Watching “Maid” can be a challenging experience, but not because it’s bad. It’s an extraordinary portrait of a domestic violence victim in the Pacific Northwest — Margaret Qualley’s Alex — who is struggling to get help from a flawed social-service system as she and her toddler daughter try to start a new life.
It can be challenging because the 10-episode Netflix miniseries does not abbreviate Alex’s trials in the least. We see her try and fail over and over again, as the court and other institutions keep promising her shelter and support and then leave her flat. At one point, she gets subsidized housing, but then — psych — it’s infested with toxic black mold that’s making her daughter cough incessantly.
But the plot repetitions, the red tape that only leads to more red tape, serve a purpose, which is to bring us inside Alex’s feelings of hopelessness. They are a formal expression of the point of “Maid,” which is to show just how hard it truly can be for victims to find safety and security, especially when they don’t have financial means. Alex is working hard as a maid, but she can barely accumulate enough cash to buy food, never mind pay rent. It’s a particularly unfun roller coaster, with Alex finding momentum, then losing it, then finding it again.
Complicating matters, and adding to the bumpy ride, is the psychology behind so much domestic violence. Alex makes her break from Sean (a complex Nick Robinson), but she falls back in with him, too, repeating the pattern she saw play out between her own parents (her mother is played by Qualley’s real mother, Andie MacDowell).
The story, based on Stephanie Land’s memoir, “Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive,” is engaging, with Qualley making Alex easy to root for by underplaying. She doesn’t ask for our sympathy, letting the facts of Alex’s life speak for themselves instead. I do hope the miniseries doesn’t get too lost in the shuffle of Peak TV; it’s a powerful drama that puts a stalwart, determined face on the working people in this country who’ve become little more than political chess pieces.