This article contains spoilers for Hunters season 2.
Hunters is not a particularly good TV show. Just as was the case with the first season of Amazon’s Nazi-hunting drama, the problem with Hunters season 2 (which just premiered all eight episodes on Prime Video) lies with its competing mish-mash of tones.
Hunters wants to have its storytelling cake and eat it too by being both a pulpy shoot ’em up thriller and a stoic exploration of Jewish generational trauma. Season 1 took place in 1977 and followed the ascent of Jonah Heidelbaum (played by a pretty great Logan Lerman) as a vengeful Jewish superhero. Following the death of his beloved grandmother, Jonah is recruited by Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino) into his band of “Hunters,” who track down and kill surviving Nazis. And so Jonah and friends do just that with stylistic aplomb.
Maybe there is a version of Hunters out in the multiverse that could pull off the tonal whiplash this one sought (perhaps one from the same universe Inglourious Basterds arrived from). Alas, the version of the show we got is not able to do so. Too often Hunters will relish in violence cartoonish enough to desensitize – Nazi eyeballs plucked out and placed onto butter sculpture snowmen – and then revert back to something resembling “reality” as though earnestly assuring the viewer “but seriously folks: this is all a serious matter.” More often than not that approach does not work.
To be fair, Hunters‘ first season came close to getting that delicate tone right at times. The moments in which the show explored the United States government’s real life reclamation of “useful” Nazis via Operation Paperclip felt both like timely commentary and a timeless acknowledgement that Evil always finds a way to carry on and it’s up to Good to find an even better way to kill it. Too frequently though, the show would revert back to the most ridiculous version of itself. Let’s put it this way: by the time you’ve introduced a mustache-twirling elderly Adolf Hitler as your show’s big bad (as the finale of Hunters season 1 did), you have well and truly lost the plot.
The sins of the first season’s ending make it difficult for this second season to find any meaningful traction from the get-go. The characters’ understandable laser focus on bringing down literally Hitler robs the show of much “could be a true Operation Paperclip story” nuance. So too does the season’s insistence on bringing Pacino back for a series of needless flashbacks.
There is, however, a stretch of Hunters season 2 that is unambiguously good, maybe great even. Before the season launches into its eighth and final episode, it takes some time out to tell a curious little fable that perfectly articulates the show’s themes and even captures the challenging tone it strides for. For precisely 56 minutes in episode 7, Hunters briefly becomes the best version of itself.
Episode 7, titled “The Home,” picks up with Jonah securing … *sigh* Adolf Hitler in his custody. Before Jonah drags the dickhead Fuhrer off to The Hague to answer for his many crimes, he decides to tell him a ghost story he heard from his grandmother. The episode then flashes back to July 1942.
Out in the German countryside, there rests a quaint home occupied by a kindly old husband and wife pair, Herr Heinrich Hansöm (Robert Towers) and Frau Helga Hansöm (Marcia Road). Heinrich and Helga spend their days talking to each other but also talking to apparently no one at all, continually breaking the fourth wall as if they’re communing with spirits that only they can sense or see. Heinrich tells a joke to an empty room. Helga sings while making dinner, alternating verses with invisible, silent companions. Heinrich delivers a lesson on dollhouse making aloud to only himself.
The couple’s kookiness continues when a trio of SS officers arrives at their pastoral homestead, investigating a rumor about Jews in hiding. Heinrich, it turns out, is a famous architect and the lead Nazi, Hugo (Reed Michael Campbell), is one of his avowed fans. He knows that if anyone in the country can craft a series of nooks and crannies in a home for a Jewish family to hide in, it’s Herr Hansöm. Heinrich and Helga confess that they’re not alone in this home but it’s not Jews who are their guests but ghosts. They’ve been haunted by unseen specters since they first built the place 29 or 30 years ago (Heinrich and Helga can’t settle on a precise date).
For much of the episode’s running time it feels as though ghosts really do haunt the old home. We see only fleeting glimpses of gaunt men, women, and children within the walls and they often appear right before one of the Nazis is violently dispatched in a satisfyingly whimsical Home Alone fashion. One Nazi is crushed by a boulder after seeing a little girl in a flower-strewn underground room. Another is strung up by an automatic makeshift noose and disemboweled in the attic upon finding a whole family of “ghosts.” It’s not until all three Nazis are dead that Hunters reveals definitively that the specters in the walls are indeed living Jewish refugees. The episode then kindly flashes back to all the times the Heinrich and Helga spoke aloud to seemingly no one to reveal that they’ve been communicating with their hidden friends the whole time – playing games remotely, giving advice, listening, laughing, loving.
The walls that separate the Jewish family and their protectors might as well be the veil that separates life and death itself. Though their hiding spot is relatively comfortable, there’s no way they could ever safely cross the threshold back into the land of the living. At least not until the Nazi threat is gone for good. For all intents and purposes they are ghosts.
Still, they are cared for ghosts. Heinrich and Helga love their guests and treat them like part of the family, particularly youngest son Zev. The children grow up as unseen figures, being guided and taught by an equally unseen voice on the other side of the wall. They learn how to make crafty little traps. They develop their own vernacular, hidden away from the rest of the world. It’s a shockingly sweet and empathetic tableau for a series that frequently revels in the ugliness of an ugly time.
It does all eventually turn ugly, of course. A second trio of Nazis is dispatched to the house to investigate the whereabouts of the missing first group. This time around, they don’t find any signs of Jews at all but they kill the old man and woman anyway – merely because it’s easier to blame them for their fallen comrades. Plus, the Hansöm home is prime real estate. The Nazi Rigard moves his family in the following week. At this moment, Hunters risks falling into its usual bad habits of cartoonish violence for cartoonish violence’s sake. It’s to this episode’s credit that it doesn’t.
After hiding out for many more months as a Nazi family moves in, the Jewish “ghosts” in the walls finally enact their vengeance. It doesn’t end well for them though as yet another Nazi inquiry arrives at the house to investigate and the story finally arrives at its expected unhappy ending. In a funny twist of fate, the family has to pose as the Rigard family and cover up the noises of the young Rigard boy within the walls. When that fails, Zev’s Heinrich-inspired traps kill many SS invaders while he and the children escape.
Ultimately Zev grows up to become the man who will help Jonah extract Hitler from South America. Where did Zev come from in the Argentinian wilderness? How does Hunters introduce him from nowhere in the season’s closing act? It’s almost as if he’s a ghost.
Indeed, an adult Zev tells Jonah’s captive: “When you made us ghosts, you taught us how to be invisible.”
“The Home” works so well because it’s a short parable told capably that capture’s humanity’s capacity for cruelty and mercy in equal parts. Hunters love for violence is present but comes across as necessary and novel rather than excessive and aimless. And that’s probably because the story isn’t just a parable, a fable, or a ghost story. It’s also the truth – albeit a truth witnessed by a scared little boy and then passed down to the next generation in a game of “Telephone.” It’s unclear how much of “The Home” is even real but it is clear that the only things about it that matter are: the fear, the cruelty, the love, the hope.
Much of Hunters season 2 fails to properly tell the story it wants to tell. But for the span of one glorious 56-minute ghost story it’s exactly what it needs to be.
All eight episodes of Hunters are available to stream on Prime Video now.