On Aug. 12, 2017, a neo-Nazi drove a car into a crowd of counterprotestors at the Unite the Right rally. One woman was killed. On Aug. 15, 2017, President Trump held a press conference following the attack and made the now infamous statement: “You also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.”
“Hunters” remembers this. And it wants you to know just who exactly is on each side. In a political climate marked by “us versus them” rhetoric, this series demands you to choose who is with you and who is against you. As the United States faces the growing presence of racism and anti-Semitism, “Hunters” reminds us that “never again” may not be as true as we’d hope.
Set in 1977 New York, “Hunters” centers on Jewish teenager Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) following the murder of his grandmother Ruth (Jeannie Berlin, “The Heartbreak Kid”) who moved to the U.S. after surviving imprisonment at Auschwitz. When Jonah discovers Ruth’s murder may be connected to a network of Nazis operating within the United States, he is recruited by Ruth’s friend from the camps and now-millionaire Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino, “Serpico”) to join a group of revenge-seeking vigilantes.
This group, the titular Hunters, is comprised of skilled individuals devoted to the identification and destruction of former German officers. As the Hunters unravel the network of Nazis, FBI Agent Millie Morris (Jerrika Hinton, “Here and Now”) investigates the murders they commit and realizes their victims may be part of a wider conspiracy that implicates the United States government and its most secretive institutions. Soon, Jonah’s descent into this hidden world of amorality and crime continues as he struggles to identify what good he can do amid darkness and evil.
Though “Hunters” is a work of historical fiction, much of the series is inspired by true events, including the existence of Nazi hunters and the U.S. government’s recruitment of Nazi scientists in Operation Paperclip, which placed German war criminals in positions at NASA, the Department of Defense, multiple branches of the military and other organizations. Though the U.S. of “Hunters” differs from ours, the similarities make the violent, deeply disturbing show even more shocking.
While “Hunters” employs gratuitous violence in its depiction of history, the show goes to great lengths to remind viewers that all of this, more or less, happened. In scenes of concentration camps in the Holocaust, the suffering of individuals is constantly underlined, and for good reason. To fully understand the gravity of “Hunters,” you must understand what could drive a person to pursue bloody revenge. In their pursuit of ensuring the genocide of millions never happens again, the Hunters immerse themselves in a war that, for them, has not yet ended.
Within the organized chaos of “Hunters,” a certain kind of sensitivity and hopefulness shines through. While the show is by no means optimistic about our political future, moments of humor and empathy remind the audience that there is still a world worth fighting for. The Hunters, while bloodthirsty and cynical, are presented as anti-heroes in constant debate over whether their actions actually contribute to the evil they seek to destroy. As the season progresses, Jonah — and viewers — wrestle with the difference between what is right and what is necessary.
“Hunters” is by no means perfect. The first few episodes have major pacing issues, the writing is occasionally heavy-handed and the mood shifts at breakneck speed. Despite its unlikely plot twists and cartoonish execution, “Hunters” nevertheless calls for its viewers to engage with the most difficult ethical questions of our time period.
In the world of “Hunters” and our own, America has long ignored the xenophobia festering beneath the country’s surface of liberty and opportunity for all. The country morally equivocates and allows for great suffering in the name of progress. “Hunters” is demanding we remember that, even if there are shades of grey in between, both sides are not equal. The difference between both sides is not just a matter of opinion, it is a matter of freedom. There are not fine people on both sides. There may be an us, and there may be a them. “Hunters” knows what side it’s on. Do you?