The first season of Hunters, Prime Video’s Nazi-hunting series from David Weil, was met with mixed reactions. Like you’d expect with anything politically, emotionally, and historically charged, viewers had different feelings about the series portraying 1970s Nazi hunters and related flashbacks to the holocaust that weren’t all based in fact. Valid and varying reactions aside, what the show was successful at was never losing sight of the true heroes and villains. Hunters unapologetically portrays Nazis as the bad guys and Jewish people as the victims whose strength never wavered. That’s the strength of the series overall; not ever removing focus from the resilience of the Jewish people. The story created a fictional vigilante group that was reacting to real-life Operation Paperclip, thus blending reality with a bit of creative revisionist history. Of the many jarring revelations at the end of the first season, a massive one was that Adolph Hitler was still alive. This set up the second season to deliver a finale that would promise a new end for the fascist leader.
Now, the long-awaited second and final season is here and despite being a couple of episodes shorter, it’s not so much sprinting to an ending as doing a decathlon. This season takes on a lot, launching from its basic premise of adding some superhero fun to grounded vigilantism, and ending with the trial of Adolph Hitler. The shortened season stuffs so much into its finite runtime that it creates a dizzying fury of answers to life’s great questions. Despite that, it’s still a cathartic and interesting story about Jewish spirit mixed with some exciting action.
Season two finds Jonah (Logan Lerman) living in disguise in Europe. The hunters have parted ways after the death of their leader and a cryptic incident in Spain. But they’re called back when Jonah and newcomer, Chava (Jennifer Jason Leigh), reveal that Hitler is still alive, and they’ve caught his scent. The gang slowly reforms, joining Chava and her crew to bring Hitler to whatever form of justice is available for a perpetrator of such atrocities.
Hunters was always a bit evocative of Inglorious Basterds, it using revisionist history and flashy gore to tell a story about Jewish Nazi killers. This season has leaned further into that inspiration with a few scenes that wink at Tarantino’s “Jew Hunter” scene. Scenes like Chava scaring an Eastern European man with her eye for liars, or the seventh episode which functions as almost a standalone tale of Nazis hunting Jews hidden under floorboards and in the walls. These moments are where the series shines, by continuing to balance joyous and terrifying catharsis with grim reality. Hunters plays games that might not be well received by everyone, but it resists ever turning Nazis into faceless figures like zombies or ghosts for a lark. In Hunters, Nazis are the embodiment and visage of pure evil.
The aforementioned seventh episode further highlights this by making the Nazis not just evil, but regular. They’re just some guys, some doofuses, some dudes, all with unchecked entitlement and itchy trigger fingers. Even Udo Kier’s portrayal of Hitler is devoid of camp or jest, portraying the villain like a shrinking old asshole who chokes on his own pontification. Conversely, the Jewish people are portrayed with might. Even more in this season, there is focus on the horrors and hurt Jewish people experienced, the beauty of their culture and religion, and the strength and resilience of a people living with this trauma.
Hunters already carried the weight of showcasing the stories of Nazis and Jews after the holocaust, and so it was crushed by the added heft of trying to make analogies to the present day. In a choice meant to presumably showcase restraint and a belief in order, Jonah and the hunters choose not to kill Hitler, but to turn him over to the International Criminal Court so he may face trial. In doing so, the show attempts to take on present-day conversations about “the tolerance of intolerance,” getting caught up in making connections between modern fascists and demagogues and Adolph Hitler. While the point is quite taken, many current events being analogous to the rise of fascism in the twentieth century, it steps into the muddy puddle of using the most extreme example to try and resolve other instances. By trying to make an important point about current events, it ends up diminishing the evils of Adolph Hitler, losing the metaphor by desperately trying to make modern evaluations. To be direct, many of us have made the comparison between Hitler and Trump, and they’re apt, but taking a hypothetical 1970s media cycle to task for how they might have treated Hitler as a way of exploring the role of the media and courts in the era of Trump is a quick way to lose the thread of analogy and to reduce the holocaust to a mental exercise that doesn’t really apply. To be even more direct, Hunters season two failed by doing the most.
The series has mostly succeeded in its exploration of the stories of other marginalized people and their experiences in the holocaust and the life that came after. This season continues that tradition, never taking focus off the Jewish people while still examining the marginalization of queer people, people of color, and Jews of color. But it, again, does a bit too much in its finale, using a Black Jewish lawyer character to carry the entire weight of the legal, ethical, and philosophical ramifications of prosecuting Adolph Hitler in the regular old justice system. While it’s refreshing to see intersectional identities examined, this overstuffed scenario ends up objectifying his position, forcing him to loudly describe how being a Jewish man of color affects his position, all into the face of a confused Jewish defense lawyer.
Hunters is a compelling action-packed drama about the resilience of a people that stared down pure evil and refused to do anything but endure. Season two continues its tradition of plucking joy, fun, and action from atrocity making for a cathartic and exciting tale of vengeance that folds in spy movies and superhero stories. While it still showcases the coexisting strength and the overwhelming trauma that a people suffered (and continue to suffer), the second season loses itself in trying to take on the entire world. Jamming in side-stories, references to other films, new characters, stories about goyim not understanding, unnecessary scenes to revive Al Pacino, and the modern world as history repeating itself, creates what feels like a truncated version of notebooks full of ideas. What could have been more gunslinging superhero escapism catharsis is interrupted by basking in the real-world comparisons. At least at eighteen episodes, we can say it ended with chai.