–By Sam Hendrian–
“I feel like I have this hole inside me that’s always been there. Like this emptiness. I’m always trying to fill it with something… I’ve tried to fill it with God. I have. But I… I just don’t know how.”
These words spoken by a deeply lost young Muslim man named Ramy (comedian Ramy Youssef) to a wise sheikh named Ali Malik (two-time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali) adequately capture not only the theme of the entire show, but the theme of countless real people’s lives no matter what their religion is. While tonally uneven and sometimes a bit uncomfortable to watch, the second season of Hulu’s Ramy is ultimately a satisfying continuation of the story (see James Powers’s review of Season 1), offering a funny but ultimately haunting exploration of one man’s struggle to do the right thing in a world that says nothing really matters.
Having fornicated with his cousin on a recent trip to Egypt that was originally intended for spiritual rediscovery, Ramy has reached a new all-time low and seeks guidance to lead him back onto the path of virtue. He finds this guidance in the person of Sheikh Ali Malik, a local Muslim leader with a wise mind and compassionate heart.
In a scene that mirrors a Catholic confession, Ramy tells the sheikh about his rampant struggle with pornography and premarital sex, a struggle that he connects to a greater problem: an unhealthy preoccupation with himself. The sheikh listens patiently and then agrees to instruct Ramy in the ways of virtue, hoping to gradually mold his desires with the will of God rather than the whims of his ego/desires.
Ramy is a receptive pupil, except for one major caveat that becomes all too tragically clear by the final episode: he is still focused primarily on himself rather than on the good of others. He starts trying to hone his sexual desires and perform charitable acts—including one that has unexpectedly disastrous consequences—but these forays into virtue are motivated by feeling better about himself rather than actually enriching the lives of those around him.
Of course, this is a universal struggle, and it is nearly impossible for fallen humans to do anything with completely selfless intentions. However, what Ramy in particular fails to understand is the true nature and purpose of love itself. Yes, he often feels love for his family, his friends, and even some of the people he has sex with, but he rarely chooses it. Sometimes we naturally desire the good of others, but more often than not, we have to choose it in the midst of emotional numbness; Ramy is still a slave to his emotions/physical desires and therefore hindered from loving in such a willful way.
Despite the fact that Ramy remains far from where he wants and needs to be spiritually, he does learn some powerful lessons that leave a lasting mark on his character. One of them is given by Sheikh Malik after the two of them are tasked with finding/caring for an abandoned dog. The sheikh says:
“You see everything as a blessing or a curse, Ramy. The truth is everything is both. We have to see the blessings in the curses, and be wary of the curses in the blessings.”
Ramy’s life presently seems to be filled with more curses than blessings, but Sheikh Malik’s words of wisdom enable him to start seeing how such curses can also be or at least become blessings. His attachment to sin is an opportunity to realize his profound need for God. His selfishness can be a wake-up call to prioritize the needs of others. His history of unintentionally hurting people can serve as a catalyst for pursuing humility and charity with sincere resolve.
On the other hand, Ramy now also sees some of the curses hiding beneath the blessings in his life. He is blessed with many friends, but these friends often give him misguided advice. He is blessed with good health and the basic needs of life (food, shelter, etc.), but these comforts may prevent him from fully empathizing with the sufferings of others. Whatever the blessing or curse may be, Ramy knows deep down that everything on Earth is fleeting, and he longs to be a part of an adventure much more long-lasting. Something eternal.
While Season 2 ends on a sour note—Ramy once again reaches an all-time low right when he seemed to have finally reached an all-time high—it still bears a glimmer of hope that will hopefully be brightened in Season 3. Some episodes are better written than others, and one or two go a bit overboard in exploring less-savory subject matter, but overall they skillfully explore rich, relevant themes that too many TV shows and movies brush over for the sake of popcorn entertainment.
Ramy reminds us that we are all imperfect, sometimes even despicable creatures—no one is immune to sin—but that we also each have the ability to seek God’s grace and let true charity enter our hearts. Because of this inspiring and generally well-executed message, I would highly recommend Ramy to adults looking for a show that is both entertaining and introspective.
Sam Hendrian is an alumni of John Paul the Great Catholic University (’20), with a degree in Communications Media and emphasis in Directing.
For more articles by Sam, click here.