Nazis, Nazis Everywhere

‘Hunters’ Season 2 is almost offensively stupid

Last season on Hunters, we learned that Al Pacino’s character, the Nazi hunting mentor Meyer of the titular Nazi-hunting squad in the seventies, was himself a Nazi, only hunting other Nazis for the sake of his own self-preservation. He long engaged in an impressively elaborate deception over several decades where he pretended to be one of his Jewish victims. Also, Hitler’s still alive. But before we get to the bad stuff, let’s explore how Hunters makes surprisingly good use of Al Pacino, despite his character being dead.

 In an early scene of the show, a Nazi describes himself as a cockroach for his willingness to sell Hitler, or any other Nazi, out to save himself. The scene makes for an apt description of the inherently violent nature of fascist ideology, and explains the bulk of Meyer’s motivation for the flashback portions of the story. Meyer killed Nazis for the same reason he used to kill Jews. He prefers violent solutions regardless of the problem. Meyer doesn’t actually have any core beliefs beyond that, which is a big part of what makes him such a convincing Jew. It’s just a mask for him, and Meyer modulates that mask as necessary to recruit a squad to kill the Nazis who might be able to identify Meyer.

But Meyer has more than just his own charisma to assist him in this task. As the first episode notes, prosecuting Nazis legally can prove quite difficult, even assuming you can find them. And this begs a lot of tough questions. Such as, how are so many Nazis able to hide so easily? This much of Hunters is based on actual history, and the reasons for this are complex. The short version of this is that, while the Nuremberg trials live on in popular memory as the time when the Nazis were got their due justice, in reality the court dropped vast majority of the cases brought forward, and the vast majority of the remaining defendants received amnesty. Nobody outside of the Communists had much stomach for punishing the Nazis, and indeed, the Soviet Union wanting to punish the Nazis too much quickly became an integral ideological component of the Cold War, as it was evidence of their general savagery. Nazi rocket scientists, via Operation Paperclip, also became a material component of the Cold War.

Incidentally, press material about the second season has mentioned Operation Paperclip, but I found no significant discussion of it in the show itself. Which brings us to the bad part of Hunters, although we’re not quite to Hitler yet. The show has absolutely no idea why Nazis hiding from justice was such a big problem in the first place. Nor does Hunters appreciate its own clever irony of the premise being a Nazi solution to a Nazi problem. And most ridiculously, Hunters doesn’t understand that the structural racism that forms the core of Nazi ideology is also an important component of the United States. This despite the fact that multiple Nazi hunters were fighting against this structural racism before Meyer showed up to convince them that they were better off assassinating aging, forgotten Nazis than doing anything that would actually improve their own lives or the lives of the people they love.

This is where the idea of killing a still-living Hitler in the seventies could work–as a white whale. The Hunters disbanded because their leader turned out to be a Nazi himself, implying that the whole enterprise was morally hollow. That’s what could get them back together again, though, is the promise of being able to kill the greatest Nazi of all time. Whether or not Hitler is actually hiding out in Argentina is really besides the point. In the second season’s strongest emotional beats, characters face the loss of the loves of their lives because of their Nazi hunting obsession. Even assuming that Hitler is alive, is that really worth the effort? And doesn’t the sheer absurdity of the very idea that Hitler is alive seriously bolster the idea that they’re making a horrible quixotic mistake?

Unfortunately Hunters does not go that direction, instead giving us scenes featuring a very definitely alive Hitler arguing with girlboss Eva Braun about who should lead the Fourth Reich, which the show constantly discusses as if it were an actual existential threat to civilization as we know it. While I wanted to give Hunters a fair chance for quite some time, this was just too much. Nazi rhetoric isn’t a cheat code to win at politics. It only worked in Germany at all due to specific historical circumstances. The willingness of Hunters to imply that there were plenty of good Germans and that the Nazis led by terrorizing everyone, including regular Germans, is completely at odds with this interpretation anyway. But the argument isn’t really supposed to be internally coherent, as can be seen in the final episode where the payoff ends up being an incredibly forced Trump analogy.

One of the odder ontological aspects of Hunters is that Amazon Prime seems to want us to know that this is the final season, and that it canceled Hunters–although there was really nowhere else for it go after the character played by its most bankable star died and Hitler became the big goal. The publicity push is probably because of the criticism Hunters received from the Auschwitz Memorial three years ago (yes, that’s how long it took them to even release this season) about Hunters trivializing the Holocaust by featuring a scene where the Nazis force  Jewish chess player to play chess with human pieces. Despite my own preoccupation with historical accuracy, I found this criticism to be a fairly weak one. Sophie’s Choice went a long way toward publicizing the Holocaust into the big historical event we know today, in part thanks to a titular choice that the film, in context, also treats like a petty game.

The problem with Hunters isn’t that it makes the Nazis look too evil. Rather, the issue is that it lets everyone else off way too easy, acts like the Holocaust was something that was always synonymous with pure evil, when during the 70s, this wasn’t actually well-known. And that indeed, during this time period, the strongest Nazi apologists weren’t random skinheads, but rabid anti-Communists. Really, that’s not too far off from the situation today either, with Stepan Bandera and the OUN the national heroes of Ukraine despite their notorious record of Nazi collaboration and Holocaust participation, and everyone’s just supposed to be OK with that because Russia and Putin are the bad guys in the ongoing war.

I expect Hunters is going to get a lot of flak thrown at it for being tasteless. And rightfully so, with the mostly stand-alone seventh episode being a particularly egregious example. Yet what bothers me the most about Hunters is how it has so little to say, except that Nazis are bad, struggling to even fill up eight episodes worth of runtime. More than being offensive, the real problem with Hunters is that it’s offensively stupid.

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William Schwartz

William Schwartz is a reporter and film critic based in Seoul, South Korea. He writes primarily for HanCinema, the world's largest and most popular English language database for South Korean television dramas and films.

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