Ramy Hassan (Ramy Youssef) has been performative about his faith, even if his intention really was to be a better Muslim. But at the end of the third season of Hulu's Ramy, he has a series of experiences that crack him open into trying even harder than ever before.
"So much of the season for everybody, I think, is a bit of an ego death: How do I how do we move past our perception of who we think we are?" Youssef tells Metacritic. "Every character is doing that negotiation with their higher and lower self."
For Ramy, it seems like it all began in Season 2, when he agreed to take care of canine Boomer (Mika), when her owner Dennis (Jared Abrahamson) was going to jail. Sheikh Malik (Mahershala Ali) asked Ramy to do so, feeling like Ramy needed the love and sense of responsibility that came from caring for another living thing. Ramy agreed, reluctantly at first, but grew to connect with Boomer, rely on her (especially after his marriage to MaameYaa Boafo's Zainab fell apart literally immediately after the ceremony), and have invaluable experiences because of her.
"It really struck me when you see Ramy's mom's at his house when she's trying to connect with him and he's like, 'Just feed the dog this,' and there's just this energy around the dog. She's what he cares about this season and is something he can have some control over," Youssef explains.
"Boomer is like the last bastion of his relationship with the sheikh, and in a way this relationship with Zainab, who he's been trying to reach out to. She's what brings him to this SLA meeting where he's truly cracked up that low, she's what puts him in that situation at that dinner with his family where he's just on edge, and then she's what brings him to Dennis in the prison," he continues.
Boomer dies in Season 3 because of Ramy's recklessness. (She gets into a drug stash that was carelessly left out on a low coffee table.) And it is a tipping point for him.
Earlier in the season, Ramy was already struggling with the negotiation between his higher and lower self when he began a new jewelry job — one that is a bit shady and one that puts him in competition with Uncle Naseem (Laith Nakli). While overseas as part of this job, he ends up getting a teenager arrested, and months later he learns the kid is still in custody, in a political state that will not be kind to him. As a character with a lot of guilt already (remember, this is a kid who thought he caused 9/11 because he masturbated for the first time that day), this is just one more thing that eats away at him.
"I think he's spent so much time distanced from his own heart this season. There's shame and with that comes almost this self-punishment and also this unawareness," Youssef says.
The hits keep coming, and when Boomer dies, he visits Dennis in prison to share the bad news, only to learn some bad news of his own: He has a daughter that Zainab declined to tell him about. He later confesses complicated feelings about love and sex and Zainab, and then realizes that an expensive custom watch has gone missing in his care. Any one of these things individually should have been reason enough for Ramy to make some changes, but with them all happening in close succession, the watch appears to be the straw the broke the proverbial camel's back. He admits the loss, but in that explanation, he begins to ponder if it was God sending him a message. And once that idea is in his head, he throws himself at it full force, using the sea shore to wash himself as he prays, an extended sequence on which the season ends.
Here, Youssef talks to Metacritic about Ramy Season 3, including Ramy becoming a father but not revealing it to him or the audience until well after she was born and whether Ramy's moment of spirituality at the end of the finale marks true change for the character.
What inspired the idea that not only would Ramy become a father, but that he would not learn of the baby until so many months after she was born?
The idea of him having had a kid was definitely something that we felt like maybe we could jump into at the end of Season 2. I didn't want to deal with the immediacy of it right away because something about it a little bit too convenient for me.
We're looking at this exploration between higher self and lower self and that space between, and I not only think about guilt a lot, but I think about consequences. And I also think so much of where we first started: where we met Ramy was in negotiating this generation that came before. There's where he's headed, and there's tradition and faith, and he knows he wants to keep some, but he's also being pulled in another direction. And so, it felt like a really appropriate thing to say, "OK whether you want to call it a miracle or not, this one night would Zainab would would actually turn into this negotiation between generations for the next one." And now Ramy, who's kind of unresolved himself, is going to be launched into not only figuring out his own life, but dictating what's coming, maybe, for someone that is his own child. And I think that that is how a lot of parents start. There's this really funny thing I saw online that was like, "Don't you realize now when you look back at pictures of you as a kid that your parent was a kid?" We thought these people like knew everything and they were a mess because we're a mess.
I think if we knew in the beginning, the whole season would just be about that. With the level of betrayal, the character of Zainab would feel very justified in like wanting like to have the control — like, "This is just going to be mine." So, it felt natural for the character and then it also felt natural for us as a show because we were able to explore his shame in a different way before introducing something that would force him to step out of himself.
How did deciding this was going to be a surprise to both Ramy and the audience at the end of the season affect some of the stories you were writing in the earlier part of the season. Were there things that you wanted the audience to look back on and wonder if Ramy still would be doing them if he knew he had a kid?
