The Acolyte: What psychology advises to help Mae break free of her Master's abuse

What professionals would advise to help her break free of the Master
Mae Aniseya (Amandla Stenberg) in Lucasfilm's THE ACOLYTE, season one, exclusively on Disney+. ©2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.
Mae Aniseya (Amandla Stenberg) in Lucasfilm's THE ACOLYTE, season one, exclusively on Disney+. ©2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved. /

Trigger Warnings: This article deals with discussions of emotional abuse, verbal abuse, manipulation, and domestic violence. Resources and further reading will be listed at the end of this article.

It has been some time since a Star Wars project evoked a visceral reaction from me, but while The Acolyte has modeled unhealthy dynamics between Mae and her associates, it wasn't until episode 4, "Day," that I realized what made me uneasy about the situation. Having learned of her sister's survival, Mae makes a bold declaration of independence to Qimir and asserts her decision to turn on her current quest and her current master.

"NO!" I shouted at my computer screen. "You don't tell your abuser that you're leaving!"

I regret to say that I can speak of abusive relationships from first-hand experience. Nineteen years ago, I told my husband that I was going on a trip to see my sister and never came home. He wasn't aware that I had accidentally told that same sister and a mutual friend that he had been beating me, and my escape literally depended on him thinking I was still willing to come back to a place where my life was in danger. I now say that my special power is seeing red flags early. I would like to apply that power to Mae's situation and explore what professionals would say to her.

The State of Things

In considering Mae's relationship with Qimir, who is revealed in episode 5, "Night," to be her Master, those red flags are plainly visible. Qimir is not benevolent. According to an article on Psychology Today, "Top 10 Red Flag Warning Signs of Abuse", it is not always easy to identify abusive behaviors:

"Abuse slowly creeps in, taking over more and more of the emotional, psychological, and spiritual territory of the relationship. Often a partner has no clue early on in the relationship that their partner is even capable of such hurtful and harmful behavior. But by then, people are hooked into the relationship and it’s hard to leave and easy to rationalize the manipulative and often cruel behavior and the destructive dynamics that eat away at the foundation of what a caring, satisfying relationship should be."

Abigail Brenner, M.D.

We know very little of what followed the fateful night on Brendok for Osha. She was brought into the Jedi fold. While Master Indara advised against her training and Yord says that Mae was always her wound, Sol trained her in a way that fostered trust and understanding. Meanwhile, Mae was deceived and manipulated. There are many questions about how long she's been under Qimir's thrall and whether she spent any time after the slaughter of the coven independent of this dark influence. Whatever the circumstances, Brenner's list of warning signs includes several of the things that we have seen in Mae's storyline.

"The attempt to control all aspects of a partner’s life... The attempt to isolate the partner from family and friends...Treating you with disrespect by blaming, shaming, and putting you down...Threatening you with harm, or alternately, with hurting themselves if you don’t do what they want...Inability to show compassion toward anyone, but especially you...Pressuring you to engage in what is important to them, at the expense of what’s important to you."

Abigail Brenner, M.D.

When we first see Qimir, his off-hand and bumbling manner suggests that he is either a resource or a kind of sidekick. However, by the time he promises Mae that "the Master" will kill her, he has become a more sinister force. Mae is cut off from any kind of support network and is accountable to Qimir only. Most significantly regarding this list, he is the direct source of pressure for her to complete her quest. When she falters or questions, he is single-minded in his purpose to help her fulfill her quest. Mae deciding to break free triggers an act of violence against the person she was going to for help, but Qimir immediately damages her ability to be trusted by the Jedi by placing her at the scene of a murder she was originally meant to commit.

As "Day" comes to a close, things are nearly as dark for Mae as they were in the preceding episode. She has not lost her entire family, but events have been manipulated so she is one woman possibly alone against all other forces. The one hopeful note is that, as Mae has said, "Osha being alive changes everything."

The Will to Change

Now that we have taken a hard look at the nature of this abuse, let's look at what Mae needs to survive it. Returning again to Psychology Today's website, we find "What Does it Take to Get Out of An Abusive Relationship" by Berit Brogaard D.M.Sci., Ph.D. He observes that one hindrance to someone leaving an abusive relationship is cyclical abuse:

"At times, there is very little, or no, abuse, and then suddenly it escalates. When the abuse is at max intensity, the abuse victim may make a commitment to themselves to leave the relationship the very next day. But there is a good reason why they rarely stick to this commitment. After blowing off steam in acts of extremely violent abuse, the abuser tends to lie low for a while."

Brent Brogaard, D.M.Sci., Ph.D.

I believe that the time in which "the abuse is at max intensity" is not on Khofar but on Olega. This is where the controlling aspect of the Qimir/Mae dynamic first comes into focus. More importantly, we discover that the two murders that Mae has effected are motivated by a great and life-altering lie. The Master approaches her mission with outright prodding and frequent reminders of Mae's shortcomings. When Mae instead realizes that she has a path forward and a way out, she begins a process that Brogaard calls "self-restructuring," in which she "see themselves and identify as victims of relationship abuse." Mae's realization that she has the power to refuse the quest in favor of being loyal to her sister is a major turning point. Most importantly for her, she sees her needs as separate from those of her Master.

The Greeks talk of a hamartia or "fatal flaw," but the word actually means to miss the mark. When Mae leaves Qimir and rushes headlong into her chance for liberation, she misses the mark by not considering what that needs to entail. Linda Rodgers of The Healthy wrote an article that should be the blueprint for Mae's divorcing herself from her overlord, "How to Leave an Abusive Relationship: 18 Expert Tips". Rodgers begins by recommending that an abuse victim prepare themself emotionally and advises them to "give words to your experience" and "prepare to grieve." We can hope that both of those things are coming when she reunites with her sister and each of them tells stories of their years apart.

The most intensive part of the process is what Mae began to hope for: Laying the groundwork. Rodgers says this involves "figuring out all sorts of logistical and legal details so you (and your children) can get out safely." Unfortunately, Mae was not given the counsel to "leave at a safe time, not the right time." Nor was she "alert to changes in... behavior." As mentioned before, she erred in telling her abuser that she planned to leave.

What she needs most immediately is support. Rodgers recommends professional allies such as lawyers and therapists, and hopefully, now that Mae is with Sol, the Jedi will give her sanctuary. But she certainly needs a place to go and a way to keep her location a secret. Perhaps the most daunting task will be cutting off contact with her abuser.

In short, Mae has a long road ahead of her, but there is already hope for her.


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