5 Takeaways from Hulu's 'Ramy'
August 4, 2020
Viewers watching season two of Ramy (co-written and played by Ramy Youssef) will note the writers have set aside his hilarious quest for love for a much deeper, philosophical quest. As the title character tells Sheikh Malik, played beautifully by Mahershala Ali, “I don’t want to have desires, I don’t want to want anything. I just want God.” And thus season two follows Ramy’s quest for spirituality and enlightenment, and the Sheikh’s inspiring guidance in that quest. The love story of this season now lies with this delicate friendship between men: mentor and mentee who are constantly testing their devotion to faith, and to each other. This week’s takeaways delve into how the show’s writers crafted such a glorious and unusual mentor-mentee relationship and how the screenwriter can implement this wisdom-giving archetype into their own work. As per usual, Warning: Spoilers Ahead!
- The Mentor’s Aid Is Essential To The Hero’s External Journey. A mentor character, usually with superior rank to the mentee, will assist the protagonist with both their external and inner journey. There’s Yoda training Luke to becoming a Jedi knight, and there’s the Sheikh guiding Ramy to learn to put his ego aside. While Ramy’s changes in season two are not monumental, they are there, and external forces that the Sheikh places upon Ramy help get him there. The Sheikh asks Ramy to care for his troubled friend’s dog in a journey to being less selfish. There’s the Sheikh’s insistence Ramy not abandon newly minted Muslim Dennis, who’s landed himself in jail, coupled with his insistence they always offer protestors opposing the Sufi residence in a church a cup of hot chocolate on a cold day. While the Sheikh’s seemingly difficult requests of Ramy help him through his external journey, they are also always causing Ramy to question his desired inside change.
- The Mentor’s Aid In The Hero’s Inner Journey. Ramy very aptly lays out the journey he’d like to go on in the opening of the series. After Ramy experienced Egypt—and made the mistake of sleeping with his cousin—his spiritual journey had the exact opposite desired effect on his life. He wanted to find purpose, but instead he has fallen into malaise. In season two, Ramy desperately wants to reverse this and go from millennial malaise (and a masturbation addiction) back to purpose. The Sheikh warns him he will not be used as another one of Ramy’s desires. He cannot fulfill a whim. Ramy will have to do the work. Consequently, the Sheikh (and his daughter, Zainab) are constantly asking Ramy to grow up throughout this season. The tension often lies in Ramy resisting this call, despite his constant merited (if misguided efforts), and the Sheikh’s often and evident disappointment. No one said having a mentor with high expectations would be easy, but doing the inner work is always a journey worth taking.
- The Mentor As Reflection. The difference between a mentor and other characters who influence a protagonist’s journey is that a mentor has often been in the mentee’s shoes. They have lived their life and been on their journey already. The Sheikh even tells Ramy, “You remind me of myself.” It’s not surprising that most young men on a spiritual quest fall victim to temptation, and Ramy’s weaknesses are also The Sheikh’s Achilles’ heel. When the Sheikh’s daughter Zainab expresses interest in Ramy, the Sheikh warns, “Do not desecrate my daughter,” as he knows Ramy easily falls prey to temptation (and the Sheikh himself has a past of doing the same). Ramy again is presented with the dilemma of faith and choice, and the Sheikh so desperately wants Ramy to make the right decision. Spoiler alert: making the right decision does not always make for the best television, and the viewer can likely predict what decision Ramy will make.
- The Mentor As Trainer. Most mentor characters take the time to train their mentees. All mentor characters of the Star Wars universe exemplify this training, teaching their mentees in the ways of the Jedi mind. In Ramy, the screenwriters cleverly subvert this expected mentor trope, and halfway through the season the Sheikh rejects his role as mentor. He tells Ramy he plainly is not ready in the wake of some very consequential lies that Ramy told the Sheikh. The Sheikh cuts Ramy off for a time and passes the mentorship torch to Ramy’s dog. Ramy rejects this rejection, thereby forcing him to become a more active character in his own journey, and cleverly extracts another lesson of the mentor no matter how tired he is of teaching them.
- The Mentor Readies the Protagonist to Face The Antagonist. In film quest structure, the mentor would most likely be prepping a protagonist to face his or her mortal enemy, but in a subtle dramedy à la Ramy, the mentor is helping his mentee face his own internal demons, or, at the very least, to recognize and acknowledge them. When your quest for enlightenment is through the teachings of Allah and the words of The Qur’an, the role of mentor can take on heavy meaning. Ali even prayed on taking on the role, saying of the part, “We all have the capacity to embrace the faith in the way in which they do. It’s just a matter of if you will do all the things that they do, in order to be able to embrace the faith. I needed time to wrestle with that.”
Final Takeaway: There’s a quote from the Sheikh that typifies this season’s theme and what Ramy ultimately needs to remember in order to confront his own struggles with faith: “Islam is like an orange. There's an outer part and an inner part. If someone only got the rules and rituals, they might think Islam is tough and bitter like the outside of an orange. But there's an inside, a juicy flesh, the divine intimacy, the spiritual experience. The rind without the flesh is bitter and useless, the flesh without the rind would quickly rot.” Ramy’s ultimate antagonist is himself and his constant need for a quick fix. Ramy hopes that completing rules and rituals (and following the Sheikh’s mentor guidance to the letter) will bring him enlightenment. Instead, Ramy needs to learn to take pleasure in the journey to seeking enlightenment itself. Ultimately, the screenwriters set up an archetypal mentor, but also subverted the tropes by giving the Sheikh his own struggle when he tells Ramy that his goals in serving his disciples and his daughter do not always align. Screenwriters can learn how to weave both into their own work from Ramy’s lesson: sometimes having a flawed mentor is better than having no mentor at all.
Written by: Lindsay StidhamLindsay holds an MFA in screenwriting from the American Film Institute. She has overseen two scripts from script to screen as a writer/ producer. SPOONER, starring Matthew Lillard (SLAMDANCE), and DOUCHEBAG (SUNDANCE) both released theatrically. Most recently Lindsay sold PLAY NICE starring Mary Lynn Rajskub. The series was distributed on Hulu. Recent directing endeavors include the Walla Walla premiering (and best screenplay nominated) TIL DEATH DO US PART, and the music video for Bible Belt’s Tomorrow All Today. Lindsay is currently working on an interactive romcom for the production company Effin' Funny, and a feature film script for Smarty Pants Pictures. Lindsay also currently works as an Adjunct Screenwriting Faculty member at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. You can follow her work here: https://lindsaystidham.onfabrik.com/