I’ve been wanting to find a film or show that goes beyond the hard stories until people actually are able to recover and undo the trauma in their familial history instead of continuing it, and “Maid” did exactly that. The moment I started watching it was all I could talk about because everything from the characters to the cinematography to the arc of the story was so incredibly engulfing. The characters were so complex that they felt like people you knew and understood, not just some archetype of a 2D human you want them to be. Molly Smith Metzler, the creator, said it herself in a Mashable interview: “I wanted to tell the truth about abuse, I wanted the audience to understand and have empathy for Sean. How he is not one thing, he is not a mustache-twirling villain, he is the product of being a child of an addict, being around abuse himself. When we grow up in that it’s normalized, it’s all we know … We inherit these things, they’re in our bones, it’s subconscious, it’s who we’re attracted to, it’s a very hard cycle to break.”
There are so many films that portray mental illness, abuse and struggle, but it seems like even the best shows rarely get to the root of it for the sake of forward narrative progression. But in the real world, oftentimes the only way to begin living your best life is to take a step back into the dark trenches of trauma and recognize them for what they were so that you can move forward.
One of the most beautiful elements about “Maid” in relation to this was how characteristically distinct the sense of place was, and how that grew out from the realness of Alex’s (Margaret Qualley) painful experiences. The creators had such a powerful way of conveying trauma and patterns through locations, as we saw the pattern of closed cupboards affecting Alex and eventually her daughter based on her past. Although painful, that sense of place made things the most real. We later saw her physically get engulfed by her sofa as her abusive boyfriend came in and out of the house and she remained in a dissociative/depressive episode. Later the show cut to her in a deep pit of vines, with powerful but dark imagery. This allowed the viewer to further emphasize with the characters on screen that is so often difficult to convey through dialogue alone. Everything was so powerful, and so incredibly real, even if it was metaphorical.
So often we see characters on a screen and we imagine these made-up people as one thing or another, but that’s so distant from reality. “Maid” shatters this concept completely through the immersive acting and cinematography as well as the incredible writing. The characters aren’t characters but human beings that the audience can sympathize with. There’s no villain, just hurt people who hurt people. Whether it’s the stuck up employer with a troubling personal life who goes from belittling to helping Alex, Alex’s troubled mother (Andie MacDowell) who’s been through so much but is stuck in a pattern of abusive and unstable relationships, Sean (Nick Robinson), who is abusive and manipulative but was abused and neglected his whole life or Nate (Raymond Ablack), the prospective lover who could easily be the hero of Alex’s story when he provides her with a house and food and an education for her child, but lets jealousy take over and throws Alex to the curb the moment the prospect of sleeping with her vanishes. Or Danielle (Aimee Carrero), who also was an influential figure in Alex’s journey to recognizing her abuse for what it was, but ended up returning to the abusive relationship she was in herself. Or Alex herself, who makes bad decisions and repeats them, but it’s because it’s the only thing she knows. The reality of life isn’t happy endings and perfect relationships, but the fact that people accept the love that’s familiar, and that they feel they deserve. The world isn’t made up of rights and wrongs or good people and bad people, but a whole mess of broken people who often end up accepting to continue to be hurt or hurt other people because it’s what they know, and it’s how so many people who grew up in traumatic households learned to survive. So many developing brains end up being subjected to so much so early, and that sort of hurt can get hardwired into people’s systems and the connections they form later in life.
As the final episode communicated so eloquently, sometimes no matter how much we care, no matter how much we love, no matter how much we want to hold on, in the end in this broken world you have to follow the past that is best for yourself. Alex tried with all her might to bring her mother out of her pattern of accepting domestically abusive relationships in her life, but in the end, Alex had to choose her own path. She worked with every ounce she had and started something new and purely hers. She went on to get an education and develop her incredible skill of writing, protected her daughter and brought her on the new journey of change. She finally broke the pattern that had existed within her family and chose what was best for her and her kid. Sometimes it takes the caring of other people to finally make healthy choices in our own lives. In the end, there isn’t much more you can do but do your best to help other people within the context of boundaries that allow you to protect yourself.