Do not skip this new Netflix series.
In the first 10 minutes of Maid, an exhausted young mother sits in a fluorescent-lit cubicle practically begging a social worker for help.
Spurred on by a terrifying incident with her alcoholic boyfriend (played by Hollywood nice boy Nick Robinson), Alex (Margaret Qualley) did what too many women can’t bring themselves to do: She packed up her three-year-old daughter and hit the road before Sean could punch more than just a wall.
Unfortunately this leaves little for the government worker to do for Alex, other than an offer to help file a police report. “And say what?” Alex asks, deflated. “That he didn’t hit me?” Just a few hours apart from her ex, and she is already realizing escaping may have been easier if he had.
As it stands, there’s no support for this mother-daughter duo. Alex needs to get a job in order to qualify for subsidized housing, which she can’t get without access to daycare. Unfortunately the grants available for daycare require proof of employment. “What kind of fuckery is that?” Bureaucracy. By the end of episode one, Alex and Maddy sleep on the floor of a ferry station.
But that’s what’s so important and brilliant about this new Netflix drama based on the best-selling memoir by Stephanie Land. The devastating truth is that while a black eye can be photographed and documented, the scars left behind by emotional abuse are often more difficult for people to see and understand.
They sure are for Alex’s narcissistic, unstable mother, Paula (played by Qualley’s real-life mother, Andie MacDowell), who considers the whole thing a rough patch in her daughter’s relationship with Sean. Same goes for Alex’s somewhat estranged father, Hank (Billy Burke), whose own battle with alcoholism consistently leads him to advocate for his own daughter’s abuser. Worst of all, it’s true for the court, which grants Sean primary custody of Maddy early in the season. Even Alex repeatedly insists she hasn’t been abused.
Yet creator and showrunner Molly Smith Metzler leaves the audiences with absolutely zero doubt. Even with Robinson’s empathetic portrayal of a struggling addict, Sean’s control over Alex’s finances, car, cell phone, and access to Maddy can’t be misunderstood. As Metzler tells me over Zoom, “I dare you to watch Maid and tell me that that’s not domestic violence.”
The fact that Sean’s brand of violence never turns physical—though it’s arguable that throwing glass bottles at the wall crosses that line—was a deliberate choice by Metzler. “It was really important to me to capture emotional abuse,” Metzler explains. “It’s this slow, corrosive, takedown of your spirit and your self-esteem to the point that you don’t even know who you are at the end of it. It was really important to me to make an audience go through it.”
And boy, do we go through it. From start to finish, Maid is a gut-wrenching yet beautifully rendered story of a mother’s perseverance. Even so, Metzler’s tenure as a writer on shows like Shameless and Orange Is the New Black shines through in moments of humor, surrealism, and hope that infuse levity into an otherwise harrowing tale. While it’s difficult to stomach the seemingly endless obstacles placed in front of a young woman battling poverty, generational trauma, and a system rigged against her, the series itself is never a slog.
Similarly, the 25-year-old mom, who has been failed by the government, her own parents, and too many others, is also able to find moments of support and reprieve through women facing similar struggles—from the ones she meets at a women’s shelter for victims of domestic violence to the rich single mother, Regina (Anika Noni Rose), she meets while cleaning houses.
“Motherhood is the great equalizer amongst women,” Metzler says. “In the end, the show is about mothers and the way we have one another’s backs and the profound experience it is to love another little creature.”
This story originally appeared on: Glamour - Author:Condé Nast