When Season 3 of Ramy begins, we already know that Ramy Hassan (Ramy Youssef) is a self-serving, clueless asshole, but even that doesn’t prepare us for his involvement with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
It’s accidental, of course, but that doesn’t make it better. The second episode of Season 3, "egyptian cigarettes," finds Ramy in Jerusalem doing business with Zionists when he asks the IDF to help him retrieve his jacket from a Palestinian kid. He doesn’t think the soldiers will go overboard, but they invade the youngster’s home and take him into detention. Ramy hears the boy screaming for help, confused and terrified, and at that point, even he has the sense to realize they’ve gone too far. He’s just about to leave the entire mess behind when one of his business partners expresses her own doubts about Zionism and promises to help the kid out.
Ramy needs to make money, so he decides to believe her. But we don’t.
That conflict — between Ramy’s perspective and our own — is what continues to make this show so watchable. Over and over, we see Ramy make abhorrent choices, including the season two shocker that found him sleeping with his cousin the night before his wedding to another woman. However, we are never expected to let Ramy off the hook. We might be able to invest in him because he tries his best to grow and change, but that’s not the same as excusing his moral dysfunction.
In fact, our horror at his actions — and especially their consequences — is arguably the point. By asking us to be disgusted by Ramy, the series also asks us to consider where his behavior and attitude come from. It asks us to see his mistakes as the failings of not just a single character, but of an entire warped system.
And because Ramy himself seems unlikely to develop self-knowledge, the show lets other characters either explain the consequences of his actions or embody them. Last season, for instance, Ramy’s wife’s father Sheikh Ali Malik (Mahershala Ali) — who was also Ramy’s Sheikh — ferociously rebuked his behavior. It was a cathartic opportunity to hear a character say what needed to be said.
This season, Ramy’s thoughtless treatment of the Palestinian boy is contrasted by his family’s very lives. Both his mother Maysa (Haim Abbas) and her brother Naseem (Laith Nakli) are Palestinian. We know they were traumatized after being expelled from their homeland. We also see Naseem, who accompanies Ramy to Jerusalem, get mistreated all over again. The show positions both characters as rebuttals not only to Ramy’s actions, but also to the persistent dehumanization of Palestinians in general.
Again, Ramy might not immediately see the connection, but we can.
How this affects viewers depends on who we are. Palestinian viewers may have very different reactions to these stories than those from other communities. However, it seems likely that anyone watching will want to yell at the screen. As infuriating as it might be, Ramy’s provocative behavior makes for addictive television, because it requires the audience to think about and respond to what we’re seeing. It may even push us to learn more about the people and the cultures that get sucked into Ramy’s destructive orbit. By the time we’re ready to start watching again, we may have even changed, which would make us different from Ramy in the most crucial way.
Ramy Season 3 is now streaming on Hulu.
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