Maid is a bleak, searing look at poverty in America
So you know that trope about when someone is left alone in someone else’s house, when the someone else is super rich, and the first someone starts dressing up in the person’s clothes and jewels after having a bubble bath, drinks their wine and eats their food from the fridge, and invites people to visit, pretending it’s all theirs? And then the owner of the fancy house comes home early and busts them?
That happens in Maid, except the outcome is not what you’d expect, which is a bit weird to deal with when you’ve been feeling intense anxiety on behalf of the maid of the title, Alex (Margaret Qualley). Also, the Tinder date who’s there, and seems a rather nice guy (almost the nicest of all the men in this series), serves very little purpose other than listening to what Alex says in the trailer. He’s never seen or heard from again after she rushes him out the house, even when she comes clean and sends him a text with the truth. Maybe he just ghosted her, which is understandable under the circumstances; no one wants part of that kind of crazy.
Maid is not the easiest thing you’ll binge this month but it should provoke your thoughts. Google calls it a comedy drama but I can’t think of a single moment that made me smile, let alone laugh. It’s a tough story about tough conditions and situations: mental health, abuse (physical and emotional, equally valid), past trauma, poverty, desperation, disappointment, self loathing, and overwhelming hopelessness.
In the middle of one night, Alex bundles up her three-year-old daughter and flees the trailer she has been sharing with her alcoholic boyfriend and baby daddy, Sean (Nick Robinson). He’s a nasty drunk and although he hasn’t landed a punch on her body – yet – he’s come close. But Alex has almost no money and as it turns out, no support from family and friends.
Her mom, Paula (Andie MacDowell, Qualley’s real life mother), is a trippy hippy with a tenuous grasp on reality, which seems carefree and fun, but she is bipolar. Her current beau and Alex do not get along; his name is Basil and he gets upset when she calls him cilantro or some other ‘erb (as the Americans say, without the “h”). He’s a total jerk, too. So is Alex’s father, Hank (Billy Burke), although at first we think he’s pretty cool, and wants to help.
Alex ends up in a shelter for abused women, where the bleak reality is that most of them go back to their partners several times before making a final break – or ending up dead. She tries to get into the system for welfare, which turns out to be a mountain of red tape tangled up in vicious circles.
She is judged in supermarket queues, faces custody battles in court, and loses her car after someone drives into it on the side of the road. She gets a job as a maid, poorly paid – plus, she has to fork out for all her own cleaning supplies to turn hideous death homes into something that can be sold, or help hoarders declutter.
There’s that one fancy house too, and the woman who lives there is initially awful, but then her own pain and suffering come to light. It’s just one relentless thing after another, a never-ending battle without even a glimmer of the end where Alex could maybe sit down for a moment and breathe.
Then there is the decent guy, Nate (Raymond Ablack), who offers all the help he can but Alex can’t or won’t return his feelings of affection. She refuses it all, and what she does accept, she does so grudgingly. Multiple times. It’s very frustrating, but at the same time, Alex has her principles.
“Far from an escapist binge, Maid is an unblinking look at the way society traps people in poverty. It’s a searing examination of the way generational trauma keeps resurrecting itself in people’s lives like a hydra, forcing children to relive their own parents’ mistakes. Most of all, though, Maid is a difficult, but necessary look at poverty in America,” says Decider.
In its balanced review, The Wrap says, “It’s hard to put your finger on what the series is lacking throughout the first few episodes, mostly because it’s hard to see anything beyond the devastating image of a destitute, scared mother and her child.” Which is exactly how I felt halfway through. That said, I didn’t give up and watched right to the end, so I reckon that tells us enough.
Billed as a miniseries, or limited series, enough loose threads are left in the final episode to easily justify a second season should this perform well in the ratings.