Alfonso Cuarón said, “It’s our duty as artists to look where others don’t,” and with Roma, he really did. He narrated a tale about a person and her contribution to our lives that we tend to ignore. Similarly, like a housemaid, numerous shadow characters yearn to tell their stories only if we are patient enough to hear them. And Stephanie Land’s real-life story that inspired Netflix’s Miniseries Maid is one of them.
Created by Molly Smith Metzler, Netflix’s miniseries, Maid, stimulates many emotions through a perfectly weaved journey of a Maid. Alex Russel (played by Margaret Qualley) survives domestic violence, PTSD, poverty, and what not for her daughter. She lives for her daughter, to be precise. Throughout the series, Alex expresses a desire to have enough money to live free of conflict. But it is the conflicts that make her “sparkly.”
‘Maid’ Plot Summary
Alexandra “Alex” Russell (Margaret Qualley), a 25-year-old mother, lives in a trailer in Port Hampstead, WA, with her 2-year-old daughter, Maddy, and her abusive husband, Sean Boyd (Nick Robinson). Sean often drinks and blacks out and punches stuff at Alex and Maddy. One night, after a traumatic incident, Alex runs away with Maddy.
With only 18 dollars in her pocket and no place to go, Alex and Maddy spend the night in the car. The following day, Alex visits the shelter registration office and meets Jody, who informs Alex that she cannot apply for subsidized housing until and unless she gets a job. To make things easier, Jody gives the reference to a local cleaning service, Value Maids.
However, Alex cannot afford a daycare center for Maddy and thus decides to leave her daughter with her mother, Paula (Andie MacDowell). Paula is an artist in denial, a painter who never got her big break. She lives with her boyfriend, Basil Cilantro, in a trailer and has rented her house to pay for her expenses.
Hesitantly, Alex leaves Maddy with Paula and meets Yolanda, the owner of Value Maids, for her job interview. Yolanda provides Alex with her first job and sends her for a three-hour clean on Fisher Island.
Alex finishes the job with grace, but when she returns, she finds out that Paula has sent Maddy with Sean. In a panic, Alex reaches Sean’s trailer and confronts him for the emotional abuse. Without much ado, she leaves with Maddy. Later at night, Alex meets a bad car accident and sleeps on the ferry station floor. Things get further complicated when Sean’s lawyer, John, contacts Alex for Maddy’s custody petition filed by Boyd’s family. Will Alex be able to get Maddy’s custody?
Major Spoilers Ahead
The Evolution of Alex Russell – The Maid
It’s a popular notion that things change when we change them. Like many other women in the world of “Maid,” Alex Russell was subjected to emotional and physical abuse. The traumatic stress caused by such distress numbed their agility. Like Brandi, a fellow resident at the DV shelter, quoted, “Our circuits are completely fired up by what we’ve been through.” As a result, we tolerate the abuses, unable to break the pattern or the loop. Every time, with every curse, with every punch, we hopefully believe that things will get better. There will be a better tomorrow, but things don’t change until we make them change.
The first step Alex took was the beginning of her hero’s journey, and the conflicts lay ahead. But not everyone can cross the hurdles, and they turn back. At DV shelter, Alex’s first friend, Danielle, checked out and returned to her abusive husband. Denise notably quotes, “It takes most women seven tries before they finally leave.” It isn’t a flaw but a complexity of being emotional. Following a similar pattern, Alex too returned to Sean, partly out of circumstances and partly out of emotions. On her return, things got pretty scary for Alex as she imagined herself sinking in a void and a pit of despair from which she thought she would never be able to come out. But then she looked at Maddy.
Like Maddy, Alex too witnessed her mother Paula being physically abused by Alex’s father, Hank (Billy Burke). Alex remembered the traumatic childhood incident when she hid in the sink cabin. At this point, Maid subtly hinted at the effect of childhood trauma through the story of a kid burglar, Barefoot Billy (William Harlan Ritchie). When Alex found Maddy hiding in a cupboard after Sean emotionally abused Alex, she didn’t waste a moment and left. Left and moved out to give a better life to her daughter.
For a hero, it is never about the strength to move forward on a straight path. Instead, it’s about a character’s willingness to make mistakes, stumble, yet move forward to change things for the better. And Alex courageously moved forward. At the beginning of Maid, Alex felt exhausted from filling out the forms for Maddy’s custody. Though circumstances pushed her to do so. It wasn’t a matter of choice. But later in the series, she consciously chose to apply for a creative writing course at the University of Montana. She also filled out and filed the student loan documents and family housing aid all by herself.
But unlike Alex, Paula wasn’t brave enough. She decided not to leave her roots behind and consciously trapped herself in the loop. Paula chose to stay back and initiated a new toxic relationship with Micah. Alex could foresee the outcome, but she refused to fall prey to her mother’s denial this time. At the end of Maid, Alex left her mother to provide a better future for her daughter.
