittet is cute as a button is an added bonus. MacDowell, Qualley’s real-life mum, as Paula has created a wonderfully-realised character. Who can suppress the jolt of recognition when she says, “I just caught a wave I couldn’t handle,”?

Despite all the dark spaces Alex has to traverse, and toilets she has to clean, in the final count Maid is optimistic; we rejoice with Alex and Maddie as they hike up the hill on the way to college and a scholarship in Missoula. It is time to snap fingers for Alex.

Maid is currently streaming on Netflix

 



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