It’s been nearly three years since the first season of Prime Video’s series Hunters aired, in February 2020, so it seemed logical to assume that a season two would never happen. Fans of the show, set in 1977, about a ragtag group of Jewish avengers who hunt down and kill Nazis who escaped persecution for their crimes in World War II, were left hanging at the end of the first season, as the final episode ended with a reveal of Adolf Hitler being alive and well, living in Argentina. It seemed impossible to dangle that kind of carrot and not see it through. If you have a show about Nazi hunters, they have to hunt down Hitler himself, right?
Three years later, we finally get to see it.
Series creator David Weil and the rest of the Hunters team certainly had their work cut out for them in crafting a second season, though, especially considering the lead character, played by Al Pacino, is killed in the final episode of season one. How do you really bring back Hunters without Pacino? The answer is: you don’t.
Season 2 of Hunters takes place in two (sometimes more) timelines, one in 1975, set before the events of season one, and in 1979, two years after our band of vigilante justice-seekers disbanded in the wake of their leader’s death at the hands of one of their own. Jonah (Logan Lerman) finds out at the end of season one that Meyer (Pacino), the man who had put together the group of Nazi hunters, is actually a Nazi himself, having stolen the identity of the real Meyer Offerman, whom he killed during the war. It’s this imposter that is responsible for Jonah’s grandmother’s murder after she discovered his secret.
The best parts of season two are the ones set in the early timeline, two years before the events of season one, as we see how fake-Meyer’s guilty conscience leads him to build a team of Nazi hunters in the first place. The special seasoning of this show is the motley crew of assassins and their dysfunctional pseudo-family dynamics, so it’s fun to see each one’s origin story and how their backgrounds made them perfect recruits. The cast of Hunters has always been the show’s strong suit, and each one gets their moment to shine. Almost all of the original characters are back, including Roxy (Tiffany Boone), Mindy (Carol Kane), Lonny (Josh Radnor), and Sister Harriet (Kate Mulvany), who are all pitch-perfect, despite having to navigate some uneven (or nonexistent) character development.
As we flash forward to 1979, we see that our ragtag family of avengers has been disbanded, each one now doing their own thing, including Jonah, who is desperately trying to silence the inner demons by settling into a new life in Paris, which includes a new identity, a new haircut, and a new girlfriend, Clara (Emily Rudd). But when they find out that Hitler is still alive, the band gets together again to seek the ultimate justice. They are joined by Millie (Jerrika Hinton), the FBI Agent who has become disillusioned with doing things by the book. The addition of Millie to the team covers up the hole left by Joe (Louis Ozawa), who was kidnapped by the Nazis at the end of season one and assumed dead.
With fake-Meyer dead, the team needs a new leader, who arrives in the form of Chava Apfelbaum (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a passionate, raging avenging angel who has been searching for Hitler for the majority of her adult life and will stop at nothing to see him finally answer for his crimes. The problem is, Chava is used to working alone, so there is instant tension, as Chava clearly doesn’t play well with others. But the team relents to having her call the shots as the team embarks on a violent and dangerous hunt for Hitler, each seeking their own brand of justice.
What worked best in season one, the moral ambiguities and ethical questions prompted by seeking vigilante justice, become non-factors when chasing the evilest criminal in human history, so season two ends up relying much more on brute force and emotion to carry it through, which ends up being much more of a slog. Wild West-style shootouts replace the delicate, clandestine spying and hand-to-hand combat that made season one such a rush, as all the intimacy and delicacy that marked the team’s tactics before are now replaced by gunfire—a lot of gunfire. So much, in fact, that it becomes laughable.
There are no spoilers here, so there will be no discussion of how the team’s search for Hitler actually pans out, but the show does lose its way from the path the audience wants to be on. In fact, there is an entire episode that feels like it’s from something else altogether, adding nothing to either the plot or the deeper meaning of the series, an episode straight out of the Nazi Twilight Zone. There are also moments where the show wanders into political allegory territory, making clear references to our current political climate, which is weird, awkward, and unwelcome. And that’s not even mentioning the myriad plot holes and incongruent storylines that are head-scratchers at best.
One cannot fault the writers for taking a big swing, but it’s clear that there was too much they wanted to say and were unsure how to say it. There’s chaos and lack of focus in the final episodes, most likely borne out of a series that had been planned out for five seasons reduced to just two (it has been confirmed that season two will be Hunters’ last). It makes for a disappointing end to a series that had such promise when it began.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment in knowing Hunters will not return for season three is knowing we will not have a chance to spend more time with some of these characters. The show lets down these characters and the actors who play them by not giving them the space and opportunity to explore their possibilities. I would pay to see an entire season devoted to Sister Harriet, as Kate Mulvany plays her with such fierce humanity; she is a badass with a huge heart who is, by far, the best thing in the series. Ditto for Jerrika Hinton, whose Millie is a conflicted badass herself. I would pay equally good money to see a Harriet and Millie spinoff. As for how badly the great Carol Kane is wasted, there are no words, nor are there words to understand just what the writers were trying to do with Lonny. Josh Radnor does well to flesh him out and give us precisely the comic relief we need, but the character is left to flounder for most of the series, and we leave the show knowing even less of who he is than we did when we started. Tiffany Boone’s Roxy is sidelined far too much, and Louis Ozawa’s Joe is insultingly treated as nothing more than a plot device.
But the most disappointing element of season 2 is the reduction of Logan Lerman and the addition of Jennifer Jason Leigh. Logan’s Jonah was such a driving force in the first season, giving the audience the emotional touchstone it needed to traverse the complicated story and sensitive ethos. Lerman is a fantastic actor, and he was given so much room to play and explore in the first season, but, in season two, he is reduced to being reactive and redundant as the story favors the louder, more colorful, and over-the-top actors, like Leigh, who has never been accused of being subtle. Leigh’s performance is completely devoid of humor, which isn’t the only way it stands out among a cast of gifted actors who find all tones, but her outsized and overly intense, one-note performance borders on camp.
Fortunately, Pacino’s performance is just as good as in season one, if not better. If you can get past the accent and the whisper-quiet line readings (turn on the captions), there is a hint of the classic Pacino there, thankfully keeping the hammy “look at me, I’m Al Pacino!” to a bare minimum.
As for the villains, Lena Olin returns as the Colonel, who is revealed to really be Eva Braun, and has her eyes set on starting a Fourth Reich in the United States, relying on her blunt force object, Travis (Greg Austin) to do her dirty (and bloody) work. Olin’s character is sadly underwritten, not giving her much to do beyond sneer and seduce, and Austin is given even less to work with, as Travis is a one-note stereotype straight out of Villains 101.
As for the Advanced School of Villains, the great German actor Udo Kier is a revelation as he sinks his teeth into playing Hitler with a sinister tenacity, finding new ways to make your skin crawl as he deftly brings to life the most skin-crawling character in history. It’s almost worth it just to see him make the camera shiver with his intense, soulless stare.
But in the end, and maybe it’s good this is the end, Hunters is a rough around the edges show with a meaty core that loses its way. It’s worth watching, especially now that you’re only committed to two seasons, as there are some genuinely worthwhile elements to savor. Still, it finishes much weaker than it starts, a show that was never really able to get out of its own way or figure out exactly what it was trying to say.
THE FINAL SEASON OF ‘HUNTERS’ PREMIERES ON PRIME VIDEO ON JANUARY 13, 2023.
Originally published via WeLiveEntertainment.