Maid spoilers follow.
Good men are hard to come by in Netflix's Maid. The limited series, based on Stephanie Land's best-selling memoir, stars Margaret Qualley (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, The Leftovers) as Alex, a young woman who spends the entire third year of her daughter's life fighting to keep their heads above water after she flees an abusive relationship.
Scrubbing toilets becomes one of the only constants in her life – precisely 338 by the time she arrives in Missoula, Montana – as she packs and re-packs her bags nine times, moving from pillar to post, including two stints in a domestic-violence shelter and one night on a ferry station floor. It's there, as day breaks, that she runs into Nate (Raymond Ablack). She first met him when they were both working at a local bar, but while she only had eyes for Sean (Nick Robinson), Nate only had eyes for her, and still does.
He is a light in a seemingly never-ending sea of darkness, extending the hand of friendship when she needs it most. He buys Alex and her daughter Maddy (Rylea Nevaeh Whittet) breakfast and drives her to work.
He insists that she keep his phone charger and tells her to call if she needs anything, concern splashed all over his face. Later, Nate lends Alex a car, which helps restore some of her independence. He is the anti-Sean and when her most recent living situation falls through, Alex and Maddy wind up sleeping in his spare bedroom, with her mother Paula (Qualley's actual mother Andie MacDowell) in tow.
It is an oasis, where Nate's steaming homemade shepherd's pie is on the table at the end of another long, thankless day and the fridge is stocked with ice cold beers. But most notably, raised voices and the threat of violence are non-existent. Alex doesn't have to pick shards of broken glass out of Maddy's hair. They are safe. But lingering just beneath the surface of Nate's goodwill is a burning desire: the possibility of romance.
After the dregs of shepherd's pie have been scraped off plates and their children are tucked up in bed, Nate asks Alex if he can take her out to dinner and a movie. It's not the first time he has floated the idea and once again, her answer remains the same: "I don't think I can be with anybody right now."
Not only is every aspect of Alex's life in disarray – she only ever has a fistful of dollars in her pocket at any one time, and she's currently without a home – she is also emotionally vulnerable, evidenced by her decision to climb back into bed with her abuser following her mother's hospitalisation.
While Alex doesn't give Nate a detailed verbal disclosure about just how desperate her situation is, the fact that she is living with him, sleeping in the spare room of a man who isn't a family member or really a friend, for that matter, is a stark indicator that she's bogged down in the trenches.
Romance is the furthest thought from her mind and Nate should be attuned to that. Even when Alex doesn't vocalise the tumultuous emotions crashing within her, instead preferring to document them in her journal, her eyes betray what she's suffered, and Nate should pick up on that.
"I don't really care about that stuff," says Nate when Alex explains that she wouldn't feel comfortable sitting across a table from him and sharing an appetiser; they aren't equals; they're stood on wildly different plains. She views herself as his charity case and that, in turn, has decimated her pride and sense of self. But he doesn't appear to compute that.
"I think you like me, and I know I like you," he adds.
Nate might be book smart, but his emotional intelligence is severely lacking.
Nate is not Sean, or Alex's dad Hank (Billy Burke), or Paula's ex-partner Basil (Toby Levins), or Sean's best friend Ethan (Xavier de Guzman), who refuses to condemn his behaviour. He doesn't inflict violence, or bellow in Alex's face, or watch from the sidelines as she scrambles around in the metaphorical dirt.
But at the root of Nate's behaviour there has always been the hope of something more, and when that's dashed after Alex regretfully spends the night with Sean, he asks her to pack up and leave. Her honesty counts for nothing, even though she doesn't owe him the grisly details, and once again, she's back to minus square one.
Alex previously told Nate that she didn't want to accept his help if there were "strings attached", but despite his assurance that his kindness shouldn't be interpreted in that way, kicking Alex to the kerb looked an awful lot like that. Their relationship was transactional after all, whether Nate perceived it to be or not. He would undoubtedly describe himself as a "nice guy" and in many ways, he is. But while he's worlds away from Sean, his behaviour still leaves an uncomfortable taste in our mouths.
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