As a young boy, David Weil grew up listening to his grandmother’s stories about surviving the Holocaust. Inspired by what he heard, he went on to become a scholar on the topic, wondering how to contend with his family’s painful past while honoring their legacy. Those seeds led to the creation of the Prime Video series Hunters, which follows a diverse group of Nazi hunters in the 1970s who track down former Nazi officials and S.S. soldiers living in the U.S.
In an interview with Forbes, Weil discussed why he created the show: “It was a love letter to my grandmother. It was also this desire to don this vigilante cape, to be this superhero, so to speak, and get justice for her that she never received.”
Hunters debuted in February 2020, with Al Pacino as Meyer Offerman, a Holocaust survivor who recruits a team of hunters to help him seek vengeance. His cohort includes Roxy Jones (Tiffany Boone), kick-ass Black activist and skilled fighter; Sister Harriet (Kate Mulvany), a gun-toting nun; Lonny Flash (Josh Radnor) , a washed-up Hollywood actor; Murray and Mindy Markowitz (Saul Rubinek and Carol Kane), whose young son was murdered in cold blood before their eyes at a detention camp; and Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman), who joins the team to avenge his grandmother’s death.
Traumatic themes like anti-Semitism and white supremacy can be daunting and, in the wrong hands, didactic, but Weil, along with executive producer Jordan Peele, delivers an action thriller with depth. While Hunters is full of espionage and mystery, the creative team never loses sight of the tragedy of the Holocaust. The hunters are indeed heroes, but they’re very much human, fighting both the evils of the Third Reich and their own personal demons.
The second and final season begins in 1979, two years after the Season 1 revelation that Meyer Offerman was actually Wilhelm Zuchs, a sadistic surgeon at Auschwitz. Even more disturbing, he took Offerman’s identity after torturing him with medical experiments. When he learned this, Jonah killed Zuchs. He’s now based in Paris as a university student, living with a woman named Clara (Emily Rudd) who doesn’t know he’s a hunter.
The past two years have left Jonah angry and even more vengeful, and it’s revealed the team disbanded after his lack of judgment botched a mission. Still, Jonah reunites the gang when he gets a tip on how to find Adolf Hitler, who is alive and well in South America with his wife, Eva Braun (Lena Olin). The team is soon racing to stop Hitler and Braun’s plans to raise The Fourth Reich.
In the midst of this, Hunters offers a piercing examination of revenge and justice. As Jonah falls deeper into the rabbit hole of tracking down Hitler, the lines between right and wrong become more blurred. In a heated argument with Clara, Jonah snaps, “Justice is a privilege reserved for the few.” But in hunting down monsters, must he also become a monster as well? By living a double life and lying to his loved ones, he is in danger of becoming the very thing he hates. Flashbacks to Zuchs’ secret life as Offerman deepen the sense that morality and deceit can become entangled.
There’s a specific resonance in watching this season, as Americans witness the rise of anti-Semitism in our country. While the country is gripped in the thrall of “whataboutisms” and giving platforms to white nationalist ideology under the guise of free speech, the series is very clear on who the villains are. There is never an attempt to make viewers empathize with the Nazis. The question is not whether these characters should seek vengeance (which is warranted), but how they can maintain their own humanity in the process.
Episode 7, “The Home” (written and directed by Weil) turns this question into a dark and beautiful allegory. Episode 8, the series finale, is heartbreaking and cathartic. It confronts not only those who were part of the Nazi party, but also everyone today who looks away and stays silent in the face of anti-Semitism and white supremacy. This lets Hunters conclude as a powerful indictment of the Holocaust that gives voice to its victims. As Sister Heidi says to Jonah: “Evil doesn’t rest. Evil doesn’t retire. So why should we? How can we? We tell the stories of the past to change our future.”
Season 2 of Hunters premieres January 13 on Prime Video. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Rebecca Theodore-Vachon is a tv and film critic whose work has been featured in Harpers Bazaar, Shondaland Magazine and Indiewire. Follow her on Twitter at FilmFatale_NYC.