We felt the weight of it in Rasheed and Malika asking for that money. There's this divorce compensation, it's in the faith, but why are they asking for it so meaningfully? Why is she really not talking to him so hard line? Why does Ramy call Rasheed and get this really big wall? And so, by the time you know, we get there, I think it feels like reality is crashing on him.
You get him to a place at the end of the season where he thinks God has intervened in his life and is nudging him on a certain path. You directed this lengthy scene in the finale where he breaks down and starts praying. How much of that moment needed to be focused on him wanting to make a change versus really being ready to?
This season, Ramy puts his spirituality in capitalism, and at the end of the season, he truly, for the first time, has nothing — including he no longer has an idea of himself. He's just actually just giving in and giving up and submitting in this way because every idea he tried to construct of who he should be failed him, and so, he finds himself being like, "I don't think I have any other option but to believe," and it almost feels like, I think, the first seeds of what could maybe be actual belief.
You just said "giving in and giving up," but those can be two very different things.
I guess I mean it by like giving up the idea of who he is, which I think a way, is a giving in. And I view this as a genuine giving in. But I think what's interesting about this show is where people from a default sense are coming to it. And what I mean by that is there are people who are very uncomfortable with sex in a lot of the communities that I'm a part of who watch the show and they're like, "There's so much sex," and then there's people who aren't religious that watch the show, and they're like, "These people can't stop praying." And I think you watch this moment at the end, and if you are a seeker in a spiritual language, you're like, "Oh my God, this guy is submitting to the spiritual expression." But if that's not your reference, you're like, "This guy is having a f---ing panic attack." And I think it says something about what you want the moment to be and what you think it might be. And I really liked that because I think even in the conversations I've had with the people who've seen it, I'm like, "Oh, yeah, there's two ways to look at this."
Have you made a decision yet for where it would pick up, meaning whether he's truly changed or if that was just an in-the-moment feeling that doesn't stick?
When we finished the first season, I had an idea of what I wanted the closing image of the show to be, and I feel like it's something that we hopefully can achieve in our fourth season. So, I feel pretty clear about what it's going to be. It'll be different and I think it'll be earned with with what we kind of saw him go through. We dig the holes, but I feel like we have a fun time kind of trying to navigate out of them.
How did you approach his family's journey this season? I was particularly struck by how Farouk (Amr Waked) was working with Maysa (Hiam Abbass) rather than making his own service account; it felt very much like a commentary on how co-dependent some couples become, even through their experience on mushrooms. But then there's also Dena (May Calamawy) actually planning to marry the guy her mother set her up with and not taking the bar.
Yeah, you see it in older couples, where it's like, "You should exercise." "Well, I can't because your dad doesn't want to leave the house." But what does that have to do with you? You're separate people. I think that there is this thing that happens in relationships, this thing that happens in time. The claustrophobia of a marriage, especially under pressure, was really exciting to explore with them because I think what we see with them, in terms of like the realities and failures of the American Dream is really, I think, a universal thing in the sense of a lot of people right now are looking at their lives and they're like, "Man, the generation before us was able to easily buy a house and do et cetera. And like, we can't even live in a box off of Vine." We don't talk about the pandemic too directly, but we're totally living in that reality of struggling with that.
And also, too, in terms of American dream, I think it's very much what Dena is experiencing because her whole navigation of being the person that's logical and not spiritual and just pursuing law and knowing she can find justice and she's at this badass firm and then comes up against just as much bureaucracy as you would expect working at, like, Enron.
We had a lot of fun with doing the actual mushrooming ego trip with our parents. And in the spiritual language as well, it was really satisfying to see them go from that claustrophobia and that dependence to, in a way, they liberate together as well. When they both are the ones that see Boomer, they're tripping together; they're having the same hallucination. It's crazy, but that's how connected they are, and it's beautiful.
And then there's Naseem, who, even when Dena gives him the opportunity to open up, can't quite get there. Is he a character who will never let go of his ego, and how does that effect what you can do with him, especially after he spun out and pulled a weapon in a restaurant?
I guess it's a spiritual principle, but I really believe in mercy. I think that there is like a way that almost anyone can dig themselves out of something. Maybe they don't end up at holiness or anything, but I do think that there's always another side to somebody or something, and I feel there's there's a couple of turns for Naseem that I think will be humanizing in a different way.
Get to know Ramy Youssef:
The stand-up comedian, writer, producer, director, and actor has also been seen in See Dad Run (Metascore: 50) and Mr. Robot (80). He also serves as an executive producer on Mo (81).