The Many Toxic Men in Maid – Sean Boyd
The male characters in Maid evidently radiated an addiction and a desire to control women. For example, Sean felt secure when Alex was with him, so he spent his days drinking and abusing his wife. When Alex left, Sean felt insecure and tried to gain her back and create circumstances so that Alex would return. He filed a petition for custody and even stopped drinking. The same Sean threatened Alex to get an abortion and was now yearning to get possession of Maddy.
But as soon as Alex returned, Sean went back to his toxic routine. She even brought a woman to the trailer, knowing that Alex and Maddy were sleeping under the same roof. When Sean lost his job, he wanted Alex to make him feel good and comfort him. All along, Sean was looking for validation.
Similarly, Alex’s father, Hank, tried to make amends for his physically abusive behavior in Alex’s childhood. For a brief moment, Alex didn’t remember the exact incident. Still, later, when the past memory hit her, she never dared to see that man again. When Alex confronted Hank about hitting Paula, he lied and then later told her that he didn’t remember. Hank felt guilty and thus tried to help Alex, but lacked the courage to accept his mistakes. Hank also witnessed Sean’s abusive behavior, yet remained silent. In the end, Alex gave Hank a chance to make amends, but he refused to write a statement against Sean.
Fortunately, Sean wasn’t as stubborn as Hank. In the last episode, “Snaps,” Sean took Maddy to a park during his court-approved visitation. While Maddy was on the swings, Sean lost his temper and yelled at her. While pushing the swing, he thought about his next drink instead of spending time with his daughter. Sean realized he was unfit to be a good father. As a result of this fact, he signed over full custody to Alex.
People with money don’t have everything – Regina
After leaving her husband and living in poverty, Alex perceived that money solves everything. In her position, it was appropriate to think so until she met Regina.
Regina, a wealthy corporate lawyer who lived on Fisher Island, was Alex’s first client as a cleaning maid. Alex was enchanted by Regina’s lifestyle and richness and started believing that there were no conflicts in rich people’s lives. But Regina’s emotional story cleared the myths. Regina explained that she climbed up the corporate ladder rung by rung, and even when she was married to a rich guy, James, she didn’t quit her job. However, she sacrificed her emotional connections with her husband, girlfriends, and other things in the hustle. Money was all she had in the end, and it was pretty lonely out there.
After a series of failed miscarriages, the doctors concluded Regina couldn’t get pregnant. The revelation led to the split in her relationship with James. Regina got a son from surrogacy. However, she didn’t know how to raise him. Alex, who spent her critical years raising Maddy, helped Regina with her own experience, and Regina was more than fortunate.
Regina played an essential part in Alex’s life because she taught her an important lesson. The things she also covered in her diary under “Confessions of a Maid.”
Alex writes, “Despite being wealthy and living in a dream house, their lives are still lacking. Maybe all those long hallways and walk-in closets are just hiding places. Maybe all that glass just shows you your own loneliness. Maybe when you live in a house that big, you lose yourself.”
Regina read those words when Alex accidentally left her diary in her study room. She couldn’t believe that someone could articulate her loneliness so beautifully, and thus she decided to help Alex. While there were many other reasons for Regina’s helpful gesture, I feel a part of a writer’s job is to stimulate emotions through their work and influence and move people. Alex had that artistic touch, which Regina cherished.
‘Maid’ Ending, Explained – The Journey That Lay Ahead
Alex told Paula that she wanted to go to college, get off food stamps and maybe buy a house plant. She eventually worked hard to make her dreams come true. Alex submitted her piece, “Confessions of a Maid,” and secured a Montana College of Fine Arts scholarship. She hustled and earned enough money for Missoula’s house deposit and daycare and even applied for the student loan. The only bump in her path was Maddy’s custody. And when Sean signed that off to her after his conscious transformation, there was no holding back for Alex. She decided to embark on a new chapter of her life.
While bidding goodbye, Sean called Alex, “Alaska.” It directly referenced the first time Sean met Alex at Neptune Cafe during Alex’s open mic session. She narrated her close-to-death experience in Alaska.
Alex convinced Paula to come with her to Missoula. But Paula decided to stay back and started a new relationship with Micah. Paula wasn’t courageous enough to break the chain and move out of her comfort zone. She was afraid to live without a partner, but for Alex, she didn’t want anything else to hold her back. or Maybe Paula didn’t want to become a hindrance in her daughter’s new world.
The best day of Alex’s life arrived when she left for Missoula. After cleaning three hundred and thirty-eight toilets, securing seven types of government assistance, shifting to nine different roofs in a year, and sleeping on the floor of the ferry station, Alex finally realized her dreams. It was her journey to find a new world for herself and her daughter, and she finally achieved it.
Throughout the series, there are moving moments that wet your eyes. It’s Alex’s inspiring journey full of struggle and willingness to fight that touches one’s heart. Maid is literally one of the best series streaming on Netflix.
Maid is a 2021 drama-comedy miniseries created by Molly Smith Metzler. It is based on the memoir Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive, written by Stephanie Land. All ten episodes are streaming on Netflix.