Maid on Netflix: Single mom struggles to lift herself out of poverty and abuse

Rylea Nevaeh Whittet and Margaret Qualley in Housemaid

Housemaid is a 10-episode drama series created by Molly Smith Metzler (best known for her writing on Shameless and Orange is the new black). It premiered on Netflix on October 1 and has been one of the top rated shows on the streaming platform for the past few weeks.

The miniseries follows a single mom struggling financially as she struggles to extricate herself from an abusive relationship and, in doing so, establish her personal independence.

From the memoirs of Stephanie Land in 2019 Hard work, low wages and a mother’s will to survive, the series features Margaret Qualley as Alex, playing alongside her real parent Andie MacDowell as Paula, her character’s mother.

Housemaid opens with Alex, 25, catching his young daughter Maddy (Rylea Nevaeh Whittet) and escaping from his alcoholic partner Sean (Nick Robinson) and their trailer north of Seattle. With only a few dollars in their pocket, she and Maddy sleep in their broken down car.

The next morning Alex asks social services for help. (She imagines the reaction might be, “So you’re looking for a big giveaway from the government because you’re white shit and unemployed, aren’t you?” “). A social worker informs her that she needs a job to qualify for subsidized housing. The agency then sets it up with Value Maids, a low-budget operation run by cutthroat Yolanda (Tracy Vilar).

Desperate for the job, Alex has to rely on his “undiagnosed” bipolar mother, Paula, a self-centered “free spirit”, for help with childcare. The housework pays $ 12.50 an hour, which Alex has to pay for supplies and a uniform. With each deduction from her check, she is even closer to roaming.

Alex suffers many humiliations and setbacks. When she hands a supermarket cashier food stamps as payment, the latter insensibly shouts “Cleaning the poor alley!” Alex first cleans up for posh Regina (Anika Noni Rose), who owns a lavish home in a wealthy island community. The concert ends disastrously with Alex passing out of hunger and Regina refusing to pay for her services. To make matters worse, Sean is suing for custody of their daughter.


Now living in a battered women’s shelter run by empathetic Denise (BJ Harrison), Alex meets another young mother, Danielle (the fiery Aimee Carrero), who helps her begin to cope with her predicament. Unfortunately, Danielle ends up returning to her attacker, which Denise says is more the rule than the exception.

Looking for an apartment, Alex runs into owners who refuse to accept the TBRA (Assistance Locative Locative). When an owner agrees to take her voucher, the home is ravaged by mold, endangering Maddy’s health.

Meanwhile, Alex suddenly and vividly remembers his mother Paula running away from an abuser, the father of Alex Hank (Billy Burke), now a recovering alcoholic. Because of this painful memory, she refuses her father’s help even in his most precarious and depressed moments. Housemaid implies that past abuse is at least in part responsible for Paula’s mental instability and her succession of bad relationships, including a current husband who gambles on her possessions.

Emotionally injured Alex sabotages several opportunities to change his situation, including that offered by a gay couple who offer him a superb apartment with an address that would allow Maddy to attend a decent daycare. Alex proves unable to prevent a drunken Sean from destroying this arrangement. (Sean also suffers from a traumatic childhood – a mother’s addiction to opioids.)

Even when the very promising Nate (Raymond Ablack), a willing single dad, steps in, Alex proves she remains trapped in the cycle of violence. Her free fall into the abyss can only be reversed, from the show’s perspective, by accepting and overcoming her personal demons and story.

Andie MacDowell and Margaret Qualley in Housemaid

Shot in British Columbia, Housemaid takes place in Washington State, which has one of the highest levels of income and social inequality in the United States. The miniseries clearly touched audiences as the characters and their issues are familiar and recognizable. Poverty, domestic violence, drug addiction, low-paying and precarious jobs, government indifference, the lack of a social safety net – not to mention the mortifications and psychological difficulties that result from it – plague broad sections of the population. Population.

Admittedly, the official poverty figures are derisory; a clearer picture, for example, emerges from a 2018 United Way survey (and there are many) that found that 43% of U.S. households could not afford basic necessities such as shelter, food, child care, healthcare, transportation and a cell phone – and that was before the medical and economic cataclysm of the pandemic.

At the same time, the media and much of the entertainment industry remain obsessed day and night with billionaire oligarchs like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. The general atmosphere is venomously hostile to the problems of the working class and the poor.

In this context, both the appearance of Housemaid and the response to the miniseries have some meaning. Its success is one of the indirect means, in a country where everything is done to bury the truth about social misery, to gauge the current state of affairs in the United States, as well as the real state of public opinion. .

However, how social reality is approached, how deep, where the emphasis is, what all of the imagery and drama entails, it all remains a problem. There is no need and no reason to overdo it Housemaid achievements in this regard.

The gravitational pull of gender politics can still be felt here, along with a healthy dose of wishful thinking from the middle class.

One reviewer – certainly not a Marxist – pointed out: “The limited-run portrayal of the poor in hardscrabble may turn out to be more controversial. Although it takes place over a year, Housemaid not really about chronic or inevitably systemic poverty; There is hope for an outcome by the end that might resonate more with middle and upper class viewers than with Alex’s actual cohort.

Audiences, arguably annoyed and even sickened by the endless succession of comic book / superhero blockbusters, are looking for something different, closer to life, more compelling. However, the themes and concerns of the creators of Housemaid Bear in mind only to a limited extent, those that would produce a deeply realistic portrayal of American life.

According to the logic of the miniseries, even the economically oppressed and emotionally imprisoned Alex can break free and make his life a success story with the help of wealthy benefactors and through his own tireless efforts. In fact, hers is a very unusual result. What about the vast majority left to endure intolerable circumstances?

Housemaid is not animated by indignation against the existing social order which produces the evils which it unequally portrays. Filmmakers tend to argue for a purely individual solution through self-help and self-discovery. In addition, their obsessive attention to the particular issue of domestic violence (the series is closed by public service announcements for victims of such abuse) comes at the expense of the larger social and historical context. Such an approach has the almost inevitable consequence, inadvertently or not, of shifting some of the blame for social ills onto the victims – as well, of course, as the immediate perpetrators, who, as in Sean’s case, are themselves – even victims. .

In short, with too much of the main character dysfunction blamed on domestic violence, the more generally dire conditions tend to be put on the back burner or taken for granted, especially as Alex evolves. Ultimately, the protagonist turns the drudgery of being a “maid” into a benevolent (she helps hoarders) and lucrative business.

In addition, there is the question of the source of domestic violence. Housemaid itself, in its most objective form, presents the life of many under capitalism as a brutal affair, in which a dismissal, for example, can affect someone’s ability to survive. Life as a whole for millions of people is more and more difficult, tense, filled with stress. The exploited and the vulnerable can transmit the essential brutality of their situation to the most vulnerable. Generally speaking, domestic violence is a channel, a reorientation of the greater social and economic violence.

Audiences respond to what they see as the sincerity of the miniseries, but still mark the curve too generously and don’t demand enough film and television work. It is not yet “an American (working class) tragedy”, so to speak, the truly meaningful social realism that we need.


About Bernice D. Brewer

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