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 already realized 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.”