Since finishing the Netflix series “Maid,” I’ve told many of my peers that it was too good to put into words. This, of course, is literary laziness, my cop-out strategy when I struggle to articulate something cleanly. In “Maid” I encountered something so removed from my experience and yet so relatable. “Maid” is more deserving than even my highest praise, so the least I can do is take a shot at putting that into words.
First, two notes of caution. The show contains implied domestic violence and although I avoid specifics, I allude to scenes of abuse. Less importantly, the show is inspired by the book “Maid” by Stephanie Land. ‘Inspired’ is key here because if you’ve read the book, you shouldn’t carry expectations that the story runs in parallel. The two are so divergent, I almost wish they’d titled the series “Housekeeper”, so I could temper my expectations of a retelling of Ms Land’s story.
This detail marks my final criticism of the show. Everything about this 10-part series is brilliant.
“Maid” chronicles a young woman named Alex and her daughter, Maddy, in a tumultuous expedition through poverty, public housing, relocation, confusion, abuse, family issues and, above all, love. Maddy wears a vibrant smile, optimistic and oblivious, while Alex quietly suffers to keep Maddy’s smile glowing. It’s difficult to watch. And yet, it’s so damn watchable.
Slowly, the show teases out the details that contribute to the pair’s troubled circumstances. Alex’s eccentric and free-willed mother, you learn, suffers undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Her gentle and welcoming father, you learn, carries a darker history that keeps Alex at arm’s length. Maddy’s father, Shawn, has an abusive nature immediately laid bare; what takes time to learn, though, is not why Alex leaves him but why she keeps returning. Alex, young Maddy clutching her side, navigates these troubled waters while also seeking to understand them.
Part of the show’s brilliance is its capacity for nuance; none of its characters is intrinsically evil. Many shows present an archetypical villain, but “Maid” respects the complexity of human nature. You grow to hate certain players who continually cut Alex down, but you cannot help but to see their humanness. Her mother binges on leisure; her apathy and forgetfulness are enough to make your skin crawl. Even still, she’s genuine, she’s loving, she cares about Alex and Maddy. Even Shawn, who commits some unforgiveable acts, shows – in spurts of sobriety – a desire to love Maddy, to support Alex, to be the man he’s capable of being.
The structures around Alex and Maddy’s lives fuel a revolving door of catch-22s. Every time Alex untangles a back-breaking web of humiliation, the floor opens beneath her, sending her spiraling into another. Fleeing Shawn and living in a women’s shelter, she needs a job, meaning she must place Maddy into daycare. To get Maddy into a prestigious daycare, she must live in the daycare’s county. To live in that county, she finds a rental space that accepts government assistance, then borrow a vehicle to get to work. When any link in the chain breaks, she must start over entirely. Shawn lurks in the shadows, just financially stable enough to exploit Alex and Maddy’s vulnerability. His empty promises to change ring hollow but look genuine; when she surrenders, you loathe her recklessness, but you understand.
“Maid” excels in showing how poverty can be cyclical and traumatic, without being exploitative or preachy. It doesn’t show people in tattered clothing living in makeshift homes. It presents a smart, caring, attractive young woman, and makes her story sensational without sensationalizing. Alex wears normal clothes, drives a normal car, takes her daughter to a normal daycare. It isn’t until you’ve finished an episode – the entire series even – that you can reflect on cyclical poverty’s role in Alex and Maddy’s continual struggle. You see how a poor social safety net and irritating red tape are woven into the patchwork of Alex’s life just as much as, if not more than, her family’s influence.
And Alex’s response to these situations is so real. She’s awkward at moments, defiant in others. She stutters and hesitates, makes poor decisions, cries when she steals a moment alone. She also works her ass off, celebrates her achievements, and loves her daughter more than anything. In all this, the show reinforces its deft touch with humanness. Alex doesn’t want help. She isn’t stubborn, nor aloof, she just wants to pave her own way for her and Maddy. “Maid” discards conventions of typical love stories. Alex doesn’t need the archetypical male hero to swoop her and Maddy off their feet. She gives and receives love from her beautiful daughter and digs through grime and mold as she finds her own cape.
Despite Alex’s stark contrasts to my life, I found myself relating to her, sympathizing with her pain, celebrating her infrequent joy. In fact, something deeper ran through my head as I watched the series. I felt as though I was but a few decisions and life circumstances from being in Alex’s shoes. As much as I grieved with her, I became wholly aware of my own blessings. This, to me, is “Maid’s” ultimate achievement. It forces you to reflect. It has no demographic; its target audience is anyone living the human experience.
“Maid” is a beautiful and emotional tapestry, as inspiring as it is complex. Watch it to see the disastrous and pertinent social issue of cyclical poverty humanized. If you don’t care to consider poverty, watch it to see a heroic female protagonist, fighting tooth-and-nail against the odds to create a better life. If such a storyline doesn’t intrigue you, watch it then for its unique love story, a raw emotion that’s sure to reach anyone living the human experience. Simply put, it’s too good not to put into words.